One of my favorite blogs is the Artful Writer. It's pretty hot and heavy over there right now, what with the ramp up to (barring a negotiating miracle) a major WGA job action which starts at 9:01 p.m. tomorrow here in Los Angeles.
The comments thread of the post "The Strike Starts Monday" has dragged TAG into the fray, starting with this:
I came to this guild having had a “successful” career writing Animation for $1400/week for five years. During that time, I wrote on several of Nickelodeon’s highest-rated shows. My writing partner wrote and directed 1/4 of the episodes of “SpongeBob SquarePants” and I was responsible for 1/5 of the episodes of “The Angry Beavers.” The current value that those shows have generated for Viacom? $12 Billion dollars. My writing partner topped out at $2100/week. In the year 2001, tired of not receiving residuals for my endlessly- repeating work (even though the actors and composers for my episodes do), I joined with 28 other writers and we signed our WGA cards.
So, Nickelodeon quickly filed suit against our petition for an election, and set about trying to ferret out who the “ringleaders” were. In the meantime, they canceled the show that I had created 4 episodes into an order of 26. Then they fired the 3 writers who’d been working on my show. Then they fired 20 more of my fellow writers and shut down three more shows, kicking almost their entire primetime lineup for 2002 to the curb, and laying off 250 artists.
Then, once the WGA’s petition for election was tied up in court over our illegal firings, Nickelodeon called in the IATSE Local 839 “Cartoonists Guild” — a racket union which exists only the screw the WGA and its own members — and they signed a deal which forever locks the WGA out of Nickelodeon, even though we were there first. Neato! ... (Comment #16)
Actually, the WGA wasn't there first. Actually TAG was. In 1997 and 1998 we staged multiple pickets and collected cards from 40% of the workforce inside Nick. Enough to file an NLRB petition, yet also too few to win (probably) a federally supervised election . Old "union organizer" rule of thumb: if you don't have at least 51% cards -- and probably more than 60% -- you'll have a tough time winning an NLRB vote.
So we didn't file with the NLRB.
Another organizing rule: It's pointless to argue who "got there first." What matters is, "Who got recognized as the bargaining agent, negotiated a contract, and got it ratified?" first. So then I chimed in:
When the WGA was attempting to organize Nickelodeon, Jerry Daly (then the WGA organizer) contacted The Animation Guild about working to organize designers and background artists while the Writers Guild covered board artists and writers.
For months we worked in tandem — with minimal success or impact. Artists and writers — the “trouble makers” — were being steadily laid off.
Sometime after the vote that the WGA organized in front of Nick, I visited Jerry Daly’s office at the WGA. He said to me: “The guild’s getting pretty much nowhere with this. We’re going to walk away.”
Eight months after that conversation (with nothing still happening at Nick) the Animation Guild organized a small animation company owned and operated by Fred Seibert (former head of Hanna-Barbera). After we had signed a collective bargaining agreement, Seibert moved his studio from its Ventura Boulevard location to Nickelodeon.
That led to me walking through Nick … which led to me collecting rep cards … and ultimately a contract.
Jerry Daly was angry that I never gave him a “heads up.” I reminded Jerry that he had told me eight months before that the WGA was “walking away” from the organizing drive; he was unmollified ... (Comment #123)
And that rejoinder triggered this:
re: Steve Hulett, organizer for IATSE Local 839, aka the Animator’s “Guild”, and post #123…
Steve Hulett & his anonymous comrades claims not withstanding, the Animation “Guild” did most definitely screw the writers who had signed WGA cards at Nickelodeon, simply by incorporating all those same writers who had not yet been fired for signing WGA cards (and all new writers) into their bargaining unit. They COULD have exempted us, as they initially promised the WGA they would when we initially agreed to work together to organize Nickelodeon, but they chose instead to offer their services to Nickelodeon as a means to lock out the WGA permanently, and thus to get their Local most-favored-union status.
Oh, and it wasn’t 8 freaking months later, either… it was 3 weeks, maximum, before the long knives came out and Steve Hulett was walking around the building arm-in-arm with the same Nickelodeon Executive who had just blacklisted us, handing out IATSE Local 839 signature cards.
He did this, incidentally, while we had cases before the Local 839 protesting the en masse firings of people who had just coincidentally signed union cards toward a WGA election. It was Steve & IATSE Local 839 who made continuing our organizing attempts at Nickelodeon into a superfluous effort.
Incidentally, what do you think is going to happen when you’re an artist in a building and you see people getting fired left and right for union activity, and then your boss comes walking into your office introduces a “friendly” union organizer and hands you a signature card?
It was smart of Steve to cease being an animation writer… I’m sure the money is much better putting the screws to other writers as an organizer for the AMPTP’s Pet Scab Union. I’m certainly glad that I stopped being an animation writer… my pay went up by 100% immediately (y’know, after my year of fucking unemployment, vainly trying to get work at any of the animation studios that Steve Hulett’s worker-friendly union covers). Too bad I loved writing animation, or I’d be happy about how things turned out.
As for the WGA’s fault in this story, yes, I think I’d pointed out that this entire incident happened BEFORE Patric Verrone ran for President, and that the WGA was of no help whatsoever when we were fired & blacklisted. Hopefully those days are over (except at Local 839 studios, where supporting Viacom’s blacklist is still Job #1).
And lest anyone here ever wonder who’s telling the truth about this situation, dig around a little bit and find one of the writers from the Dreamworks Animation/NBC primetime animated show “Father of the Pride.” A show which was CLEARLY supposed to be covered by the WGA, where the writers were hired and told it would be a WGA show, and where they showed up to their first day on the job and were told they HAD to join Steve’s IATSE Local 839. A deal was eventually brokered between the 839 & the WGA whereby we would share the writers, but they would pay into their WGA Health & Pension plays… a deal which was later scuttled by the 839 AFTER the work had been completed.
