Sunday, August 05, 2007

One More Semi-Boring Post About Overtime

The last couple of weeks, the thorny little issue of unpaid overtime has cropped up via members on the phone and members in person (again). No doubt it will in the future.

I'll recap my general take on this problem (again):

Falsifying time records (that's the time cards everybody fills out each week) is a no-no. If you work six hours in a day, you're supposed to put down six hours. If you work ten hours, you're supposed to put down ten. You put down something else than what you worked, you can (potentially) get in trouble.

Despite Federal, State and Union Contract rules about overtime, many people put down 8 hours x 5 workdays = 40 hours no matter how many hours they work in a day or a week. They do this for many reasons, but the main ones are:

1) They're told to. 2) They're ambitious and want to get ahead and curry favor. 3) They think they know what the unspoken rules at the studio are and don't want to "rock the boat," the better to remain employed.

A handful of days ago I had a face-to-face meeting with an employee who said he was sick of working until ten or eleven every night to keep up with the demands of his director. He said the work was done without overtime being paid. I asked if other people on the crew did the same thing. His answer:

"Almost all of them. And they asked me what my problem was, said I should just suck it up and do the work. Stop complaining about it."

I get this from time to time. From employees at a lot of different studios. I always say the same thing:

"I can't stop people from working unpaid overtime if they're bound and determined to do it. But I'm happy to file grievances, walk through the studio late at night, police the problem however I can if somebody wants me to."

"But if somebody takes work home and does it for free, I don't have any good way to stop them."

The artist I talked to decided to do nothing. I said I understood.

This isn't solely a union issue. It's also a federal and state issue. Over the years I've watched artists at non-signator studios allow their employers to violate various laws.

It's kind of a long-simmering, universal problem. Ignorance (sometimes on both sides) fuels some of it. The calculation that violations of the law won't result in negative consequences fuels the rest.

Here are the three sets of work rules that individuals who create entertainment in a signator (union) animation studio work under:

The bottom set of rules are the ones in the collective bargaining agreement.

The middle set of rules are state labor laws (around here, that would be California).

The top set of rules are federal laws, starting with The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

If people want to violate some or all of the above, then they will.

Whether the Federal or State Government, or some labor union, likes it or not.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

This 'thorny little issue' seems to be the most consistently pervasive issue animators deal with and yet beyond the usual union party rhetoric you've never seemed interested in exploring alternative solutions despite the pleas and suggestions often offered here by your longsuffering membership.

Anonymous said...

it's ultimately up to the artist to stand up for themselves. a big problem at some small studios is that they're always willing to drop an experienced person and replace them with some kid out of college that's too intimidated to say "no" when they have to work all hours of the night and on weekends. Supervisors also give the schpeal about being on salary as an excuse not to pay overtime because "you still need to finish the quota we gave you before we can consider giving you overtime." Like there's some magical extra work AFTER doing what we were assigned that we'd stay until 11pm to do? rubbish.

I come in when I'm supposed to and leave when I'm supposed to and rarely stay any longer since I've yet to be compensated for my O.T. even after requesting it. I say "no" to weekend work. I might be on someone's shit-list somewhere, but it's yet to come back to me. I'm not married to my studio as I have personal projects and freelance gigs to support me even if I do somehow incur some sort of "punishment." The thing is... I haven't run into any troubles yet saying no to unpaid O.T.

Anonymous said...

You are in a tiny minority.

Steve Hulett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Hulett said...

This 'thorny little issue' seems to be the most consistently pervasive issue animators deal with and yet beyond the usual union party rhetoric you've never seemed interested in exploring alternative solutions despite the pleas and suggestions often offered here by your long-suffering membership.

What alternative solutions, exactly? I'm not being facetious.

Because every artist who has complained to me about this over the past few years, has been asked by me what they wanted done.

Many said: "Make the abuses stop."

I said: "Okay. Want me to talk to the producer? File a grievance? Do more policing in the studios after hours?"

Most replied: "Don't do anything with my name in there anywhere. I don't want to rock the boat."

So, anon. Give me an alternative solution, and I'll pursue it. And report back here and let you know how it's going.

As for anon. #2: She/he could be in a minority, or in a majority. From my own observations, there's way less abuse of overtime in theatrical work than t.v. work, but I've run across it in both places. (And gotten it stopped at some studios.)

