Saturday, March 17, 2007

Another example of why unions are obsolete?

Here's an interesting article from the San Francisco Bay Guardian about the Orphanage, a San Francisco visual effects house. In a nutshell, because they're located in space rented from the federal government at the Presidio, and because the Presidio is federal property, then state and local labor law apparently don't apply. Which means the minimum wage there is $5.15, and 20-hour shifts can be demanded at will . . .

Here's a key quote:

At one point, Seeley charges, he was asked to work a 20-hour shift — and return to work two and a half hours later. When he didn't come in, he was fired. Seeley sued, and the case was eventually settled. But along the way, the lawyers for the Orphanage raised a startling argument: since the Presidio is a federal enclave, they said, California labor law, which restricts the length of shifts, doesn't apply.

When I was doing my medical internship at the Wadsworth VA Hospital in Los Angeles, there were drug dealers who made sure to only operate on the VA grounds. That seemed odd to me, until someone explained that by doing so they were completely safe from arrest and prosecution from city and state law enforcement. It seemed the feds weren't exactly worried about drug dealers on federal property, and these dealers operated in plain sight.

Apparently, the same logic applies here. Federal labor law is meager compared to California state labor law, so why not rent space from the feds, and get an extra bonus at the expense of employees?

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great..now that they've all seen this, more Calif. studios can try to take advantage of that (previously) little known loophole.
TAG/IA had better be powerful enough to stop them.

Joey said...

I believe that ILM is now located on the grounds of the Presidio. Does this mean that they are not subject to California's labor laws?

MrFun said...

I've had the opportunity to visit "LucasLand" at the Presidio in San Francisco. I never thought about it before, but could that be the reason Lucas decided to build his facility here?

Other than that, it's a pretty cool studio.

Kevin Koch said...

ILM has a contract with IATSE local 16, and being on federal property wouldn't negate any of the union provisions, even if it does negate state labor law.

As for the Orphanage, the simple way to stop any such nonsense would be for the animators to sign rep cards, vote to go union, and get a union contract that protects them. The ironic result would likely be a happier, healthier workforce, and a more productive and successful studio.

Anonymous said...

I hear more complaints from the folks at Orphanage than from any other facility in the world. If any place needed the union, that would be it.

So, if Orphanage signed cards, that works the exact same way if they were down in LA? I thought you guys were stuck in the LA area with ILM being some kind of weird exception.?

djhlights said...

Has anyone tried to organize these people? What about trying to apply the Davis Bacon Act to their plight? Anything to deal with this BS.

Anonymous said...

In regard to artists at the Orphanage simply signing rep cards, is it not possible that the studio could (at least threaten to) fire anyone they suspect of pro-union activity before any such election could be held? My understanding is that it is indeed illegal under Calif Labor law to fire anyone for such activity, but since they are exempt, what's to stop them?

David said...

"is it not possible that the studio could (at least threaten to) fire anyone they suspect of pro-union activity."

Are there any Art Babbitt's at The Orphanage ? (geez... are there any Art Babbitt's anywhere in our industry these days ? rhetorical question, never mind...) One can only hope someone will have the backbone to step forward. That situation at The Orphanage just sounds so wrong.

Steve Hulett said...

Organizing is sometimes a tricky thing.

Does an employee risk layoff by handing out rep cards? Sometimes. And other times no retribution is handed out.

Do studios run anti-union campaigns against labor organizations? All the time, in a variety of ways. They do misinformation, work to build an anti-union culture, selectively weed out "trouble makers."

When there's a union election coming up, they often hire "union busting" law firms that specialize in defeating elections. Some of the golden oldies are: "Hey, we're family here!"... "The union will charge big dues and initiation fees!"..."We'll have to put in a time clock!"... "You make more money being non-union!"... etc.

Many times, artists just "go with the flow." If it's a unionized place, they go along. If it's a non-union shop, they go along. The fact that "the bss" doesn't want to go union is often enough to tamp down organizing drives.

