Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Correcting Deadline Hollywood's Misrepresentations

There's been some lively back and forth in comments below, but I wanted to address in more detail the post that got the ball rolling in the first place because some folks still don't get it.

But to scroll back to the opening act, Nikki Finke wrote on her website:

Sony is taking away [the writer's] right to be repped by the WGA's new contract. This is exactly what WGA leadership was afraid would happen to toon writers as more Big Media companies turn animation over to IATSE's jurisdiction because of the weaker terms of that union's contract.

To be transparent about this, I have no problem with Ms. Finke's reporting ... when she actually reports. But at the point she starts slinging charges and accusations with minimal factual underpinning, I take exception. To wit:

... By all accounts, the studio played fast and loose with the facts from the start. "Bill, Josh and Hurwitz all took Sony's statements in good faith that the show would be guild-covered," one of the writers told me tonight. "Because Sony was saying up and down the line that they were waiting for the pickup before signing with the WGA." Nor did the writers/producers have any reason to disbelieve the studio since a previous Sony animated TV show, Dilbert, had been under the WGA's jurisdiction.

And then IATSE's Local 839 -- the so-called Animation Guild Local (formerly Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists) -- arrived to everyone's shock and dismay ...

Shock and dismay. Satan's drooling spawn shows up and ruins the party, and heartache is rampant.

Let me explain in boring detail why Ms. Finke is full of it. Ten years ago, the writers on Dilbert were not part of Sony Adelaide. Sony had the scribes in a separate, non-signator company, and the WGA had every legal right to go in and organize them, and did. Cheers for the W.G.A.

But that isn't the case with the current situation. This time around (unless I'm misinformed) the writers are under Sony Adelaide, Sony's longtime t.v. animation division. And there's a horrid, unfair Federal law that prevents the W.G.A. from riding in and "organizing" writers who are, from a legal standpoint, already organized because they're working under a pre-existing union contract.

Now let me tell you about Adelaide and that pre-existing contract.

The division was set up in 1995, headed by Mark Taylor (currently at Nickelodeon) and Sander Schwartz (more recently at Warner Bros. Animation). TAG began an organizing drive with Sony Adelaide in the late summer of 1996. We set up lunches for employees with President Tom Sito, I went down to the front of the studio, stood on the sidewalk on passed out cards, the whole usual organizing routine that any grizzled labor person performs over and over and knows oh-so-well.

By Fall 1996, we had a majority of Representation cards, and filed a petition for recognition. All this took place before the WGA represented one animation writer anywhere.

Long story short: After lengthy jousting with Sony, after protracted negotiations, we signed a collective bargaining agreement in April, 1997. And from that day to this, we've represented Adelaide's writers, board artists, designers, background artists, all the people we've repped in animation since TAG's formation in 1952.

Meanwhile, the WGA represented nobody in animation. (It signed its Fox deal later that same year -- 1997).

But of course, in Ms. Finke's mind, we're the interlopers: "the so-called Animation Guild Local (formerly Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists) -- arrived to everyone's shock and dismay ..."

Right. We just crawled out from under our rock and snatched the chocolate cake from the writers' mouths. And it's pretty much our fault -- by implication -- that Sony strung these writers along. Problem is, had anybody picked up the phone and asked, we could have told them the reality: You can't throw a long-standing agreement out simply because somebody working under that agreement doesn't like it.

So here's a request to Nikki Finke: you want to be a reporter rather than a propagandist, pick up the phone and call the organization you're slandering for a comment prior to the smear. At least then you'll present the illusion of objectivity.

11 comments:

Sean said...

What stops Sony from creating a shell independent company to do this new series?

Sean said...

I had a small quibble with your answer to this question before, at least in so much as my experience with decertification, splitting of unions, and forming independent ones or choosing new representation.

If I understand your question about employees decertifying from a union, a majority of the entire represented group, even if that group contained multiple crafts, would have to petition to decertify.

In other words, the writers couldn't vote to decertify out of a larger unit. A majority of the whole group -- writers, artists, technicians -- would have to agree that decertification was what they wanted.