My reason for another o.t. post? I think the issue is important and I want to keep it out there. And I want people to be aware of what the rules/regulations/laws are, whether they're following them or not.

Anonymous said...

"What alternative solutions, exactly? I'm not being facetious."

I've seen suggestions posted here whenever this issue comes up and you always reply "That won't work."
So what's the point in repeating them if you're just going to shoot them down?
Besides, if you took these suggestions at all seriously, you wouldn't need me to repeat them because you'd remember them yourself.
How much time would you say you, yourself, have spent even trying to come up with a solution other than "fill out the paperwork, sign your name and file a complaint"?

Anonymous said...

Filling out the timesheet with the actual amount of hours worked should not be an issue. Nor, should the artist feel at all intimidated into putting down a ficticious number, say, 40.

I've seen timesheets with 96 hours on them...

Simply refuse to do the o.t. if you feel it won't get compensated. If a studio is understaffed, it's their problem.

Rufus.

Anonymous said...

If it were as easy as that, there would be no problem. Clearly, the issue is more complex than that.

Steve Hulett said...

I've seen suggestions posted here whenever this issue comes up and you always reply "That won't work."

Uh, actually no, I don't. (And I haven't done it now.)

The things I've tried are:

1) Policing the studios late at night and/or on weekends. This was effective at some studios some of the time, because people I encountered told me they were working uncompensated overtime. But people also sometimes tell me: "I'm not working uncompensated overtime" and then it isn't effective. Or maybe not needed, because they weren't working uncompensated overtime.

2) I've occasionally filed grievances of contract violations I've discovered, sometimes over the objections of the involved employees. The companies have always paid those hours.

3) I've talked to producers about the problem, employees about the problem, posted about the problem, proposed a meeting about the problem.

Here's the difficulty: There's a culture of some people working unpaid overtime. This culture has gone on for years. Sometimes it's better and sometimes it's worse.

If you took these suggestions at all seriously, you wouldn't need me to repeat them because you'd remember them yourself.

I do remember them. I've got to go around and make the overtime abuses stop. Crack heads. You think I'm pretty much not doing the job. Got it.

How much time would you say you, yourself, have spent even trying to come up with a solution other than "fill out the paperwork, sign your name and file a complaint"?

About eight hours per week. Why do you think I blog about it, go to producers about it, talk on the phone to studio labor relations departments about it, hold meetings about it?

I was on the phone to Disney about it this morning, as a matter of fact. The Mouse House's position? "We've talked to the production people and made it clear that time cards should be filled out accurately, and that artists should get pre-approved overtime whenever they they need it."

So. At Disney at least, the problem has been solved, yes?

Anonymous said...

This is anon #2 again. Basically I'll work O.T. if, and only if, it get compensated, and I've worked at places where they've come through and I worked O.T for them gladly. At another studio I worked O.T., logged it, and found that my next paycheck did not reflect the hours I worked, so I simply chose not to work O.T anymore. I don't really need the extra money so I didn't complain, I just didn't bend over backwards for them anymore.

It really comes down to your personal style. I look at myself as a mercenary, I'm loyal until the money stops coming in. Some people are married to their studios and slave away for very little benefit. As a Darwinist, I don't see much sense in that. If I were working at a much larger studio that took care of it's employees and had great projects that I would personally want to invest myself into, then I would gladly work myself to the bone, as long as I'm enjoying it.

From what I understand, the Guild only enforces the rules, but the guild is not a nanny or a caretaker that's gonna "tisk tisk" a delinquent studio for breaking rules when the person who's tattling won't stand up for themselves and wants to only complain anonymously. I would certainly hope the guild backs me up if I found myself in such a situation, but it would require that I put myself out there.

At this point, it would seem that the biggest problem with work-place abuse is a complete lack of solidarity amongst artists. From what I've seen, artists will complain until they're blue, but will rarely act on them and if they do act on them, they often find themselves alone. They guys sitting in the cubicle next to them just turn a blind eye and mutter to themselves, "better him than me."

No wonder artists are treated like mere commodities than respected members of a team on most productions...

-Daniel

Anonymous said...

But if we're all supposed to act like mercenaries who are charged with standing up to abusive bosses on their own, what's the point of a union at all? To back us up? If we're going to bite the bullet and risk blackballing it's not the fear of the union that's protecting us... it's the fear of being sued.
And what if you work with a bunch of artists who want to file grievances but you don't agree with the charges... are you supposed to stand in solidarity with them?
I agree with anon.#2 insomuch as I take responsibility for how I choose to work and I don't let myself get bullied. I negotiate my salary. But it seems as though the one thing the union could be good for is keeping abusive producers in line and it seems as though that's not happening.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Daniel.

