Following in the footsteps of U.S. guilds, French TV crew members are poised to go on strike amid a battle with producers over minimum wages.
Labor union CGT-SPIAC has sought a 20% increase on basic salaries for crew members working in production and post-production of TV shows, documentaries and unscripted content in France. But after several weeks of negotiations, the producers’ bargaining units (USPA, SPI, SPECT, SATEV) offered a 5% increase for crew members earning €1,000 or less per week, and a 3% increase for those earning €1000 or more. The CGT-SPIAC reacted almost immediately calling for a strike vote.
Crew members already went on strike for two days in mid-November, a stoppage that affected nearly 50 shoots, including Mediawan’s “HPI,” season 2 of AMC’s “The Walking Dead : Daryl Dixon” and M6’s “Top Chef.” If union members approve another strike by the vote, the walkout will run for five days, a duration that could be extended.
“These two days of strike already had a colossal impact on the shoot of ‘The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon,’” said Raphael Benoliel, a top line producer who works on most major U.S. productions in France. “American producers are coming out of six months of strike and just when they’re finally ready to start shooting again they’re being punished by the French labor union even though they’re paying crew members between 17% and 42% more than the basic salaries,” he said. Benoliel, who isn’t involved in negotiations with the labor union, said the first two seasons of the show provided 300 jobs per year in France. He fears producers will decide to go shoot Season 3 elsewhere if the labor strife persists.
In the U.S., numerous independent productions were able to obtain waivers to continue shooting during the months-long Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes that ended in September and November, respectively. But in France the labor union won’t deliver them under any circumstances until a deal is reached.
“We want at least a double-digit raise to start talking about any type of waiver,” said Laurent Blois, the general delegate for the CGT-SPIAC.
It’s a rare situation for the French TV industry, which unlike in the U.S., hasn’t dealt with a strike in decades. The last disruption was in 1999, when crew members won the right to establish a collective agreement (called Convention Collective) that sets minimum wages, along with other workplace and working conditions gains. Under this agreement, wages must be renegotiated every year. But pay scales have not progressed significantly since 2007, said Blois. “Between 2007 and 2023, the cost of living has increased between 26% and 30%, yet minimum wages have merely increased by 10% over that time, which means that crew members have lost on average 20% of their spending power.” Blois has headed the key crew union for more than two decades.
“Either think we’re stupid or they don’t take us seriously because they’re not accustomed to strikes in this industry made up of workers who are passionate and typically never say ‘no’ to jobs,” Blois said in response to the 3% wage increase proposal from producers.
But the tide has turned this year it seems. As an industry insider observed, “French people have been impressed and inspired by what the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have obtained after months of strike.”
The volume of TV productions has also skyrocketed in the last five years with the arrival of U.S. streamers and the consolidation of the French TV market into sizable production and distribution groups such as Banijay, Mediawan, Newen and Fédération. All of them have ramped up investment in local programming as Netflix, Amazon, Disney+ and others have hiked their spending on non-English language content.
“Crew members are stretched very thin these days, there is a shortage of them and it’s only going to get worst in the next few months before the Olympic Games,” said a French producer. “They know how much leverage they have to negotiate right now, and they’re also aware that they’re dealing with bigger groups and global streamers, rather than smaller indie producers as it was the case before.”
Time is of the essence for producers to find a consensus with crew members as many shoots have been scheduled in Paris during the first half of 2024, before the start of the summer Olympic Games in July. Netflix’s hit series “Emily in Paris,” for instance, is expected to start filming its fourth season on Jan. 22, after having been delayed due to the U.S. strikes. A crew member working on the show said she’s confident the series won’t be affected by the labor strife. “Everyone on our crew is impatient to start working on the next season of ‘Emily in Paris.’ We’ll have waited for nearly nine months for this production to finally begin,” she said, adding that the Netflix series produced by Paramount Global pays generous crew wages, much higher than minimum wage.
Blois seeks to assure union members that the richest streamers won’t get preferred treatment in deals just because they spend so much money. “We know platforms don’t have any difficulty paying people. We’re there to establish a norm for everyone,” he said.