I'm pretty sure you can decertify out of a larger unit, PROVIDED that there is a craft basis for such. This is how craft unions like the AMFA and others have decertified out of larger industrial unions that had big, company wide contracts out onto their own. Another notable example is the Independent Pilots Association, which was once covered by the Teamsters in its larger UPS contract, decertified and formed their own independent cargo pilot union.

In fact, it is this explicitly craft versus industrial model that lays at the heart of the CNA/SEIU fight, and also why the SEIU has accused the CNA for "raiding" and encouraging nurses to decrtify themselves out and into their own CNA locals.

Writers, as a craft unto their own, COULD decertify out, in theory, from an IATSE produced show. But it would create a flurry of appeals to the NLRB to determine whether there is a true difference between writers and story-boarders, and where the jurisdiction lies. I'm not quite sure if anyone wants to go down THAT road exactly.

Steve Hulett said...

Sean,

You say: I'm pretty sure you can decertify out of a larger unit, PROVIDED that there is a craft basis for such

Your theory is fine, but what you probably don't know is that there's a history of the WGA trying to get control of animation writers away from the IATSE, going back to the eighties.

Twenty years ago, when the Writers Guild tried it at the National Labor Relations Board, it failed resoundingly.

I've read volumes of transcripts from those National Labor Relations Board hearings. At the time, the WGA was trying to wrest control of animation writers away from the IA after the Animation Guild went on strike.

The Board found against the WGA and for the IA. It ruled the writers were an integral part of the animation unit; the WGA ended up on the losing end of the ruling.

Since then, the Writers Guild has organized various animation writers. But the Guild's difficulty is, it would still have to climb over that earlier NLRB decision.

Given that there's precedence against the WGA prevailing, and since this isn't a burning issue for most Guild writers (You'll note that the WGA dropped its attempt to get rid of the exclusionary language in its agreement re animation in the last negotiation), I don't see any severance of writers from the IATSE to the Writers Guild hapening anytime soon.

But I'm not psychic. I guess we'll see, won't we?

Steve Hulett said...

What stops Sony from creating a shell independent company to do this new series?

Nothing that I know about.

But Sony has to be motivated enough to do it. As always, it's a matter of "leverage, leverage, who's got the leverage?"

Anonymous said...

Writers are integral to animation? That should be news to the haters here. :-)

Anonymous said...

of course they're integral. they're called story artists;)

as in 'story by'

Anonymous said...

Just a word here about writers: in a typical feature anywhere from 2 to 6 big ticket writers were employed for one or two passes on the film. They were all WGA members whether they were working under that guild or not.

But all the final scenes animated and 95% of the dialogue for that film was written by the non-WGA story artists. I'm thinking of one particular film but it's the way most of them play out.
Writers don't like it like that(why would they?), but in fact most of those films were hits.

Anonymous said...

Writers might not like it, but they sure will take full credit for it if the film is a hit. How many times have you seen "a film from the writer(s) of..." when you no damn well the film they're referencing had none of their dialogue and very little of their storytelling.

Anonymous said...

From Tuesday, La Finke pats herself on the back because Variety now "agrees" with her that Sony lied to the "Sit Down, Shut Up!" writers.

Have any of the SDSU writers asked their agents and/or lawyers why they didn't make any effort to find out if it was under a TAG contract? Given that Hulett says no one bothered checking with him or TAG, and he says he didn't even know about it until La Finke reported on the walkout?

Sean said...


The Board found against the WGA and for the IA. It ruled the writers were an integral part of the animation unit; the WGA ended up on the losing end of the ruling.

Since then, the Writers Guild has organized various animation writers. But the Guild's difficulty is, it would still have to climb over that earlier NLRB decision.


Well that explains why the haven't got down that road again. Unless they believe the makeup and precedents in other cases would force the NLRB to decide otherwise.

For the record, I don't work in Hollywood (I'm a social worker in a public union), but I just picked up Tom Sito's Drawing the Line, and decided to check the blog out.

Kevin Koch said...

Sean, that was a great question, and it was worthwhile for leading to an important clarification from Steve. I wish more people within animation took an equally detailed and keen interest in how things really work.

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