Friday, June 30, 2006
It's 1991. A new, small studio named Film Roman has recently opened for business in Toluca Lake California, run by animation veteran Phil Roman... The studio is producing episodes of "Garfield" and doing well. It also has a number of animation union members, and we collect rep cards -- postcard-size documents saying the signer wants to be represented by a union -- from about 40% of FR's staff. I have my doubts about whether we have enough cards to win an election, but the union executive board thinks otherwise. "We can win this," a board member says. "We ought to go for it!" So we do. And a month later, a Federal election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board is held. And we have our large, round butts handed to us. The ballot tally is 22 for the company, 3 for the union. Good soldier that I am, I inform the IATSE -- our mother international -- about our loss. An IA official gives me a terse and pungent response: "Jesus, Hulett. That election, that's f*cking pathetic. You lose an organizing election that bad, why do you even f*cking bother?" FADE OUT FADE IN It's summer, 2004. I am sitting in my office, dreaming my summer dreams. A Film Roman artist walks in and tells me that Film Roman employees are "really upset" how the company has cut pension and health benefits by 50%, and "want to go union." I smile and bob my head. I know about the benefit cuts. Nine months previously, some agitated Film Roman employees -- also angry about benefit cuts -- tell me the company employees are mad and "want to go union." All excited, I rush up to the sidewalk in front of the studio and hand out rep cards and flyers. And get even more excited when I collect ninety representation cards. Hot damn. But my excitement fades when a Roman director tells me "There's 230 artists in there. You're about forty cards short of a majority." Learning from our earlier mistake, we don't file for an election. So now, three-quarters of a year later, here's another disgruntled Film Roman artist, wanting me to go out and leaflet the studio. Instead, I slap a stack of rep cards into his hands and tell him: "I can only bang my head against a brick wall so many times. You go collect a bunch of signatures on these cards, and THEN I'll go up there to Film Roman. Maybe." One week later, he's back with signed cards. He asks: "Can you hold a meeting for the employees? I know I can get people there." I say sure, schedule a meeting at a hall near the studio, and think little more about it. Until the day for the meeting arrives and I'm standing in the office trying to decide where to eat lunch, and the office manager lowers the phone and says: "Are you supposed to be at an organizing meeting? There's a guy on the phone wondering where you are." My brain synapses fire at full velocity as I realize I'VE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE DAMN MEETING AND I'M -- HOLY SHIT -- TWENTY FIVE MINUTES LATE! I break a half dozen traffic laws getting to the meeting hall that's a mile and a half away. I am talking and handing out three-color brochures as I sprint through the door. About sixty people are there, listening in rapt attention to my adrenaline-laced spiel. After I finish running my mouth, half of them stick around to get more information. Like a dislodged boulder lumbering downhill, events unfold at an accelerating clip. Rep cards pour in. I stand outside Film Roman two or three mornings a week, for once getting smiles and high fives instead of the stinkeye that organizers usually get from employees nervous about talking to a union stiff who lurks in front of their non-union company's doors. In a matter of weeks, 60% of Film Roman employees give us rep cards. We file a petition with the NLRB for an election, and IDT, the company that owns El Roman, begins an anti-union campaign against the Animation Guild. It's less than marginally effective because IDT's lawyers have less than a marginal knowledge of the 'toon business. Every time a generic anti-union screed comes down from the front office, a Film Roman employee hands it to me outside the front doors, and we quickly bang out a response. This goes on for weeks. At last election day arrives, and "Simpsons" staff, "King of the Hill" staff and everybody else troop down to the second floor conference room to vote. I show up late for the vote count, which has started without me. Management is there, on time and in full force -- Phil is long gone -- and they're not happy with my unprofessionalism. But they get less happy as the vote tally unfolds, for the company isn't getting many votes. I watch their faces sag as the Animation Guild piles up ballots. At the end, TAG has 166 of 186 votes, or 89 percent of the ballots in its column. The executives' defeated expressions firm up into masks of stolid resignation, and we all shake hands. On the way back to my car I think, "Amazing. This time we won by almost the same percentage we lost the last time." It only took thirteen and a half years to do it. Moral: All things come to those who wait. All it takes is critical mass, a tipping point, and enough employees who are mad enough to really want it.
Posted by Steve Hulett at 11:44 AM