In the skies over Hollywood a small plane pulls a banner reading “vote yes”.

On a monitor on a movie set, the same words are scrawled on a piece of luminous tape.

On a crane hoisting bits of scenery into place, the same slogan is emblazoned in big letters.

That simple message is at the heart of a dispute which could shut down movie and television production across the United States within days.

The 60,000 members of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) are voting this weekend on whether to authorise the first strike in the union’s history.

If it goes ahead it would be the biggest private sector strike in the US for decades and would cripple much of the country’s entertainment industry.

The union represents the behind-the-scenes workers, camera operators, stage hands, set designers, dozens of jobs in the armies it takes to create our favourite shows and movies.

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They are unhappy at what they see as longer shifts, poor working conditions and low pay. An industry that has just emerged from the shutdown of the pandemic is ready for more wholesale disruption in the cause of fairness.

IATSE members have received support from across the entertainment industry and members have flooded the Instagram account @ia_stories with their unhappy tales of life in the business.

Cinematographer Peyton Skelton recounted how he had crashed his car driving home from work early on a Saturday morning after an 80-hour week. “The toll on the body and toll on the mentality of each worker is great,” he told Sky News.

Members often talk about Friday work rolling into Saturday mornings, the so-called “fraturday” shift.

Union members are also unhappy that many discounted pay rates agreed with streaming services when they were new players on the production scene are still in force despite the explosive growth of those firms.

“Flash forward 12 years later and streaming is obviously the thing, it’s the main game in town and it’s the future but it’s also the present,” said Gene Maddaus of Variety magazine.

“Big budget stuff is happening under these lower wage contracts and major streaming companies are using these lower wages and the unions are saying this is basically a loophole at this point.”

It is 14 years since writers in Hollywood went on strike for 14 weeks, a shutdown that was estimated to have cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars.

This strike would be far more wide-ranging, with members from almost every area and stage of production. A handful of TV firms on different contracts would not be affected.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the major studios, said it has put forward an offer to meet the union’s demands. Negotiations are likely to continue even if IATSE members vote “yes”.

“We love our jobs and know we are lucky to have them,” said Peyton Skelton, “but these things need to be addressed.”

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