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    EXCLUSIVE: IATSE Local 161 President On Significance Of Netflix Accountants Unionizing

    Production accountants at Local 161 have won union recognition for all Netflix accountants in New York and New Jersey. The bargaining unit also includes clerks, who are organizing with IATSE for the first time in the US.

    GreenSlate spoke with Laura Fearon, President of IATSE LOCAL 161 about how the union recognition came to be, what it could mean for accountants, employers, and what might come next.

    How it came to be

    Fearon tells us that historically Netflix was willing to negotiate side letter agreements to include accountants on Local 161 contracts. After they joined the AMPTP, “Netflix opted to offer non-affiliate (non-union) benefits, going against its prior precedent, and taking away the union benefits that accountants enjoyed.”

    She explains that over the past year, accountants working for Netflix in New York and New Jersey organized and signed authorization cards to demand Netflix negotiate a fair contract. Netflix agreed to voluntarily recognize the union with a card check, “which we won by collecting cards from an overwhelming majority of the bargaining unit. This already historic win was particularly noteworthy for its inclusion of accounting clerks, who will be represented by IATSE for the first time in the US.”

    Fearon says that, “Now we are looking forward to negotiating our first ever production accounting agreement.”

    A ‘voice at the table’ for production accountants

    Accountants unionized with IATSE Local 161 will be able to collectively bargain for rates and annual wage increases.

    Fearon says that the significance and meaning of “having a voice at the table” goes beyond rate and wage negotiations and provides leverage to bargain for better working conditions.

    “While the non-affiliate program offers benefits, there's no negotiation,” Fearon tells us. “Having a seat at the table is about having a say in your working conditions so you can collectively decide what you’re doing or what you don’t have to do. When you don’t have that bargaining agreement, you have to ‘take it or leave it’.”

    The pandemic left a distinct and lasting impact on the role and responsibilities of entertainment industry accountants.

    Fearon says that coming out of the pandemic, “A lot of changes were pushed on us and we didn’t get to have a lot of say in it. I think that really sparked accountants to want to have some standards about what they do day-to-day.”

    Could accounting career starters benefit?

    According to Fearon, for those under this agreement, it will start the minute they start working in accounting.

    This could be particularly significant for accounting clerks as agreements like these could provide incentive to stay in the field and build a career.

    Fearon says that hiring clerks can sometimes be difficult. “Unless you’re a big math nerd, you probably won’t stay. Most other departments are union and their work is covered by a contract. I think having clerks in the agreement will shift this position from a short term gig job to people building a career in the industry.”

    She believes the accounting clerks of today are the finance executives of tomorrow, and that anyone interested in starting their career in production accounting “will be clamoring to work at Netflix.”

    “Once we negotiate this agreement – clerks will be earning union benefits from day one.”

    With clerk being a common entry point into a production accounting career, Fearon tells us that now “Starting your career with union protections, scale wages, healthcare and a pension makes a big difference. There’s more of an incentive to stay in the field and build a career. I think the fact that we are seeing Netflix respect the clerk role is really important and indicates a big shift in the industry.”

    What it could mean for employers according to IATSE

    IATSE Local 161 is betting that their goal of having 161 accountants being the best accountants out there is mutual with employers.

    “Every employer wants to hire the best accounting team,” Fearon says. She hopes that other employers see the benefit that Netflix achieves from this negotiation. “Local 161 invests heavily in craft education and skills for our membership and the employer benefits greatly from that.”

    But will other employers follow Netflix’s lead in the near to mid term?

    Fearon says there are some companies that are probably right behind Netflix, and that “It wouldn’t be a large hurdle to work on something more permanent with them.” But, she says, “There’s other employers who are a little less receptive, which would require a longer road ahead.”

    What's next?

    Fearon has big ambitions for production accountants with 161. “Our members work on a variety of different productions with different types of coverage, and Local 161 wants to represent all accountants that want representation.”

    Someday, she hopes to see all production accountants covered by agreements.

    “It’s really a monumental win for everyone, for 161, for accountants in general. I think accountants throughout the industry will use this to help themselves negotiate better situations for themselves.”

    Do you have a story? Reach out to with a pitch. Acceptance of feature pitches are based on adhering to standard editorial principles and accepted based on the value it brings to the GreenSlate audience.

    Chris C. Anderson

    VP, Head of Content at GreenSlate

    December 18, 2023

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