Friday, April 07, 2006

Turf battle with the WGA?

Today's LA Times has an article by Richard Verrier for which I was interviewed about a week ago. I think it's a solid, straightforward article, and there isn't much I'll quibble with (I do think it's a stretch to call us "blue collar workers"). But as with all such articles, only a fraction of what I have to say on the subject ended up being printed. . . My major point (which I think pretty much does come through) is that, from our standpoint, there is no battle. We think everyone working in animation deserves representation and benefits, and we wish the WGAw every success in organizing animation writers who are currently not working under any labor contract. In fact, in the past Steve and I met with organizers for the WGAw, and for a time we coordinated efforts and shared some information. Since then the Writers Guild took a more aggressive approach towards animation, and chose to end that cooperation. The article reports that TAG and the WGAw "clashed" over organizing Nickelodeon. In fact, when Nick was still nonunion and the Writers Guild made a run at organizing Nick's writers and story artists, the WGA called for an informational picket in front of the studio. We encouraged our members to march in their support, and Steve and I were among the TAG members who carried WGA signs that day. For whatever reason, the WGA never took their case to the National Labor Relations Board, never called for an official vote of the Nick unit, and later walked away from the organizing effort. TAG later got rep cards from Nick employees, took the cards to the NLRB, and negotiated a contract. The employees at Nick spoke, and we listened. The article also mentions a clash over organizing writers on DreamWorks' "Father of the Pride." Again, not really much of a clash. The Animation Guild has had a contract with DreamWorks pretty much from the start of that studio, a contract that covers writers and story artists, so we were surprised when the WGAw leadership at the time tried (unsuccessfully) to steal some of that jurisdiction. There was never any doubt who really had the jurisdiction, so it was really more of a tempest in a teapot. Last year the WGAw elected more activist officers, and their new president (Patric Verrone, a writer who has done extensive work in animation) has made organizing animation writers a top priority. So I guess in some quarters, based on pronouncements by WGAw leaders, it sounds like we're at war with them. Or, rather, that they're at war with us. Whatever. All I can say is that we continue to do the best we can to take care of everyone we represent, that we'll continue to try to organize studios that aren't organized, and we wish our sister unions the best in their efforts.


Steve Hulett said...

Kevin's covered this pretty well. I'll just expand on the "clash" at Nick and DreamWorks Animation.

The WGA(w) called us to jointly work with them on organizing Nick. We leafleted together, picketed together. The WGA(w) never took the cards they received from writers and storyboard artists to the National Labor Relations Board. After nine months of effort, the Writers Guild organized called to tell me the Guild was "walking away" from the organizing effort.

Nine months after that, TAG organized Fred Seibert Productions, which had a studio on Ventura Blvd. A couple of months after Seibert and TAG agreed to a contract, the studio relocated inside Nick.

I commenced going inside the studio to visit the union artists. Over a period of months, I started collecting rep cards from the non-union Nick staffers. By and by we reached a majority of cards, had the cards counted by a third party arbitrator, and negotiated and signed a contract patterned after the Seibert agreement.

The Writers Guild was not happy when a contract was reached, and told us so. A couple of years later, they also weren't happy that we were representing the staff on "Father of the Pride" at DreamWorks and urged the writers to walk. At the time, there was a long-standing IA/839 collective bargaining agreement in force.

DreamWorks and the IA worked out a pension/residual deal with the WGA. TAG kept jurisdiction. The writers had moneys paid into the WGA pension fund.

Our position is, whichever guild organizes non-represented writers, board artists or whoever and reaches a deal is fine by us. We've never complained when the WGA organized non-union animation writers; that's their right. But the WGA has called to gripe when we've organized animation writers.

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