Grizzled old union organizers (of which I am one) learn various rules as they work to drag non-union companies into the union fold. Here are three basic ones:
1) Abusive company management is an organizer's best friend.
2) A company won't get organized until company employees reach a "tipping point" and get fed up with the status quo.3)Treating employees well enables a company to avoid unions.
A case in point is the Disney Company's non-union animation studio Pixar. The Emeryville facility has been around for a dozen years making animated features, and it's been "non-signator" from the first day of its existence to right this minute.
One reason for this is, it's in the Bay area, where very little cgi work is unionized. Another reason is Pixar management's style and philosophy. To wit:
Pixar Keeps Its Crises Small, Says Founder Catmull
Pixar thrives because it seeks out small crises, said Ed Catmull, the animation studio’s president and cofounder.
Rather than skate on the success of animated hits such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, Pixar’s executive team continually solves problems in hopes of avoiding big ones, Catmull told a packed auditorium at the Stanford Graduate School of Business Conference on Entrepreneurship on January 31.
The last thing anyone wants to do after producing a hit movie is dissect what worked and what didn't but Catmull insists on postmortems. “Organizations are inherently unstable,” he said. “You have to work to keep them going.”
To not engage in workplace soul searching is to invite potentially catastrophic problems for your business. Look at what happened to Evans & Sutherland and Silicon Graphics, Inc., both of which lost their place at the top of the computer graphics industry after a few serious mistakes, Catmull said. Success can mask a company’s problems until it buckles.
Catmull thought he’d learned this lesson from watching other companies, but when he and his colleagues began working on their second movie, A Bug’s Life, they faced lingering problems from Toy Story, their first release in 1995. Pixar’s jump into the movie business left newly arrived production managers feeling like second-class citizens to the artists and computer animators who had shaped the company’s first success. Coordinating the detail-oriented work of moviemaking had choked off communication. The problems were fixable, but they could easily have festered.
Making movies at Pixar also taught him the value of people over ideas.
“If you give a good idea to a mediocre group, they’ll screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a good group, they’ll fix it,” he said.
To avoid such problems, Pixar’s development department now spends much of its time building healthy creative teams.
Catmull also believes in taking care of employees, both in principle and as a money-saving tool. With so many “overachieving people working for overachieving managers” to produce Toy Story 2, Pixar started limiting the number of hours people could work and hired a full-time ergonomist and masseuse. Injuries dropped dramatically, along with insurance premiums, he said...
The question I most often got from Disney animation employees when Disney absorbed Pixar was: "Is Pixar going union?"
At first I said, "I don't know." Then, as the merger dust settled and I got more information, I replied: "I don't think so. Not soon, anyway."
I pretty much feel the same way now. Pixar employees, I keep getting told, have lower rates of pay than its unionized Disney Feature counterparts in Burbank. This may or may not be true, but I haven't confirmed the information. And have no real way to confirm it. But pay won't be most Pixar employees' determining motivation for wanting to "go union." (At least, I don't think it will be.)
Pulling in the other direction will be the overall studio culture, that sense of fulfillment and well-being which comes from working on quality films (and here Pixar currently bats seven for seven). These things are intangibles that often trump mere moolah. And of course, there's the pride people have in working for Pixar because it's, well, Pixar.
So then, what would make Pixar slide over into the union column? Possibly changed perceptions. Maybe a different culture. If, for instance, management got more arbitrary and abusive. Or like, if the Pixar story department decided it would be better served by organizing under the WGAw, with all the residuals and other goodies that would flow from a WGAw contract. Then there might be a surge in that direction. (As President Bush says, sometimes money trumps other things. Even a pleasant studio environment.)
Like I say, there's always that elusive and ever-shifting "tipping point." Sometimes its hard for management or employees to know exactly where it is.