Member Spotlight: Frank Haddad
From working as an arborist, to planting the seeds for a healthy retirement for motion picture workers across the country, 891 member Frank Haddad shares his journey into a 30-year career in BC film and how organizing solidarity to build the billion-dollar Canadian Entertainment Industry Retirement Plan (CEIRP) shines a light on the power of unionism.
Frank Haddad began working in the burgeoning BC film industry in 1991, in between seasonal work as an arborist.
“It was great making money with my feet on the ground and that wasn’t 40 feet up in a tree,” says Frank, who appreciated earning a living without having to be stuck in an office, or up in a tree for that matter.
As a greensperson for the motion picture industry, Frank’s job involves being responsible for anything that involves a plant or ground cover. It can be physically demanding work, with lots of time outside, but Frank grew to love the challenge of one day having to build a log cabin and the next day a rose garden, baseball diamond, airfield, or magical woodland scene.
“Everyone has to be very resourceful in this industry,” says Frank.
“The people are interesting and it's the creativity that I love the most, and not doing the same thing ever over 30 years. You might do something the same, but in a different location, or for a different director, or different designer, so it's always different.”
Joining the 891 Greens Department led Frank into a 30-year-career in film and television production, where he helped build sets for productions such as The X-Files, It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and Arrow. Being part of the 891 community meant earning a good wage and the satisfaction of seeing his work on people’s television screens each week.
“I made a wonderful career with 891. It was great. I had a great lifestyle. I got to do what I love, so I wanted to give back to the Union,” says Frank.
Inspired to give back, he ran for and was elected to the position of Treasurer — a role he held for 12 years. During that time, Frank helped carve a pathway for a healthy retirement for fellow union members and a whole new generation of workers.
BUILDING A BETTER FUTURE FOR MOTION PICTURE WORKERS
Unionized film and television workers in BC and Canada owe a special thank you to Frank Haddad. His leadership and perseverance helped launch a campaign of organizing entertainment workers and unions across the country to establish what would become the Canadian Entertainment Industry Retirement Plan (CEIRP).
Today, CEIRP is the savings and retirement plan for members of a vast network of unions across Canada. This year, the plan reached one billion dollars – a major milestone – and Frank was thrilled, because he knew it meant a better financial future for thousands of motion picture and entertainment workers.
“I feel proud and sometimes I look at it in sheer wonder and think, you know, how did this happen? Because you're doing it step by step," says Frank.
Before the seeds of the plan were planted in 2004, members of the Union had no vehicle to save for retirement. Given the ebbs and flows of work in the motion picture industry, consistently saving for the future wasn’t always easy. Frank knew people, who for various reasons, hadn’t put enough away for retirement and ended up in a rough situation.
By the time he became Treasurer, the Union had tripled in size, welcoming in a whole new generation of members who could end up with similar struggles if something wasn’t done. Frank and other 891 members decided to start an 891 Retirement Committee.
The committee met with dozens of financial companies, weighing options. Word got out that a few other IATSE Locals were considering ways to create their own retirement plans too. Teaming up could mean more buying power, but it was not exactly a smooth road building solidarity between the different Locals and unions that traditionally viewed each other as competitors rather than teammates.
“I used to travel a lot,” says Frank. “I would get on a plane Friday afternoon or night after work, fly to Toronto and meet with some Locals to tell them about the plan, hop on a plane Sunday and be back at work Monday.”
“John M. Lewis, the IATSE Director of Canadian Affairs, and I would travel right across Canada doing that. It usually took two or three meetings with a Local to get them on board and convince them that if we all get together here is what can happen.”
The hard work of what he describes as “literally hundreds of hours of discussion” paid off. Now, almost every IATSE Local, Directors Guild of Canada (DGC), Entertainment Partners Canada, Actsafe Safety Association, and the BC Council of Film Unions are all part of the plan.
“Because of the buying power of IATSE 891 and the buying power of IATSE 873 combined, the little Locals with 200 or 300 people, now their members have the same chance of having a decent retirement. But that smaller Local could not afford to do it on their own. There’s just absolutely no way.”
“It shows how unionism can work, because a union works when everybody’s working together.”
“SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO LOOK FORWARD”
With more unionized workers enrolled in CEIRP, members get access to an array of retirement options that would otherwise be inaccessible. The collective buying power means access to low fee structures and more savings options, including TFSAs and registered education plans allowing members to save for their children’s education.
“Our payroll company, EP Canada, called me up one day and said, ‘Look, we can't get the returns and the fee structure that you guys can, can we join the plan?’ I mean, what more validation can you get than the people that crank out your paycheques saying I want to join the plan?” says Frank.
Thanks to the vision and efforts of Frank and members on the 891 Retirement Committee, unionized entertainment workers across the country now have a brighter financial future.
“It was a lot of work for a lot of people, and everybody volunteered the time,” he says, reflecting on the efforts of 891 members who made it all happen.
Frank hopes the next generation of workers entering the industry carry on the spirit of solidarity building and organizing. He encourages people to get involved in their union and whatever department they’re working in.
“As film workers and stagehands, we’re part of a community that’s very different. We work different hours. We do different things. The Union is only as strong as the people’s involvement.”
Safety on set has improved over the last decade thanks to efforts by Union members, he says, adding that improvements for workers can’t be accomplished alone.
“What IATSE 891 has done in the last eight to ten years with the emphasis on safety is huge. People aren't getting hurt. Their health is better. But you can't do that when you work alone. So you have to get involved. If you're not involved, then nothing's going to get better.”
His call to action for fellow Union members is to get involved in your department and to attend department meetings to network, learn about training opportunities, and build strong connections.
Being a Union member comes with many benefits, but he reminds us that they were only made possible by people working together and strategizing for positive change.
“Sometimes you have to look forward,” says Frank.
Read more 891 Member Spotlights here! Help shine a light on other 891 members making BC’s motion picture community a great place to work. Email spotlight suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and visit Ourwork.ca for more on the benefits of joining the Union.