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Oscar Statuette Manufacturers Hope Hollywood Can Help In Worker Wage Battle

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CHICAGO -- A stalemate between the company that manufactures the Oscar statuettes and its workers could amplify the drama at February's Academy Awards if an agreement on wage and benefit disputes is not reached.

Fifty Teamsters are holding their ground in contract negotiations with R.S. Owens & Company, the long-time producer of the statuettes awarded at the Oscars and Emmys, according to a release issued by the union Tuesday. The company froze wage increases from 2007 to 2011 and proposed renewing the policy for the next three years, leaving employees with nearly a decade of stagnated pay, the union alleges.

The company also proposed cuts to vacation and bereavement benefits and increases in health care costs, according to the union. The union reports that Owens generated $31 million in revenue this year, a number the company's president, Scott Siegel, disputes.

"The workers have been trying to help the company for the last 10 months by working shorter hours, even with more demanding work, and we really feel that's something the company should take into consideration as contract negotiations progress," said Will Petty, a spokesman for the Teamsters Union. "The workers can only take so much, can only give so much, and right now they're giving so much it's starting to hurt. We want the company to recognize that."

Teamsters Local 743, which represents the workers, announced plans to seek federal mediation Tuesday. Petty says production has not been interrupted, but a strike could be on the horizon if an agreement is not reached. Since the company's statuette production schedule extends through January, a strike could spell trouble for the Feb. 26 awards show.

Siegel expressed a desire to work things out with the union, and has two negotiation meetings scheduled with them this week, he said. He says Local 743 had two opportunities to reopen their last contract and negotiate pay increases, but failed to take advantage of those opportunities.

Siegel also said he's disappointed that they've made their side of this dispute so public--especially because the avenues the Teamsters have used to promote their cause could be better used to combat larger problems facing his industry.

"We're the only unionized [award] manufacturer in the United States," Siegel said. "We have seen one after another entertainment award that we manufactured being moved to China. At no point have the Teamsters, or members of other unions, put pressure on all the entertainment organizations to buy union-made awards and U.S.A.-made awards. Part of the predicament [R.S. Owens & Company is] in right now is because most of the main awards are now being made in China."

Coincidentally, film crews are on site at the production company this week to shoot "behind the scenes" footage of the statuettes' production for the ceremony. Petty says those visitors and others like them in the film industry could be a huge help by advocating on behalf of Owens employees.

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

This story has been updated to include a response from R.S. Owens & Company.

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