bids Hawaii aloha,
as in goodbye
Show's producer blamesBy Tim Ryan
Teamster leaders for costing
the isles millions
It's aloha Hawaii for getting "Baywatch" and probably g'day for Australia.
The Teamsters union -- the last hurdle in getting the syndicated show to film a guaranteed 44 shows over two years on Oahu -- has rejected producers' pleas for wage concessions which the executives said are essential for being able to film the hourlong series here.
"It's over, all over," said a stunned Greg Bonann, "Baywatch" executive producer and creator.
"I am absolutely shocked. These guys (Teamster leaders) are such knuckleheads that they just cost the state and so many workers in a bad economy a huge, huge deal. They really don't care."
Bonann said that Teamster leader Leo Reed is "personally responsible in keeping 'Baywatch' from Hawaii."
But Reed, director of Local 399 in Hollywood, which supplies drivers to television and motion picture productions, said he cares very much about his members and Hawaii, which is the reason he rejected the "Baywatch" requests.
"I have to be consistent and maintain (wage and benefit) standards throughout the country," he said. "That's my job."
The production would have employed 17 Teamster drivers. Producers asked the union to accept cuts of 11 percent to 19 percent for a 70-hour workweek (a typical workday for drivers is 14 hours). The standard "basic rate" salary goes from a high of $2,292.45 for a transportation captain to $1,840.25 for a regular driver.
The rates requested by "Baywatch" -- used for cable shows, movies of the week and pilots -- ranged from a high of $1,892 a week for the captain to about $1,641 for a driver.
Teamster officials said the actual reduction included another 7.9 percent decrease, no vacation and holiday pay, and no premium on overtime. Under the current contract, workers get two-and-a-half times their salary each hour beyond 14 hours. Producers asked that the rate be cut to two times, Reed said.
The show's 22 episodes a year translate to about six months' work for Teamster drivers, said Bonann, who plans to reopen negotiations in Australia, the show's first choice. He expects to return to Australia next week.
Filming a guaranteed 44 episodes over two years would have cost producers $37 million, much of that spent in Hawaii. Aside from the Teamsters, it also would have meant employment for about 70 members of the International Alliance of Theatrical State Employees, who serve as crew on productions, and for dozens of actors.
But Reed from the outset demanded the standard Teamsters wage scale and refused to budge.
Bonann said Reed's position is "suicidal for the entertainment industry."
"He didn't even try to get us there," Bonann said. "Leo Reed didn't even try to give us one cent, nothing. It's un-American, unbelievable."
The Screen Actors Guild and IATSE had agreed in principle to waivers of as much as 30 percent, but only if the Teamsters complied. Paying all three unions their standard rates would cost "Baywatch" $1.1 million more a year, or $55,000 an episode.
Bonann said the union refuses to face the fact that dozens of television shows are filming outside California and the United States because it's far less expensive.
In the eight years "Baywatch" has been on the air, the show has paid Teamster drivers in Los Angeles about $10 million. Last year's season-long transportation budget was $1.3 million -- $61,000 an episode or 4.9 percent of the show's total budget. Transportation budgets for each season ranged from 4.1 percent to 6.1 percent of the entire budget. Though Reed said Teamsters transportation budgets normally are about 10 percent of the total, that has never been the case with "Baywatch."
" 'Baywatch' was given a break for nine years and now they cry poor mouth and use Australia as their out," said Tony Cousimano, Teamsters Local 399 president. "I don't really think they're going to Australia."
Bonann said Reed has failed "miserably" as a union leader.
"He gives the Teamsters a bad name," Bonann said. "Do his members in Hawaii even know that they've turned down $1,642 a week, guaranteed for six months a year for two years?"
Reed said he has full support of his union members in Hawaii.
"There's only one guy above me and that's Jimmy Hoffa Jr., and he supports me on this issue," Reed said.
The producers had emphasized in a meeting this week with Teamster leaders that the show must relocate from Los Angeles to re-energize the hourlong program, save money, and improve ratings.
But Cousimano said he told producers "they just haven't budgeted enough money for transportation," and "we feel they have the money."
Due to budgetary constraints this year after Pearson Television bought "Baywatch," two of four executive producers are no longer with the show, and a third has a greatly reduced "financial involvement," Bonann said. "By the time Leo Reed realizes he made the biggest mistake of his career, it will be too late."
Reed said he's willing to take the heat.
"If people want to blame me for losing jobs for 17 drivers, so be it," he said. "The people in Hauula and Laie still love me."