Oscar Caught in Chicago Wages Fight

Chicago Teamsters say the company that makes Oscar statuettes denied them wage increases

By Lisa Balde
|  Friday, Dec 9, 2011  |  Updated 1:15 PM CDT
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Hollywoods's most coveted prize is caught up in a wage dispute.

Federal mediators met Wednesday with union workers and Chicago-based R.S. Owens & Company, long-time manufacturers of Oscar statuettes, to discuss a contract that reached a stalemate.

Members of Chicago Teamsters Local 743 say R.S. Owens denied them wage increases from 2007-2011 and proposed wage freezes for the next three years. Cuts to vacation and bereavement benefits prior to the Feb. 26, 2012 Oscars also are on the table, the union said Tuesday.

“From the Screen Actors Guild to the Directors Guild of America, most celebrities who get an Oscar are in a union themselves,” said Donnie Von Moore, President of Teamsters Local 743, in a statement. “They know how crucial unions are to protecting livelihood. What the workers at R.S. Owens need now is union support.”

Will Petty, a union spokesman, said Friday nothing significant was accomplished during this week's talks and the situation is reaching a critical mass.

"The members don't know what else to do," Petty said, noting workers have taken fewer hours since October to help the company save money. "They hope it doesn't get to the point of work stoppage."

If work stops, an added bit of drama might be coming Oscar's way. Work on the statues is due to begin next week, and a Los Angeles film crew is expected in Chicago as part of the Academy Awards’ annual documentary on the making of the Oscar.

Petty said no worker makes more than $13 an hour and some workers have manufactured and polished statues at the company for 30-35 years. "They don't want to face the reality of 10 years without a wage increase."

Calls to R.S. Owens seeking comment were not immediately returned. The company also makes awards for the Emmys and MTV Music Awards.

“No matter the economy, R.S. Owens can count on the Oscars ceremony kicking off in February each year,” said John T. Coli, President of Teamsters Joint Council 25, in a statement. “This company needs to bargain in good faith with the workers who make these award shows possible in the first place.”

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