So early last week I get a number of phone calls from staffers at Disney Animation Studio ... which pretty much goes like this:
"Hi. We've had some meetings over here, in the theatre. And management is telling us that the studio is going to a 45-hour workweek, but nobody is going to get their salaries rolled back, and some people will be getting wage bumps, and that some production support people are getting let go.
"Can they like, do that?"
My answer is yes, with a long-winded explanation. Then I get asked to come over and visit, and a few days later I do ...
When I walked into the hat building last Friday morning, most everyone I encountered had similar questions about the meetings earlier in the week, about why the studio is doing the 45-hour thing. I responded to questions for an hour and a half, the same way I did over the phone; below is a compilation of my answers, attached to the employee questions:
Q: At our meeting, they told us the studio's moving to a mandatory 45-hour week on our next picture. I thought the regular work-week was forty-hours. What gives?
A: I assume the studio's going to a forty-hour week with five hours of required, pre-paid overtime. They have the right to demand "reasonable" amounts of overtime from employees, so the forty-five hour work-week is certainly doable. (Unlike DreamWorks Animation, most Disney Feature employees work without personal service contracts and are "at will.")
Q: They told us that a lot of employees would be getting the same pay, but some of us would be getting pay hikes. What's up with that?
A: Based on what I've been told, over-scale employees are getting their hourly wages cut, since they are now working an extra five hours of overtime (calculated at 1 1/2 times their hourly rate) at the same weekly salary. So, their previous hourly rates -- based on the old forty-hour week -- would have to be trimmed to accommodate the new five hours of o.t. being built into the same weekly wage.
Q: Can the studio do that?
A: Sure the studio can do that, if you the employee remain above the collective bargaining agreement's minimum hourly rate for his or her classification. What they're doing -- and this is a rough calculation -- is cutting above-scale employees hourly wages by around 15%-18% when they build in the extra hours.
Q: And some people are getting a bump because ...?
A: Because they're working at scale ... or close to scale. And the studio has to increase their weekly salary because it's adding five extra hours at time and a half, and everybody has to stay above the minimum rates. So ... more money for them.
Q: Why is the studio making these changes?
A: I think they want to cut labor costs as much as possible. But they have to make the cuts within the parameters of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Hence, scale employees receive more weekly pay, over-scale employees get lower hourly rates.
Q: They're not framing it quite that way.
A: I'm assuming they're putting a sunny spin on it. But they haven't confided in me, so I'm making an educated guess about their inner thoughts and motivations.
Q: Well, I'm happy I at least still have a job.
A: A lot of people have mentioned that. Great times we live in, huh?
Disney isn't alone in its Hollywood belt-tightening. We're in a recession, and every entertainment conglomerate is hack-hack-hacking away.