On Saturday, members of I.A.T.S.E Local 476 picketed a Nike commercial that was filming in the city using a non-union crew.
The members of Chicago Local 476 have become very diligent and resourceful at uncovering those who come “to exploit our city.” It’s a bit of a team effort to protect the opportunities, wages, and benefits of its members, and part of a recent campaign that Local 476 President, Bradley Matthys says is working well.
I.A.T.S.E. Local 476 represents professionals in a variety of job categories — from gaffer and electrician to hair stylist and script supervisor, with dozens in between.
“When a company like Nike, who makes billions and billions of dollars, but they can’t pay benefits for workers, it’s quite concerning,” says Matthys. “It’s not like we’re asking for the world. We’re asking for basic benefits that are standard across every industry.”
Local 476 VP, Joe Connelly added, “We see all the contributions Nike makes to popular charities and to the community but when the guy is worth $39 billion dollars and won’t pay benefits to his employees or to the people who are making him money, it just doesn’t make sense to us.”
“Chicago is a union town,” says Matthys. “If a company like Nike is using non-union labor in Chicago, we have big big big problems.”
“I know what my son pays for a pair of Nike shoes,” says Matthys. “This isn’t a financial issue, especially on a job this size. With a director and no one else, no agency, no one else was on site.”
“Nobody came to us if this was a lower budget job. With what they were paying their labor we could have offered them a nice package of competitive wages with benefits that would have cost them about the same,” says Matthys.
“Make no mistake about it,” added Matthys, “some of the people they are using don’t have the expertise or the safety training across the board that our membership has. A lot of what they are doing is dangerous, particularly now with Covid guidelines.”
According to Matthys, the Local 476 talent pool includes 1,600 members — “the cream of the crop” — many have worked together on various productions for decades.
“Production coordinators would be the first ones to tell you what a big difference it is to use non-union as opposed to the experienced professionals we represent,” says Matthys. “The safety aspect is a huge advantage.”
Skirting the issues
Sometimes the agencies do a spinoff production company and keep it all in-house, according to Matthys, who feels that the Chicago production companies that have been here and always comply are being cut out.
Contacting companies that engage in “double-breasting” — the practice of spinning off non-union subsidiaries to work on lower budget jobs — is a big priority. Joe Connelly’s sole mission is to forge partnerships with advertising agencies and commercial shops throughout the city.
“We want to remind the industry that we offer low-budget agreements for lower budget commercials,” says Matthys.
Nike is far from the only big company that is skirting the issues. “There was another big job shooting that same week that again refused to consider union labor,” said Connelly. That was Corona Seltzer.
“The tax incentive is what is driving a lot of this production here, and we have been key sponsors and supporters of that,” says Matthys, “but they come in and get their tax incentives and they’re not paying the workers their benefits. This is not how this incentive was designed to work.”
“Another thing to be said here is that commercials aren’t usually involved in the state incentive program, but we fought very hard to get commercial production included,” adds Connelly.
“We were one of the major players in getting that incentive passed and we support that legislation because it is a lifeline to our success,” said Matthys.
We reached out to Nike for comment but as of press time we have not received a response. A representative of Nike’s agency Wieden+Kennedy said they were not involved with the shoot.