There is such a thing a fatigue, and you could end up in a hospital because of it. Do you really think the studio will take care of costs and such if such were the case? A nice "Get well" card, if you're lucky, is what you would get. No more.

As an artist, my first priority is my health. Period!. I need my rest. Doing a 96 hour week would undoubtelly be a health issue later on. You think the studios will be there for you?!?

Management needs to realize when their expectations are unrealistic.

After all, we can't walk on water.

Rufus.

Anonymous said...

I'm a mercenary when it comes to my work-for-pay relationship with the studio, I'm not a mercenary when it comes to fellow artists. I love art and have much more respect for the guy in the trenches next to me than any abusive "fat cat" sitting in their cushy chair upstairs. As for the artists sitting next to me I would certainly hope they would have my back in a bad situation or would at least be open to discussing the issue and if we were all to come to a consensus about there needing to be something done then we can make our grievances as a group instead of on an individual basis. You'd be surprised at how quickly management will get a jump on fixing things if you've got 10 artists coming into their office instead of one, nervous, knocked-kneed individual.

That's not to say there aren't people in upper management deserving of respect. There are directors and producers I've met that I have the utmost respect for and that's because they've treated me as a valued member of a team and I recognize their talent and intelligence as a sign of why they're in their positions in the first place. And that's what it all comes down to, if the studio doesn't pay you as much respect as they ask of you, then maybe you should rethink your position with them.

-Daniel

Anonymous said...

thats just really unrealistic.

theres not so much work out there that most of us can afford to be so choosy about who we work for. lots of us just have to take what we can get.

and sometimes paying your rent means working for a tyrant.

and in a lot of cases artists not only dont get each others back, they go out of their way to stab you in the back. so you think people like that will join you in a walk out?

we cant count on management, artists or apparently the guild to do anything so were left with no choice but to do our best and fend for ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Well first off, I make sure I'm not a one-trick pony, meaning I do illustration, graphic design, painting and a few other things on the side so I can sustain myself through freelance. I guess I'm also lucky to still be young and not tied down with a family or significant other yet. Call me young and naive if you want. So I see your point about how the risk can be high for some people.

As to your other point, it doesn't have to start off with anything as serious as a walk-out. Like I said, if you tell your boss that something just isn't sitting right with you and it's not just you who has a complaint but a few other guys as well, I'm sure you'll have the leverage of numbers on your side and hopefully the boss will be level-headed enough to see that this isn't just some isolated event for them to shrug off. I'm not calling for anarchy or organizing strikes, but a concerted effort to make your gripes known and to make the people in charge know that you're not alone in your feelings.

If the management hears your 10 voices and STILL does nothing to fix the problem, or worse yet, punishes you for it, then I'd say that's grounds for union and/or civil action. The fact that there's 10 of you making a case instead of one puts the wind at your back and looks very poorly on the studio. Any smart studio will know that 10 angry artists does not make for good PR.

This actually worked very well for me at a certain school I used to go to. We had a teacher that basically sat on his ass not teaching us anything relevant to the course, had almost no knowledge of the curriculum, literally LEARNING the stuff at the same time they were trying to teach it and semester after semester they were there again, wasting student's time and apparently hadn't gotten any better at it. We were angry that we were paying good money for these classes and not learning anything and people did complain about this teacher, multiple times, but always as individuals. When a few of us realized we had all complained and nothing had happened, we banded together and got a whole group of us organized and went to the administrators office with a list of complaints and reasons why we felt we were being wronged. Lo and behold, that teacher's position was restaffed with someone that did know what they were doing shortly after.

An organized group will always make upper management stand at attention and take note as opposed to anonymous individuals.

but like you said, if you've got a mortgage to pay off and kids to feed and don't wanna stand up for yourself then I guess you've given yourself up to the idea of being mistreated and simply, "living with it." If that's the case, then why complain at all? Why even question those willing to fight? Apparently it doesn't matter to the unwilling.

I suspect that you do question the fighters because you, yourself, WANT to fight, but feel that you can't for the sake of your own or your family's well-fare. Otherwise you wouldn't be here nay saying those that would stand up to work-place abuse.

