Lindsay Dougherty has become one of the most prominent voices of the writers’ strike, fighting on behalf of Hollywood’s scribes. But she’s not a screenwriter.
She’s a Teamster boss with a penchant for F-bombs, forceful rhetoric and a tattoo of notorious union boss Jimmy Hoffa decorating her left bicep.
The Teamsters Local 399 head took the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium stage May 3 to deliver a fiery speech to Writers Guild of America members, who’d just begun their first strike in 15 years.
Dougherty received a standing ovation before rousing the crowd with an expletive-dappled barnburner, vowing that Teamsters would not cross writers’ picket lines.
“If we all want to get whats ours, we are going to have to fight for it tooth and nail,” Dougherty said. “If you throw up a picket line, those f— trucks will stop, I promise you.”
As the writers in the crowd roared and stomped their feet, WGA chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman threw her arms around Dougherty, whose union represents truck drivers, prop warehousemen and other workers essential to the physical aspects of film and television production.
“It was like 2,000 people fell in love with her,” WGA President Meredith Stiehm said in an interview this week.
And the trucks have stopped.
On Monday, writers picketed at sunrise at Long Island-based Silvercup Studios East, where Marvel Studios was filming the TV series “Daredevil: Born Again.” Members of the Teamsters and IATSE, the union representing below-the-line crew, refused to cross the picket line, the WGA said. That solidarity was repeated at another New York picket that halted Apple TV’s production of “Severance.”
“We’ve been shutting down productions every day of the strike,” Stiehm said. “It’s very visible what their support means.”
The WGA is counting on solidarity from not just the Teamsters and IATSE, but also unions representing actors and directors, to pressure studios to meet their demands for better pay and working conditions, particularly on streaming shows. The Directors Guild of America began contract talks with studios on Wednesday.
Dougherty’s impact has been the talk of the picket lines, according to “The Fast and the Furious” screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson, a WGA veteran who has gone on strike twice before.
“Lindsay’s influence has been phenomenal,” said Thompson, who’s been protesting outside Century City’s Fox Studios this week. “She made our resolve twice what it was already.”
Dougherty, who was uncontestedly elected secretary-treasurer of the Hollywood Teamsters last year (becoming the local’s first female head), has grabbed a lot of attention since the walkout started on May 2 for her strongly worded calls to arms and no-holds-barred tweets. Striking writers have made the second-generation Teamster into a meme on social media and embraced her as one of their own.
“There are a lot of people that are resonating with my message and the outrage,” Dougherty said in an interview. “Everyone’s pretty much fed up and sick and tired of what’s been happening in our industry. … A lot of people in this industry are ready for a fight.”
Dougherty, who turns 40 later this month, says she has spoken up during the writers’ strike because their fight shares parallels with that of the Teamsters. Unions of Hollywood workers in various fields are seeking better deals with the studios after streaming changed how artists and craftspeople are paid and how productions operate.
She’s noticed that she has people’s attention.
“I have newfound friends on Twitter,” she said with a laugh.
But not everyone is happy with the stance she has taken or how she’s taken her fight to the studios and tech companies.
Some studio executives have taken issue with her barbs, in particular when she calls them the “common enemy.” One studio source, who requested anonymity and was not authorized to speak publicly amid the contract fight, said Dougherty’s “amped-up rhetoric” wouldn’t help get company and guild representatives back to the table.
Contract talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, broke down May 1 during the hours before the previous three-year deal’s expiration. The two sides have yet to resume negotiations, and there’s no end in sight to the conflict.
Dougherty’s predecessor, Steve Dayan, defended Dougherty’s actions, arguing that her efforts to shut down productions will help hasten the strike’s end.
“Of course, the studios aren’t gonna like it because what they would like to see is division among the unions,” Dayan said. “The quicker things stop, hopefully the quicker things get resolved.”
Dougherty acknowledges that her public persona has rubbed some the wrong way.
“Some of the people that I deal with on the day-to-day from the studios are taking it personally, which they should not,” Dougherty said. “My messaging is directly towards the CEOs and to those that are making these decisions that are negatively impacting my members and their livelihoods.”
In response to studios’ complaints about her comments, she tweeted a picture of Hoffa, the late president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, wiping his eye with his middle finger.
She got a Hoffa tattoo 20 years ago in Detroit, an homage to the leader who built the labor organization into one of the most powerful of its time.
Hoffa was linked to organized crime and was forced out of power after being convicted of jury tampering. His 1975 disappearance was never solved, and he was declared legally dead in 1982, widely believed to have been murdered by the Mafia. Nonetheless, his legacy has loomed large over the labor movement, including in Dougherty’s childhood home.
“Jimmy Hoffa has always been a name in my household since Day One,” Dougherty said. “Hoffa was one of the strongest labor leaders in history. That’s exactly what our members want. They want a strong leader.”
Dougherty grew up in Detroit with a Teamster father and has been around movie sets since she was 12, when she would tag along with her dad.
Her father, a forklift operator, worked nights, while her mother worked days as a bookkeeper. Her dad eventually became secretary-treasurer of his local. Dougherty remembers the lift that union membership gave her family.
“I was always under Blue Cross, like a great Cadillac healthcare plan, because of the Teamsters,” Dougherty said, noting the distinction from her peers in the poverty-stricken area of Detroit she grew up in. “I noticed the difference in even my friends, how my father being in the union made that difference.”
A rebellious teen, she went on to become the first woman in her family to get a college degree.
She abandoned an early aspiration to become an actor while in college and got a bachelor’s in communications at Oakland University in Michigan. After working as a transportation dispatcher on the Michael Bay film “The Island,” she was hooked on film production. From there, she wanted to make her way to Hollywood.
Dougherty joined the Teamsters in 2004 in Michigan and moved to L.A. in 2006. She later became a business agent and organizer for the Hollywood Teamsters local.
Given Dougherty’s rapid rise to prominence, she could become the union’s head one day, Dayan said. “She’s a great tonic for the industry,” Dayan said. “You know where Lindsay stands. There’s no ambiguity.”
But Dougherty’s focus is on her members, she said.
Local 399 recently organized chefs and chef assistants, primarily Hispanic workers whom Dougherty said were often treated poorly on film sets.
Earlier this week, Dougherty met with government officials in Sacramento to advocate for the California film tax credit program, meant to keep productions from fleeing to other states that offer generous incentives.
“We want to make sure that our members have certainty that whenever the strike is over that they have plenty of work for years to come,” she said.
The writers’ strike could offer a preview of future fights as the labor movement grows more militant.
Although the Teamsters can choose to not cross picket lines, the union itself is not on strike. Next year, however, the Teamsters and IATSE, will need to renegotiate their contracts with the studios, which are set to expire.
For Dougherty, unity among the guilds is key.
“Everyone needs to be together on this, every worker in this industry, because nothing will change unless we fight,” she said.