Business & Economy

Who would be hurt by Hollywood writer's strike? Not just the writers

Close to half the work at Victor's Shoe Repair in Burbank comes from Hollywood production, business that would likely vanish if writers go on strike.
Close to half the work at Victor's Shoe Repair in Burbank comes from Hollywood production, business that would likely vanish if writers go on strike.
Ben Bergman/KPCC

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When you swing open the front door at Victor’s Shoe Repair in Burbank, you’re greeted by head shots of celebrity clients and by the friendly manager, Isaac Goli, who wows customers with his repair skills.

"Not bad, huh?" Goli asks a woman as he hands her back her reconditioned sandals. "We put a whole new piece in there."

This week though, Goli is not so cheerful. "I’m not feeling good," he says.

Victor’s Shoe Repair sits in the shadow of Warner Brothers and Universal Studios and he says close to half his business comes from TV and film production, work he says would vanish if the Writers Guild of America goes on strike.

The Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are racing to negotiate a new contract before the current agreement expires at midnight Monday. The Guild has threatened to go on strike Tuesday if the talks fail.

If there's a walkout, "we’re not going to have any shows, so no shoes need to be fixed, repaired or altered," says Goli. "Everything is going to stop."

In the last writers' strike in 2007-08, "people weren’t coming in at all," he says. "For six to seven months it was just horrible. I wasn’t sure I was going to stay in business or not."

A blue collar industry

A walkout would immediately put some 13,000 writers out of work, and judging by the 2007-08 walkout, the ripple effects would be felt far and wide, as everyone from truck drivers to caterers would take a financial hit.

There are more than 300,000 mostly blue-collar workers servicing TV, film and commercial production in Los Angeles County, doing everything from hauling props around to serving food on the set. 

"Most people don’t have a lot of money saved up in this business, so it will have a devastating impact," says Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399, which counts location managers, casting directors, drivers, mechanics, couriers and animal trainers among its 4,300 members.

Dayan says a strike would be especially painful now because his members have been getting more work since the state encouraged more local production by expanding its film and television tax credit program in 2014 (though shoots are down so far this year). 

"Obviously strikes are never a good thing," he says. "I’d say within a very short period of time no one will be working."

That’s what Ian Dodd, a camera operator who hopes to retire in a few years, is worried about.

"Our retirement is based solely on the number of hours worked in our career, and that’s something I may not be able to make up if it’s a long-term strike," he says. "My window of opportunity is a lot closer to closing."

Dodd says the last strike was a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he got to spend more time with his daughter.

"But on the other hand, it wiped out the savings account and I fell out of qualification for my health care plan," he says.

This time around, Dodd says his family is better prepared financially to weather a long strike.

"I’m not as nervous as I was then, but that’s money I’d rather spend finishing my son’s college education rather than buying peanut butter and top ramen," he says.

Already cutting back

Writers walked the picket lines for 100 days in the previous strike, and a study by the Milken Institute later found it cost the state $2.1 billion and 37,700 jobs. Milken said it was one of the reasons California tumbled into recession.

"Thousands of actors, production assistants, lighting technicians, hair and makeup artists, set decorators, camera operators, and others were thrown out of work," the study said.

"Those who directly serve the entertainment industry, such as caterers, hotels, and related services, were also adversely affected," it said, adding that the walkout harmed "allied industries, including professional and business services and the retail trade" and even "finance, insurance, and health care." 

The study said the strike's effects were magnified because affected workers reduced their spending on small items, like going out to eat at restaurants, and on bigger ones, like buying or renovating a house.

With a strike looming now, some people are already cutting back.

"We are putting off any big expenditures or travel plans until we know about the strike for sure," says Christine Alvarez, whose husband works as a first assistant cameraman. "There will be no sushi dinners or going out to the movies."

A recession would be unlikely this time around because the economy is much stronger, according to Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute's California Center and co-author of the study of the 2007-08 strike.

"The good news for us is we’re not currently dealing with a housing bubble collapsing at the same time as a writer’s strike, so the fundamentals aren’t as bad," says Klowden. "But that being said, it does mean we’d see California’s economy weakened."