EXCLUSIVE: Lindsay Dougherty, the newly re-elected leader of Hollywood’s Teamsters Local 399, sees the Teamsters becoming “a more militant union,” and is already looking ahead two years to when the local’s film and TV contract will be up for renegotiation. The current contract, which she negotiated last summer with Carol Lombardini, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, expires July 31, 2024.
“We have a lot of work to do in terms of organizing, which is always a priority, but also just getting ready for the next contract, which is in two years,” Dougherty said in an interview with Deadline. “We’ve restructured a lot of things in terms of business agents and trying to make certain that we’re enforcing the contracts to the best of our ability, which is always a difficult thing to do in our industry, since it’s very transient. That’s what our focus has been, because we don’t know what is coming in two years. Obviously, we saw what happened with IATSE’s strike authorization vote last year. So we anticipate that that’s not subsided completely.”
IATSE members voted almost unanimously (98%) to authorize a strike last October, but only ratified the deal they eventually got by the slimmest of margins.
“That unrest has not subsided, specifically in regard to inflation and things like that,” Dougherty said. “So I think there are some members that are looking for a lot more change than they’ve seen thus far in contract negotiations. But for the most part, our focus is getting our steering committees together – a lot of member-engagement, which has always been a priority of ours. But now with Zoom and technology we’re able to have even more meetings and classes. So we’ve been engaging our members in that way and we’re going to continue to do so. Just trying to get more people involved in the union, especially with the times that we’re in in the labor movement, where you’re seeing a lot of younger folks being more involved in their local union. We’re trying to participate in any way we can to make certain that our members are the strongest they can be, and that we’re the strongest we can be together for the fights we have ahead of us.”
Lombardini, she said, “is tough, so it wasn’t easy, but I enjoy negotiating with somebody that gives respect. She’s been around for a long time, and she knows what she’s doing, and she commands a lot of respect as well. She’s dealing with all of those conglomerate companies, so it was a challenge, but I think she’s a fair individual.”
Lombardini became president of the AMPTP in March 2009, and there hasn’t been a strike in Hollywood on her watch.
Asked what she sees coming with respect to the industry’s Covid-19 protocols, which expire at the end of the month – and for which industrywide negotiations began Monday – Dougherty said that “for the most part, there’s not as much controversy as there has been. I think you’re seeing a lot of those protocols being rolled back because we’re not in the middle of the pandemic, as we once were two years ago. Of course, the relief of not masking at all times outdoors is very much important to our members, especially during the hotter months. The mandatory vaccinations, that hasn’t been as big a topic of discussion because most of the companies are not even implementing ‘Zone A’ mandatory vaccinations. I don’t think it’s going to be as contentious or exciting as it has been in recent years in terms of what the employers want or what the unions want.”
As for the vaccination mandates, which the industry’s unions allow producers to implement on a production-by-production basis, she said that “if they’re not utilizing the mandate consistently, I don’t see why they would push for that, moving forward. Not unless it’s some kind of leverage they think they have.”
Turning to the recent decision by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to award Local 399 with the movie jurisdiction of New Mexico Teamsters Local 492 following an audit and member concerns about Local 492’s referral rules and financial structure, Dougherty stressed that “It wasn’t a financial audit, I want to be clear on that. There were complaints that came through to the International and it’s our responsibility at the International to investigate those complaints.
“It was found that the general executive board believed that Local 399 was best suited to take over that jurisdiction, as there are only three craft locals in the Teamsters union that have motion picture (jurisdiction) primarily – that’s Hollywood Local 399, New York City Local 817 and Vancouver Local 155. We’re in the 13 Western States, and New Mexico Teamsters operate under the same wages, working conditions and benefits that our members in Hollywood do, so we’re obviously well-equipped to handle the 300 members. That is what we’re moving forward to do and looking forward to do – to help those folks to continue to flourish and thrive in an industry that is seemingly going to grow in the state of New Mexico with the tax credit credits they have.”
Dougherty got a standing ovation when she spoke at a Local 492’s membership meeting at the Albuquerque Convention Center on August 27 to explain the transfer of jurisdiction to Local 399. “It was a warm welcome, to say the very least,” she said. “The members in New Mexico are very happy to have us as their representatives and they’re excited and thrilled to be part of Local 399.”
