Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Contract Co-operative Meeting!

... or, your union dues at work.

This morning the TAG Contract Co-operative Committee met with studio representatives regarding many of those sharp-edged items that cling to the cartoon business like burrs in a worn saddle blanket: uncompensated overtime, tight production schedules, storyboard and design tests that take four or five days to complete.

You know. All the usual knickknacks that make animation artists' working lives less than ideal.

The back-and-forth went on for an hour and a half, the Animation Guild kicking off ... and the studios receiving. (In other words, we came with an agenda of discussion items; the companies listened and responded). To wit:

1. Length of storyboard tests – TAG pointed out that tests, in many cases, continue to be 3 to 3 ½ pages of script, which means close to a week’s worth of work for artists applying for jobs. TAG’s position: the reasons for testing is 1) to see if the artist’s style of drawing is suitable for the show; 2) to ascertain that the artwork in the artist’s portfolio is theirs.

Management asked about studio productions needing longer test boards to see if applicants could handle scenes and sequences; committee members replied that portfolio samples should do that job.

2. Uncompensated overtime – (related to 3. below) – TAG said that many artists are working past the normal eight hours of straight time and working additional uncompensated hours to keep up with the demands of the production schedules. We informed the producers that we were holding meetings with employees and informing them of their overtime rights and responsibilities, and that putting down the incorrect number of hours they had worked on their time card was falsifying a legal document and they should do it. And if a production manager asked them to put down, say, eight hours when they had actually worked ten, to ask the manager if they were requesting the employee to falsify a time card.

The producers’ labor representatives said that they didn’t condone the falsifying of time cards and that if production managers were asking people to work uncompensated hours or not put down the correct number of hours worked, the labor reps wanted to know about it. They informed TAG that employees could contact the Animation Guilds business representative anonymously, the biz rep could contact them, and they would speak to production about the problems.

3. Production schedules – TAG said show schedules are often being shortened to the point where it’s impossible for artists to meet show deadlines without performing free overtime. (see 2. above.) TAG informed producers it was telling employees to work a full eight hours, but not to take (uncompensated) work home or to work free o.t. in the studio.

4. Job Classifications – TAG said some artists and animators were doing work out of classification (for instance, working as a lead background artist but being paid as an assistant b.g. artist) and that it was important for artists to perform work in the correct classification.

The producers said that the TAG contract has no “bright lines of demarcation” regarding classifications, there are no definitions, and that classifications often denote levels of skill. (In other words, they didn’t necessarily buy into our position.)

5. We asked to schedule regular co-operative committee meetings, so that we didn't go three years between meetings as we’ve done in the recent past. The producers said they are jammed up with contract talks until the end of the year, but they would be happy to schedule another meeting in early 2010. We agreed that TAG would take up individual issues with individual studios as needed.

Etcetera, etcetera.

The meeting actually was amicable, reasonably productive, and the rep from out Mother International said he was pleased with how receptive the studio folks were.

Of course, we'll see how far this era of good feeling extends. Contract talks happen May 18th. That ought to be a good test.


Anonymous said...

You really call that productive? You presented them with the problems that have been around for years and they gave you the same huge bucket of bullshit that they've been handing out for years. What's new? What's changed?

My 2 Cents said...

I have several reactions to what was discussed in the meeting:

1)Maybe, in the flow of the production pipeline, 3 1/2 pages of script per week is a fair rate. Having director approved thumbnails or roughs speeds up work efficiency considerably. For a test, however, it's excessive. You are working totally in the dark with the pressure your very livelihood being at stake. If they pass on your portfolio, so what? All you lost was a half hour, some gas and maybe a couple of bucks at Kinko's. Putting artists through the stress of a lengthy test, is cruel, exploitive and unnecessary.

All you need to do to see if an artist actually did the artwork in his portfolio is bring him in, sit him down and ask him to do ONE drawing. ("We like that character, now draw him in an original pose.") Bingo, mission accomplished!

2) The studio reps may be telling the truth when they say they don't specifically ask workers to falsify time cards. All they have to do is set an unrealistic deadline, then ask for a ridiculous amount of corrections, sit back and watch the fun.

I don't understand what is going on with these companies. If you decide to produce animation, you have to accept the process and expense it entails. Find some money somewhere or go into another business. Squeezing us is not the answer.

Steve Hulett said...

The problem, as it's often describe to me (and this is over a period of years) is as follows:

Artists have a show with a tough (borderline insane) deadline. A couple of artists, being experienced and extremely fast, hit the deadline in 40 hours.

Everybody else works late or takes work home. Nobody gets paid because the p.m. has said -- over and over -- "we don't have any money in the budget for overtime ..." and everyone knuckles under.

The majority work for free because they are frightened about losing their jobs. A few work for free because it's a matter of professional pride and not wanting to let down the director.

My point to employees is: If you falsify a time card you are breaking the law. If you provide fifty or sixty hours of labor per week while getting paid for forty, the employer will make the "sixty for forty" model the new baseline for the next production schedule.

The only way employees will ultimately be treated fairly is to build a culture where everyone follows the rules. "We don't have money in the budget for overtime" is spoken for intimidation purposes. Because what the phrase should mean in a studio where the laws and rules are followed is:

"We don't have the money to do the show in the way we're now doing it."

The goal is to build an environment where that last sentence is spoken, but not the version about overtime -- which is designed to provoke fear.

Anonymous said...

This discussion doesn't seem to cover CG productions where one day, about 4-6 months from delivery, we get an e-mail telling us that we are on 10s or 12s and/or Saturdays. We may be getting appropriate OT pay, but have lost complete control over our lives. It's one thing to work a 12-15 hour day because you have a lot of work to do, it's another to lay down mandatory 6 and sometimes 7 day weeks for months on end. It all comes down to someone not being able to create a valid production schedule and I don't understand why everyone just let's it go unchecked.

handel said...

Steve Hulett
-I gotta say..when you start off saying "your union dues at work". You are dead on correct. At work doing nothing but sending bureaucrats to deal with bureaucrats.
The union is pretty much every bit as much a racket as the studios. And the killer fact is that they are saving money on the backs of workers, and the union is MAKING money off of the backs of workers.
Screwed at both ends.
Only THEY (studios) pay you to screw ya, and we pay YOU to screw us. (ironic?)

You may quote me.

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