Saturday, December 01, 2007

Friday at Disney Animation Studios

Back when I first wormed my way into the animation business, I discovered that part of the package was having to join a union.

Disney was a "signator studio" with the IATSE, you see, so I had to become a part of Local 839.

I didn't have the first clue what that meant, but I couldn't work if I didn't join. So I filled out the union paperwork, mailed it in with my dues and initiation checks, and became a member. An ignorant member, but a member.

By and by I got health coverage ... and forced myself to read at least part of the health plan book that arrived in the mail. Through slow trial and error, I figured out how the medical coverage worked, but I was still mostly clueless.

I tell you this because Friday afternoon forty Disney employees filled up the big conference room on the hat building's first floor to hear me prattle on about the health plan, pension plan, and what it is the union does.

What's unusual about it is, I didn't ask any of them to come to the conference room to hear me talk.

They asked me.

They were a lot smarter than I was three decades ago, when I elected to stay blissfully ignorant.

It started a couple weeks ago when one of the newer Disney recruits called me up and said, "There's a bunch of people who've got questions about the union, about the dues and benefits. You think we can have a meeting?"

I said "sure," half-assuming I was going to be fielding semi-hostile questions: "What do you actually do for us? Why do we have to join?" "When do the health benefits start?" (etc.)

After a few more phone calls, the studio agreed to let us have a room (something it doesn't normally do). And forty new employees filed in to listen to me give detailed explanations about:

The intricacies of the multi-layered benefits package ...

the joys of unionism ...

... and why it's a really good idea to start saving for retirement at the earliest possible moment because time flies and people shouldn't look up at sixty thinking: "Gee, I'm old. Maybe I should start putting something away now."

Plus my assumption was wrong. The questions weren't hostile. People just wanted to know where the dues money went, how long it took to get health coverage, whether it was smart to invest in a 401(k) if you were from Europe.

It's nice to know that new employees are smarter now than when I started out. They actually request meetings and ask questions.


Floyd Norman said...

Though never a secure business, animation was a tad more stable some years ago. I guess that's why a number of us kids back then could remain dumb about the union.

Though there's more work than ever, the animation business seems even less secure today. I can see why those employees wanted to meet and ask questions. And, they were wise to do so.

The years go by a lot faster than you realize, and you can be damn sure the producers won't be there to take care of you when you're old.

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