Alec Baldwin Shooting Tragedy Speaks to the Importance of Unions

Union members walked off the set just six hours before the deadly incident after weeks of complaining about poor working conditions.

Alec Baldwin Shooting Tragedy Speaks to the Importance of Unions
Image:Chris Pizzello (AP)

As more information becomes available surrounding the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, the conditions that led to this tragedy are becoming clear. When news first broke of Hutchins death, which was caused by an unknown projectile from a firearm discharged by Alec Baldwin, the Internation Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) released a statement to its members confirming that the armorer who gave Baldwin the firearm was not a union member.

The Los Angeles Times is now reporting that union members walked off the set just six hours before the incident, after weeks of complaining about poor working conditions. Baldwin, who is also producing the film, allegedly accidentally fired a “prop gun” during rehearsal, resulting in the death of Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza. The Times reports that the gun had already misfired three times previously, and the non-union armorer did not have to adhere to union safety standards, which would have seen the malfunctioning gun removed from the set entirely. The reasoning as to why a non-union worker was present on a shoot that was being directed and shot by members of the cinematographers’ guild, Local 600, is unclear.

Union crew members told the Times that in addition to their problems with the prop gun, working conditions on set were abysmal. Production went back on a promise to pay for hotel rooms for the crew nearby, thus forcing them to drive 50 miles each day to set. Hutchins had reportedly been advocating for better working conditions for crew, per the Times:

“As the camera crew — members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — spent about an hour assembling their gear at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, several nonunion crew members showed up to replace them, the knowledgeable person said.
A member of the producer staff then ordered the union members to leave the set. She said if they didn’t leave, the producers would call security to remove them.
“Corners were being cut — and they brought in nonunion people so they could continue shooting,” the knowledgeable person said.”

The loss of an entire union camera crew should be the kind of thing that halts a production altogether. Production’s choice to bring in non-union workers to rescue what should have been a lost shooting day is exactly the kind of thing IATSE and other unions exist to prevent. Had the proper oversight been in place from the beginning—the kind of oversight required to remain a member of one of the largest unions in the country—Halyna Hutchins might still be alive. But instead, the producers in charge chose to save money on an already low-budget project and make choices that put a malfunctioning firearm in the hands of an unknowing actor, effectively putting every single one of their employees at risk and resulting in an entirely avoidable tragedy.

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