Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Wisdom of Bob Gibeaut

When I was a but a lad, Robert Gibeaut was a Vice President at Walt Disney Productions, in charge of Operations. Before that, he had been the guy in charge of Editorial (Cutting, as the sign over the editorial building had it in those simpler, halcyon days.)

One day, a long-time Disney film editor was given his layoff notice. The editor became enraged at this, and stormed around the studio waving a glossy, Mouse House pamphlet that proclaimed employees at the studio were all part of the "Disney Family," all of them special, all of them part of the long Disney tradition of Family, etc.

The man yelled at his supervisor: "We're a family here! This pamphlet says so. I've been working at Disney's fifteen years!" (etc.)

The boss didn't want to deal with the tirade, and so bumped him up to the next level. The same story was yelled, and the same flyer was flapped about. The editor was again bumped along.

He finally got up to Company Chairman Card Walker, waved the pamphlet again and spit out his story. (Did I mention these were simpler times?) Card, also not wanting to deal with the guy, told him to go see Bob Gibeaut, the man in charge of operations. So the guy did. And two minutes into the waved pamphlet and angry sob story, Bob cut him off with:

"You don't believe all that 'family' crap, do you? We're running a business here."

Which pretty much ended the string of tirades.

I've told this tale before, but the core of the story always resonates with me, because old Bob was right. Companies aren't families, or charitable organizations, or there to look out for your interests. Oh, they'll tell you they are all those things, if they think it serves their interests at that particular moment, but they aren't, not really. Not ever.

Companies exist to maximize cash flow and profits for stockholders. They act in their self-interest, and if this means lying to you, cutting you off at the knees, laying you off a day before Christmas, they will do it.

Because "it's business."

I mention all this now because I've gotten a number of phone calls recently from members, some working and some not, who express disbelief that employers can be so callous and heartless, lay them off at the blink of an eye, write them up for a slight infraction, and so on and so forth.

They have, you see, heard the "We're the good guys here!" tape loop from administrators and supervisors until they start believing it, and that is always a dangerous thing.

So here (again) are a few simple rules to keep in mind when you enter employment with studios:

1) When negotiating for a job, go in with as much knowledge as possible (wage levels, work loads, political dynamics in studio, etc.) It will help you get a better deal.

2) Once hired, play well with others. Remember you're a newbie and at the bottom of the food chain.

3) Always have your antenna up, checking the studio atmosphere and political weather. It often changes daily.

4) Know what your rights are. And strive to know when it's best to exercise them.

5) Understand that one day you'll be moving on. Be at peace with that.

6) Tell yourself daily as you're brushing your teeth: "The company is not my Mommy."

And always but always remember the wisdom of Bob Gibeaut: "You don't believe all that 'family' crap, do you?"


Floyd Norman said...

Good old Bob Gibeaut. I remember him well.

And yes, I didn't believe any of that "family" crap either.

Anonymous said...

On another note...
Just a question:
No 'Pegboard' updates on The Union-site anymore???

Tim said...

I worked for another company that also had "family" in their human resources pamphlet. Eventually, they changed it to "team" (just before a string of layoffs). The philosophy being that they were still a friendly place to work together in unity toward a common goal, but as with all teams, sometimes players get benched or cut, and sometimes the franchise has to downsize.
Ahhhh.... semantics.

Jeff Massie said...

The Peg-Board updates are online. If your browser doesn't register them, hit Reload.

Remember, too, that any member on honorable withdrawal can get the PB sent by mail just by requesting it. If you're on withdrawal, email me your request along with your current mailing address.


Anonymous said...

"The company is not my Mommy."

And neither is the Union. :)

Anonymous said...

Great the Peg-Board is back!
It is actually nice being able to just go online...

Anonymous said...

And neither is the Union. :).

Who suggested it was?

Floyd Norman said...

The members are the union.

Still a concept that continues to elude most members.

Steve Hulett said...

Many people think the union is a big burly guy in bib overalls with "Union" stamped across his fanny.

It's not. As others state, it's a collection of people who are members of the union.

I have said this many, many times over the course of years. And never, ever said anything else.

Anonymous said...

Many people think the union is a big burly guy in bib overalls with "Union" stamped across his fanny.

The existence of a union had fantastic merits back in the day. Especially when Disney was the only game in town, and the artists really were being treated poorly.