Some members of Local 492’s movie division complained that it had been run like a “dictatorship,” but with the resignations of its old leaders, the industry in New Mexico is now represented by Joshua Staheli, its new business agent. Staheli is currently Local 399’s recording secretary but was recently elected vice president. “He has been specifically assigned to help with this transition in New Mexico,” Dougherty said, “so he’s been there every week helping those folks and answering their questions, and he’ll be there pretty consistently for the time being.”
Dougherty comes from a Teamsters family; her father, Pat Dougherty, was secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 337 in Detroit. “He’s since retired but he was a 40-year Teamster, and there’s motion picture industry in Detroit, believe it or not. I’ve been in the industry, or around this industry, for many years, actively working in this industry. I was in transportation for about 20 years, and then even before that I had spent some time on films because he was working as a driver or transportation captain during the times that any kind of film would come there, like 8 Mile.
“I feel very lucky to be a second-generation Teamster because a lot of what I know, I’ve known since I was a kid. I’ve been under Teamster healthcare my entire life. I was able to go to college because of my father having that stability with a job that paid benefits, and my mom obviously, she worked as well, but just having that understanding of what a union is and how important it is to working-class families, I feel like I was ahead of the game a little bit because I had that education through just growing up with my father as a strong Teamster leader. And he actually negotiated contracts for the industry, too, when he was a secretary-treasurer of his local. I even deal today with some of the labor relations people who know my father.”
In addition to being secretary-treasurer and principal officer of Local 399, Dougherty is also director of the Teamsters Motion Picture and Theatrical Trade Division and is Western Region vice president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. And she’s the first woman to hold any of those posts.
“I think it’s due time that there’s a woman” in those posts, she said, noting that “I’m the youngest at Local 399 in terms of being a principal officer. I think there’s a need for this change that a lot of members want to see because things have been the same-old, same-old for a long time. But I also understand the value of hard work, and I’ve just been lucky enough to have a lot of teachers and mentors around me that have given me opportunities that I may not have been given by other people who may not be so open minded.”
Asked how the industry’s diversity efforts are progressing, she said, “It’s just like any kind of fight, like within the labor movement and civil rights. It’s a never-ending battle. I think we constantly have to strive to make certain that we are including everybody for all opportunities. So right now, at Local 399, I’m the first female principal officer, but also Alison Taylor, who was just elected through acclimation, is the first African American woman on the Executive Board, and Philip Quansah is the first African American recording secretary.
“There are moves we’re trying to make in terms of we want our staff and our leadership to reflect what our members look like, and it may not be the highest percentage of demographics, but I think you have to make those changes so that other folks and other members that come after us can see that anyone can do this job, and it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you have the motivation and the skills to do so.
“I think this conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion, we still have a long way to go in terms of when you walk onto the set of a film and you see what the crew looks like, it’s not even reflective of the actors that are being represented in the film. There’s just not enough African American staffing, and we’re in southern California and there’s no reason for that other than that everyone needs to try harder. And even when as much as we continue to progress, I don’t think it’s something that we’re not going to talk about anymore. I mean, with civil rights, we’ve been talking about these things for decades, well before I was even born, and as much change as we’ve made, you would have thought there would be a lot more change in some of these industries and in our country. But it’s obviously a work in progress and it’s obviously a fight that we all have to just continue to move on and move forward with.”
Dougherty got her start in the movie business as a background performer on 61*, the 2001 Billy Crystal movie “many years ago in my early teens,” she said. “After that I worked in transportation. My first movie as a transportation dispatcher was The Island, a Michael Bay film. So, I essentially got thrown to the wolves my first project and loved every second of it. So, many of the projects I worked after that were on major motion pictures, the big films, the blockbuster hits that keep you working for about a year.” Her many other films as a transportation dispatcher include Django Unchained, Water for Elephants and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
And though she’s spent years in the trenches, her rise through the ranks has been meteoric to become what may be the second-most powerful Teamster in the country – behind IBT president Sean O’Brien, on whose slate she was elected last November. O’Brien, who took office March 22, succeeded James P. Hoffa, the son of infamous Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa.
“It is pretty spectacular when you think about it,” she said, “because it is such a great honor for me to be a Teamster, because that’s all I know and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. But to have this ability to not just represent Hollywood but also the industry in terms of the Motion Picture Division, and then to be a part of a team that’s led by Sean O’Brien, who is going to be the greatest leader we’ve ever seen at the Teamsters, just with his tenacity and intelligence. And we’ve already seen so much change already in the Teamsters in the last six months of his taking office. And it’s inspiring, I think, not just for us on the Executive Board, but also for members to see, because for any kind of change that happens for the union, or for workers in general, there’s got to be change at the top, like leading by example, and that’s what Sean O’Brien has been doing.”