-Daniel

Anonymous said...

its not that i'm unwilling to fight, but if i have to do it myself, what good is the guild anyway?

Anonymous said...

I would hope that they serve as an umbrella if things ever did get to the point of needing to pursue legal action or if initial organization of artists goes unheard. Despite TAG being an official organization I have to assume they are tied down and can only initiate actions on a limited basis meaning that they need 1) People willing to put themselves in the spotlight with their complaints and 2) Need good evidence that work place abuse really is happening.

Anonymous complaints makes that almost impossible though, which is why it's so important to take that risk and put yourself out there in these kinds of situations. TAG would then back you up if you need it.

I hope that's the case, anyway.

-Daniel

Anonymous said...

Think of them as the calvary once the Indians have circled your wagons and your ammo is running low. Their fights need justification otherwise they would look like bullies going around and massacring Native Americans without reason. You can't call the police until AFTER the crime has been committed.

I hope that analogy works.

-Daniel

Anonymous said...

So, the big studio execs are the poor Native Americans, are they, Daniel?? That's hilarious! You know, I’d agree with you, if it weren’t for the fact that our dear “cavalry” has obviously given up on its “settlers,” to use your analogy. I mean, look at that title, for god’s sake: “One More Semi-Boring Post About Overtime.” Does that look like OT is a pressing issue for the cavalry, as it actually is in the real world, on a cubicle/wagon level? And mind you, the crime Has been committed many a time. If You don’t do free ot, just look over to the cubicle next to you – I bet that person does.
Right now you’re single, you’re young and strong, you’ve put away a few grant, you feel good, right? But in a couple of years… yeah – mortgage and kids DO make a difference. Believe me – none of these people here like being “anonymous complainers,” but with a tiny industry like this one, any open rant could cost you dearly. Few can afford that.
So what do the “complainers” do? They get together, and decide to organize a cavalry and pay them salary, with the understanding that you know, a bullet or two would be fired if the anguished (albeit muffled) cry of a wronged anonymous settler is heard from within the wagon circle…

-Pat

Anonymous said...

the fact is the guild is unsympathetic to a huge number of their members for the situation they are in. the guild's overall attitude towards this problem (perhaps the biggest problem artists face in the industry today) is extremely old fashioned. the industry has changed a lot in the past 20 or 30 years and yet the guild relies on the same old ideas.

Anonymous said...

Do you suppose ANYONE at the guild ever questions their tactics and says "Gosh, I wonder if we put our heads together if we could come up with some new ideas for addressing these problems" or do they just sit around and say "Those fucking whiny anonymous little shits have no god-damned idea what they're talking about"?
Seems like the latter, but I hope I'm wrong.

Steve Hulett said...

"Those fucking whiny anonymous little shits have no god-damned idea what they're talking about"?
Seems like the latter, but I hope I'm wrong.


You're wrong.

Steve Hulett said...

its not that i'm unwilling to fight, but if i have to do it myself, what good is the guild anyway?

You don't have to do it yourself.

Just give us a call.

Steve Hulett said...

the fact is the guild is unsympathetic to a huge number of their members for the situation they are in. the guild's overall attitude towards this problem (perhaps the biggest problem artists face in the industry today) is extremely old fashioned.

Old fashioned how?

the industry has changed a lot in the past 20 or 30 years and yet the guild relies on the same old ideas.

What old ideas?

And what are the new ideas you want us to implement that I haven't listed up above?

Steve Hulett said...

I mean, look at that title, for god’s sake: “One More Semi-Boring Post About Overtime.” Does that look like OT is a pressing issue for the cavalry, as it actually is in the real world, on a cubicle/wagon level?

"One More Smei-Boring Post About Ovetime" was i-ro-ny.

Just to be clear.

jon anon said...

spineless worms.

not all, just the ones who complain and do NOTHING. and then speak ill about those who actually TRY.

the first week a studio had me work unpaid overtime i called up the guild. gee, i then got paid for my overtime.

does it always go that swimmingly? nope. can the guild help me in every single situation? sure can't, but they try their best and that's all i ask of them.
but anyone who complains and doesn't lift a finger to help themselves can burn.

i've seen a lot of posts about how the union fails and never listens to any new ideas yet i haven't seen ANY new ideas represented on here. just bitching.

i have issues with the union too but i talk to them directly with my complaints.

yeah and talking trash about blog titles...DEFINITELY energy well spent.

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