Scabtastic, Company-funded, will-never-strike, Syndicate-run, racket union: the Animator’s Guild. Where the President of the Union once offshored work to non-union artists in Canada on a film he was directing WHILE serving as those artist’s union president! THIS is the future of the WGA under the AMPTP’s tender mercies. Vote with your feet (and your fists, if need be). (Comment #139)
And that brought another poster (Anonymous, and not me) into the dustup. Who had his or her facts dead on:
Regarding the stuff between Nickelodeon, the WGA, and the Animation Guild (local 839), Micah writes:
... and it wasn’t 8 freaking months later, either… it was 3 weeks, maximum, before the long knives came out and Steve Hulett was walking around the building arm-in-arm with the same Nickelodeon Executive who had just blacklisted us, handing out IATSE Local 839 signature cards...
Here’s the real timeline:
The WGA got involved at Nick in early 2001. They eventually collected Rep Cards from most of the writers and board artists at Nick.
The WGA organized a picket of Nick on 8/30/01. Steve Hulett and several members of the Local 839 Executive Board joined that picket, in support of the WGA.
The WGA held a unofficial vote on 10/3/01 to confirm that the Rep Cards were legit. Assemblyman Paul Koretz oversaw the vote, which the WGA won 19-2. However, the WGA chose NOT to go to the NLRB to have an official vote, which would have required Nick to actually negotiate. I’ve never been able to understand why they chose to not to go the official route. Instead, they publicized the vote and tried to shame Nick into negotiating. Nick, having no legal requirement to recognize the WGA as the bargaining agent for the writers/board artists, ignored the WGA.
Months later, in late spring 2002, the WGA organizers, who were regularly meeting with the TAG 839 organizer Steve Hulett, told Hulett that they were “walking away” from the effort at Nick.
In August 2002, TAG 839 organized Frederator, an independent studio that supplied content for Nick.
In Sept. 2002, Frederator relocated to inside the Nickelodeon building in Burbank, giving Steve Hulett his first access to Nick. It was after this that he began collecting Rep Cards for TAG 839.
In Oct. 2002, having collected an ovewhelming majority of cards from employees at Nick, including cards from board artists and writers, TAG 839 and Nick signed a contract.
Sooooo, that’s a tad more than 3 weeks. Sorry, Micah, but your vilifying the Animation Guild is full of shit. (Comment #152)
Then Anon. added this:
More baloney from Micah:
And lest anyone here ever wonder who’s telling the truth about this situation, dig around a little bit and find one of the writers from the Dreamworks Animation/NBC primetime animated show “Father of the Pride.” A show which was CLEARLY supposed to be covered by the WGA, where the writers were hired and told it would be a WGA show, ...
DreamWorks Animation, both TV and feature, had a contract with TAG 839 from DreamWorks’ inception. There was never ANY possibility that “Father of the Pride” could or would be done under the WGA. The jurisdiction of DreamWorks was, and is, 839. There apparently were some overeager writer’s agents who told their clients that “FOTP” would be WGA, but they were mistaken. Perhaps someone at DreamWorks suggested it, perhaps not (DreamWorks execs denyed ever clouding the issues). Since 839 wasn’t involved in those writers getting hired, whoever suggested or let them believe that those were WGA jobs had nothing to do with the Animation Guild.
A deal was eventually brokered between the 839 & the WGA whereby we would share the writers,
No, despite John Wells banging on tables and pronouncing that the show would absolutely be done under a WGA contract, the jurisdiction was 100% 839. There was NO shared jurisdiction.
but they would pay into their WGA Health & Pension plays… a deal which was later scuttled by the 839 AFTER the work had been completed....
Again, completely wrong. Local 839, as a favor to DreamWorks and in an attempt to keep everyone happy, tried to arrange a situation where pension and health contributions would flow to the WGA plan instead of the 839 plan, even though the employment was under 839. Despite the best efforts of 839, it was the WGA pension and health plans that couldn’t accommodate the arrangement, so that plan fell apart.
Scabtastic, Company-funded, will-never-strike, Syndicate-run, racket union: the Animator’s Guild.
Scabtastic? Bullshit. Company funded? Nope, funded by members dues, just like the WGA. Never strike? Our last strikes were in 1979 and 1982. Strikes the WGA did not support in any way.
I know it grieves some animation writers, but the WGA’s history towards animation writers is one of contempt, neglect, and misinformation.
Where the President of the Union once offshored work to non-union artists in Canada on a film he was directing WHILE serving as those artist’s union president!
So, tell me, do WGA writers refuse to write for shows that have any part of their production sent out of the country? Do they support other Hollywood unions with such a policy? Uh, no, they take the money and run.
Tom Sito, past 839 president, was offered the chance to direct a movie that was scheduled to have most of it’s production done in LA under 839. Warner Bros. had already decided that a chunk of the movie would be done outside LA. After Tom accepted the directing job, he actually succeeded in getting a bigger part of the movie done in LA under 839. And for this some chumps want to criticize him, instead of applauding him for busting his ass to get as many people in town employed as possible. (Comment #156)
A few small points: It wasn't John Wells (former WGA prez) banging on tables. Victoria Riskin was Writers Guild president at the time. And whether she did any table thumping or not, I have no idea. She did make some phone calls.
Oh. And 839 didn't "scuttle" anything. The IA brokered the deal with the WGA, the health and pension plans of both unions ikaeyed the deal (although it was at the WGA's Plan, it was a struggle), and everything proceeded as per the agreement, so far as I know.
There's a bit more on the thread, but you get the idea. Passion and anger is great, and it's even more great when supported by facts.