Labor unions have existed in the United States since the Industrial Revolution. While union membership hit an all-time high in 1983 at 20.1% of the workforce, today, union membership has plummeted. In fact, union members made up just 10.3% of the American workforce in 2021. But how will labor unions affect the future of the media and entertainment industries? Esteemed entertainment lawyer Damien Granderson offers an overview of how labor unions work and what unionization would mean for the future of media.
Although union membership is decreasing, public support for labor unions is at a surprising 60-year high. The reason is simple: more professionals in entertainment and media are choosing to unionize, and the stories they cover reflect a growing interest in unionization.
What do labor unions do?
When workers unionize, they are using their joint power to put pressure on an employer, the government, or another external body to enact change. Union members leverage their collective strength as a bargaining chip to earn better pay, improve workplace safety, or manage complaints.
Every union is different, but Damien Granderson says many unions offer:
● Legal representation
● Health insurance
While many musicians, actors, writers, and other professionals in the entertainment industry clamor to unionize, Granderson says there are already unions in place for most of these professions. Some of the most high-profile unions for entertainment workers include:
● Screen Actors Guild
● Directors Guild
● Writers Guild of America
● Producers Guild
● International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)
● American Federation of Musicians
● American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA)
● Actors’ Equity Association
Why are media workers unionizing?
Workers in entertainment are beginning to unionize at record rates. There are several reasons behind this shift, but Damien Granderson says it is most likely due to:
● A need for stability: The entertainment industry is known for its cutthroat layoffs, which give workers little stability. Many choose to unionize so they can enjoy better job security.
● Demands for diversity: Without unions, there is less oversight of companies’ DEI initiatives. Workers who want greater diversity in entertainment often look to unions to put pressure on employers.
● Pay requirements: Unions negotiate for better pay and benefits for members, so it is no wonder why underpaid professionals would join a union.
● Career development needs: Professionals want a sustainable future in the entertainment industry. Unions provide career development opportunities and training that workers might not receive otherwise.
What unionization means for the entertainment industry
Starbucks and Amazon workers made waves when they unionized, but unions are having a tremendous impact on the entertainment industry, too. Damien Granderson predicts that these four changes could shape the future of entertainment.
The Writers Guild of America strikes have a big impact on movies, TV shows, and other productions that require writers. When more professionals join unions, there is a greater likelihood of strikes and industry disruptions that accompany them. Damien Granderson predicts that shows could face greater delays as a result of unionization, especially if employers fight against union demands.
Labor law is already complex enough, but when you add a union into the mix, Damien Granderson explains that things get much more complicated. This is not inherently good or bad, but it does mean that entertainment contracts will be more complicated.
This could lead to more rigidity in the entertainment industry, which means workers need to stay in their lane and follow union guidelines to avoid a breach of contract. It is also a good idea for both employers and union members to work with entertainment lawyers to ensure contracts are above board and protecting their interests.
Improved worker skills
More often than not, unionization improves the skills of workers in the union. When people have access to training, fair wages, and benefits, their skills tend to improve over time.
Unions add more red tape to the mix, but there is a good chance that improved worker retention and training will improve the quality of professionals working in entertainment. That could be good news for people who love music, TV, and movies — higher-quality work products mean increased consumer demand for better content.
Pay and costs
On average, non-union members earn 83% of what union members earn. With workers demanding more from companies, we could see an impact on corporate policies and overall costs. Time will tell, but while better pay could improve worker output, it could have an impact on affordability.
Damien Granderson says unionization is complicated
The push for unionization can be beneficial to workers in entertainment and media, but it does affect media companies and the public at large. Legal experts like Damien Granderson predict that unions will change the face of entertainment. There could be more delays, and there will definitely be more red tape involved, but unions could lead to a stronger entertainment industry long-term.
About Damien Granderson
With offices in Beverly Hills and New York, Granderson Des Rochers, LLP, was founded by Damien Granderson, who is one of the foremost entertainment lawyers in the United States. He represents Nicki Minaj, J. Balvin, A$AP Rocky, J. Cole, Wizkid, Ne-Yo, and other renowned recording artists, songwriters, and producers. Granderson specializes in complex contractual negotiations and handles transactions in the music and media industries. He graduated from Albany Law School in 2003 and has over 15 years of experience practicing law in the entertainment and media industries.