In 1962, 18 theatre projectionist and freelance film technicians were granted Charter 891 by IATSE International. It's unlikely that those pioneering individuals had any idea how large and successful their infant Local would eventually become. IATSE Local 891 now has thousands of members, and British Columbia is recognized as one of the best places in the world to make quality film and television.
Over the years, the membership has debated and ratified collective agreements and devised ways and means to attract and serve productions. The Local has also constantly adjusted and amended its constitution and bylaws to facilitate democracy and to construct a framework that allows for ways to develop and nurture our industry.
In 1978, the BC Film Commission (now Creative BC) was established with the mandate of selling BC's considerable physical assets and talented filmmakers to the world, particularly the United States. One of the first film commissioners was Justis Greene, a former member of the IATSE Local 891 Lighting Department.
During the 1980s, BC production increased roughly 40% each year. To drive the point home that the film industry could be a huge asset for the people of BC, IATSE Local 891 commissioned a study which concluded that the film industry generated two-and-a-half dollars for every production dollar spent -- a figure far higher than the traditional BC industries of forestry and mining. This 1989 report helped propel the government of the day to increase the funding and mandate of the BC Film Commission.
To keep producers coming back, BC also needed enough available crew and sufficient studio space to service the demand. After lobbying from the industry, including Local 891, the government formed a crown corporation to build and run what is now the Bridge Studios -- one of the largest sound stages in North America.
The establishment of the Bridge encouraged businessmen such Stephen J. Cannell, who eventually made a large number of productions in BC, to open studios.
During the 1990s the industry boomed with 500 productions being made. Between 2000 and 2009, IATSE Local 891 crews worked on 567 film and television shows. Those years truly cemented BC's reputation as a place to make first class productions.
One of the ways the Local helped attract productions was by offering rates and conditions specific to features, series television, and movies of the week -- an approach that still works today.
Once the Council was formed, a Master Collective Agreement was, and still is, bargained jointly. The Master Collective Agreement rationalized the bargaining process and provided certainty for union members and producers regarding terms, conditions, and rates; it also offered stability for producers and helped the Council unions retain a large percentage of the available work for their members.
During the 1990s, the IATSE Local 891 membership decided to establish a training program which offered skills upgrading, safety training and labour education. The cost of much of the training was, and still is, subsidized by the Local.
During the early 1990s, the membership decided to establish an extensive health benefits plan (HBP)--an enormous help for workers who have no single employer to provide such benefits. As part of this initiative, the HBP also provided an Employee and Family Assistance Program to assist members who were struggling with personal issues of almost any nature.
In 2004, in a move designed to help members plan for retirement, the Local established a group RRSP plan to which employers contribute and members can top-up on a voluntary basis. The Plan is called CEIRP and now has 15,000 entertainment workers enrolled across Canada.
From the start, IATSE Local 891 has operated democratically. Officers and officials are elected for specific terms by the membership and they are accountable to the membership at general meetings. The different departments of IATSE Local 891, which now total 23, elect their own Chairs and Co-Chairs who represent the interests of its members on the Executive Committee.
The departments were established in the 1980s to ensure that each skill area of the Local had an equal voice regardless of the number of members in the department.
As today's members know, one of the characteristics of this industry is volatility -- work is never guaranteed, the industry is vulnerable to the effects of fluctuating exchange rates, competition from other jurisdictions, changing tax regulations and labour law, and the ever-changing nature of how entertainment is delivered. Despite this, there is no doubt that the hallmark of the last decades has been growth. IATSE Local 891 has been front and centre of building a lucrative employment sector for the province and has helped thousands of British Columbians build successful careers in film and television.
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