She’s known O’Brien, she said, “for almost 15 years. I met him through my father. My father was on the film policy committee for the Motion Picture Division of the Teamsters many years ago, so I met Sean in the early 2000s when he was the principal officer of Local 25 in Boston. So, I’ve known him for a very long time.”
Asked what’s ahead for the IBT, she said: “If you have seen anything in the news, everyone’s pretty much full-speed ahead – the same mentality that we have in Local 399, where we want to have the members lead the union; have the power of the membership of not just contract enforcement, but better contract negotiating, better contracts, and become a more militant union in general. And then, in addition to that, organizing is one of our key priorities because the Teamsters – and not just the Teamsters, but most labor unions – have seen a loss in membership, and that’s through laws that have been in effect and deregulation, and things like that. So organizing is definitely a priority. Amazon is one of the targets of that, and Amazon is a Goliath of a company that has overtaken package delivery, trucking, freight, things like that, and we’re looking to organize Amazon, and not just because they’re a Goliath but also, they’re not nice to their workers either.”
Asked how much nonunion work is being done in Hollywood, she said: “It’s not so much on the production side of things. It’s the vendors and production facilities that cater to the industry. We’ve had some organizing efforts most recently in terms of classifications, too, that traditionally have been non-union, like the Chef Assistants and the DOT Admins, and in the early 2000s, we organized casting directors, so we’re always happy to be a part of those organizing efforts. We’ve already organized some of those, like Zio Studio Services and Quixote, most recently, which both have been purchased by Hudson Pacific Properties.”
Production assistants are one of the last groups of workers in Hollywood that aren’t unionized. Asked if there’s any thought that Local 399 might try to organize them, she said: “When you have people working 12, 14, 16 hours a day and they’re given a daily rate which arguably is not even legal because they should be treated like hourly employees, and we’ve seen a change, a little bit of change in the industry of the companies being aware of what’s legal and what’s not legal in terms of wage and hour law, but that’s definitely where a lot of abuse happens because those folks are entry-level positions, also not represented by a union, and paid the least amount. So, yeah, most certainly we would definitely be happy to have those discussions and represent those folks.
Dougherty on organizing production assistantsMost certainly we would definitely be happy to have those discussions and represent those folks.
“Anytime any folks come to us to organize we’re happy to have that conversation and to have that fight, and there’s not a fight that we’re afraid of. So most certainly we would take that on, but in my recent years at the local, over the last 10 years, we haven’t had any kind of approach to that. I will say the tough thing that we have with some of our positions that we have organized is that the employers, they’re going to fight no matter what just because they believe that these are entry-level positions. However those entry-level positions in the industry are definitely not even as well compensated as some of these companies like even Starbucks.”
Looking to the future, Dougherty said that unions have to bring more young people under their umbrella, and to be the change in order to make things change.
“I think that hopefully with what’s happening in our country, the rest of the industry prioritizes their members, and I’m not negatively speaking about any union, I just think that all of us can always be better and progress. With technology and the younger generations coming in, it is our responsibility to teach those that are also just coming in fresh and new. As Teamsters, we have to make sure that we do right for the next generation of workers, and I think that needs to be a priority because there’s a lot of changes happening in the world and in our country.
“I think there has to be a focus, especially right now because we often hear just negative comments about younger generations, when those are the ones that are actually going to be leading us forward at some point, so we just have to prioritize how we look at things in terms of engaging our members and getting ready for the fights that we do have.
“During the pandemic, we saw how essential the worker is, and there was much focus on sanitation workers, grocery workers, package delivery and the like, and I think for the most part those people don’t feel as essential as companies made them out to be at the time. They sacrificed a lot for their families and for their communities and continued on during one of the toughest times that we’ll ever see in our history. So I think putting it out there about how hard working our industry is, as well, is something that we need to put in the forefront. Hollywood gets its name out there from the actors, but there’s a lot of people behind the camera that are making things happen and making a good living, and I think the world and the country needs to understand that, too, because there’s a lot of possibilities and opportunities for younger people to make a good living in this industry.”