Republican members of the Oklahoma legislature vowed to defend the state's right-to-work law after a film crew strike interrupted production of an independent film in Oklahoma City earlier this week.
On Monday, about 40 workers walked off the set and halted production on "Nefarious," a film adaptation of a book by BlazeTV host Steve Deace. They formed a picket line and demanded that the California-based production company Nefarious Film LLC recognize the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees as a collective bargaining agent for the crew.
IATSE is headquartered in New York City, but has local chapters in several states, including Oklahoma. The strike has continued into Friday.
In response, Oklahoma House Majority Leader Josh West (R) and Reps. Scott Fetgatter (R), Kyle Hilbert (R), Mark Lawson (R), and Marcus McEntire (R) issued a joint statement about the strike.
“When the Oklahoma legislature passed the ‘Filmed in Oklahoma’ rebate incentive program in our state this year, it was with the intent of not just attracting major studios but also independent filmmakers, who otherwise couldn’t get some brilliant and values-driven content made elsewhere," the lawmakers said in a statement Friday.
"We are proud to be the state where the landmark pro-life movie 'Unplanned' was made, and we are proud to welcome those same award winning faith-based filmmakers back to our state for 'Nefarious.' We want them to know, as well as other prospective independent filmmakers, that Oklahoma is proudly a right-to-work state and we will defend and uphold that for as long as this program exists,” they added.
The striking workers contend that Nefarious Film LLC has refused to pay them health and retirement benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. IATSE on Monday filed an unfair labor practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board against the production company, alleging that multiple employees were fired for supporting unionization and that others were "interrogated," "surveilled," or otherwise coerced once word of unionization spread.
The filmmakers have categorically denied the accusations made in the labor complaint. They also say that their production budget is under $2 million, shooting is only supposed to last for two and a half weeks, and the workers were told they would not receive fringe benefits because of the brevity of the project before signing their contracts.
In an interview with TheBlaze, Chuck Konzelman, a co-screenwriter and co-director of "Nefarious," also accused IATSE of using "mob-type tactics" to intimidate workers who cross the picket line. He said the filmmakers have appealed to the state legislature and the state attorney general's office for relief and to stop the harassment of replacement workers.
As a right-to-work state, Oklahoma's law provides that no state residents shall be required to join a labor union as a condition of employment. Additionally, it is illegal for a labor union to deduct dues or fees from the wages, earnings, or compensation of an employee without that employee's agreement.
In a statement, the Oklahoma attorney general's office said it was contacted by one of the film's producers about potential concerns by employees.
"We offered and stand ready to investigate any complaints filed with our office by their employees who feel their rights as employees under state law are violated," Press Secretary Madelyn Sheriff said.
"We have not received any complaints from employees at this time," Sheriff added. "Oklahoma is a right to work state and this office will vigorously investigate and enforce those laws for employees who file complaints."
"Nefarious" is written and directed by Konzelman and Cary Solomon. It stars Sean Patrick Flanery as a convicted serial killer slated for execution who claims to be a demon. On the day he is to be put to death, he undergoes a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he's mentally fit to receive his sentence.
Solomon and Konzelman are producing "Nefarious" with Chris Jones and Sheila Hart. Steve Deace is an executive producer.
According to KWTV-TV, the film crew members say they will continue the strike until Nefarious Film LLC comes to the bargaining table.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:37 p.m. ET on 12/10/2021 to include a comment from the Oklahoma attorney general's office.