In my experience, unionization comes when some "tipping point" happens: a) A big number of union employees come aboard who want their union pension and health benefits, b) the company slashes wages and/or benefits to its non-union crew, c) a key employee or two want to unionize.

I'll confess that doing this as long as I have, I've seen so many different scenarios where studios "go union," that I'm hard-pressed to catalogue them all.

I've also been involved in spectacularly unsuccessful organizing campaigns. They're not pleasant to go through, but they are educational.

Paul said...

Certainly the art staff aren't the ones being paid $5.15 an hour, are they? Hell, my son makes twice that working in a sporting goods store.

And if they are the ones making that laughable wage, why the hell did they take the job in the first place? That's an insulting wage, even if you're just starting out.

Anonymous said...

I don't see what the advantage is in organizing union cards which relies heavily on the cooperation of your co-workers and the union itself over simply standing up for yourself by simply telling your employer that you won't work unpaid overtime.

Both scenarios could result in getting fired or blacklisted - so what's the difference?

(that's a rhetorical question... I know what the textbook answer from the union reps will be)

Steve Hulett said...

Certainly the art staff aren't the ones being paid $5.15 an hour, are they? Hell, my son makes twice that working in a sporting goods store.

You'd be surprised. I've seen artists doing animation for free at studios. I've seen artists walk away from $1500 jobs to work at $500 ($12.70 per hour, no benefits.)

The $500/week job was on a "really cool project." The $1500/week job wasn't.

And if they are the ones making that laughable wage, why the hell did they take the job in the first place? That's an insulting wage, even if you're just starting out.

Hey. It was a "really cool project," don't you know...

Steve Hulett said...

I don't see what the advantage is in organizing union cards which relies heavily on the cooperation of your co-workers and the union itself over simply standing up for yourself by simply telling your employer that you won't work unpaid overtime.

Both scenarios could result in getting fired or blacklisted - so what's the difference?


One helps you. One helps everybody.

But the actual-world reality is, when artists are unhappy at a studio, they mostly quit and find a job at another studio.

Anonymous said...

Why should I be interested in helping anyone who doesn't have the stones to help themselves?
I know as a union we're all supposed to care, but frankly I know a lot more hacks than I do real talent... and the real talent doesn't need a union to tell their employers what they are and are not willing to put up with.
So, sure, with the union I'm helping the 3% that are talent (who don't need my help), but I'm also helping the 97% that are hacks.

Kevin Koch said...

Both scenarios could result in getting fired or blacklisted - so what's the difference?

Just to be clear, signing a rep card CANNOT get anyone fired or blacklisted, since studio management never knows who signs rep cards.

And to the last anonymous, even though you've indicated you have no interest in helping anyone else, the fact is, it's not for folks outside a non-union studio to help or not help. The only people who can decide to go union are the people inside the studio. So you don't really have a dilemma.

Anonymous said...

I'm all for the unions...

but if the orphanage is such a sucky place to work for, then don't work there!

Artist should stand up for themselves,but it's much better standing up en masse...

Rufus.

Anonymous said...

I worked for the Orphanage a few years back and these arguements have been going around in circles for a long time. It's easy to shout form a Union, but here's the real problem. Most of the employees are project hires, so they get OT and all that but short term contracts. So, these contractors generally move around to many dif studios assuming they are talented. A big part of the problem is labour law doesn't support contractors very well anywhere in california, it's a very grey area. Being in a Union so you can work with one client, doesn't necessarilly help you when you want to work at one of the many other non union shops in the area. So, from a wider business perspective you may not be doing yourself any favors. Good animators / td's etc etc can find work. So do what i done, just don't work for them anymore then you don't have a problem. Eventually, no "actual" professionals will have anything to do with them, they will suffer. The O has had it's problems, the odd not so good supervisor ;) but they survive because there are a few really talented people they pay well who carry the whole studio and somehow get good work out of inexperienced people. But if your fresh frm school, the O has been a good place to get a start in the industry, as short lived as it has been for many of them. BTW, perhaps in legal land - labor law doesn't apply on federal property. But the EDD put the wind up them and is the only reason people now get paid overtime. So I suspect that's another grey area.

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