The problem now is that too many artists view the union the same way some americans view wellfare from the government. "I just want someone else to take care of me"

In this day in age, if someone doesn't like their working conditions or their wage or anything else...they are always free to negotiate their salary themselves or even leave if they don't like how things are run.

To think that someone else should do your fighting for you is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Artists were never treated poorly at Disney. That they ever were is the usual pro-union BS. Now if you wanna talk about the conditions at Termite Terrace, Walter Lantz, Fleischer, etc., sure, you might have a point. But when I read that Disney had air conditioning, an in-house cafeteria complete with waiters to bring food and drink to the animators on demand, and recreational areas PRIOR to unionization, I wonder what the beef with the company was really all about. Guess we'd have to point the finger at Herb Sorrell, Communist sympathizer. (Here comes the outcry...)

Anonymous said...

"I wonder what the beef with the company was really all about."

I guess it is kind of like what happened to the autoworkers union. The guy on the assembly line who screwed in the rivet wanted to be paid like a doctor. I think I heard the average salary of the assembly line workers was over $100K.

But surely that kind of greed can't come from esteemed artists in film can it?

Nah...I've seen the Dreamworks swimming pool, cafeteria, and gameroom. Seriously, those guys should strike now...appalling conditions and salaries I tell you. No wonder we need an animation union.

(rolls eyes) oh brother...

Anonymous said...

It's always fun to read the comments from people who don't remotely understand the function of the union or how it works. Welfare, yeah, that's how it works. Disney artists never mistreated, yeah, that must be true, cause you were there, right? Clean-up artists who get paid like doctors, yeah, that's it.

Let's look at the animation centers were there is no union to help provide a measure of stability and support to the working animators. How do they compare to southern California in the quality and quantity of the workforce. How many animators flee those places at the drop of a hat for Los Angeles after they've been screwed around by 'market-driven' bottom-feeder studios?

It's tough for some people to admit it, but if you look at the history of the industry, the short-sighted, business-driven management mentality would have long ago destroyed the industry if not for the balance provided by the union. That's what happened in New York when the union became too weak to matter.

Anonymous said...

I've worked in the non-unionized VFX industry in Southern California for the past 10 years. I'd like to share my non-union observations and experiences.

Most of the VFX artists I know live from paycheck to paycheck, have no health insurance and no pension to look forwards to when they retire. A 10-hour day is standard, a 9-hour day is rare, and an 8-hour day is a pipe dream.

Overtime gets interesting. 80+ hour weeks do happen, but an artist might not get paid for all of those hours. VFX artists often get paid on a weekly or daily rate. If it's a weekly rate, the artist gets paid the same whether he works 80 hours in a week or 40 hours. If it's a daily rate, the artist might get time-and-a-half for coming in on a Saturday, or he might get the exact same day rate he got for each weekday.

Few VFX artists get paid sick days or paid vacation days. Also, few VFX artists can afford to lose a day's wages or fall behind a day on a deadline. So, if someone gets sick, he comes into work and infects the rest of the studio. Then the entire studio struggles to meet a deadline while coughing, hacking and sneezing.

Few VFX artists get two weeks' notice or severance pay.

At least one studio hires VFX artists on an "independent contractor" basis. At that studio, it takes 30 days for a VFX artist to receive payment after submitting an invoice for the previous two weeks' work.

Because most VFX studios do not offer health benefits, it is up to each artist to obtain private health insurance. Most VFX artists I know go without health insurance, because they cannot afford the premiums. Others that might afford the premiums get turned down because of pre-existing conditions like a childhood cancer. If these uninsured VFX artists run into bad luck, they lose everything.

I would never, ever drag a friend into the VFX industry. Right now I'm here because I enjoy the co-workers and love my work.

I did get to work a union gig once. The union benefits were amazing: an eight-hour workday, paid hourly overtime, a year's worth of top-flight health insurance, two-week notice, sick/vacation days, a chance at a 401(k)/pension/IAP, and severance pay. My problems with that job had NOTHING to do with the union. I got stressed-out by the executives' poor decisions and especially by my supervisor, whose open anxiety and fear were contagious. I came to think of union work as "not-fun" work, based on that one experience.

That said, I hope to work only at union studios ten years from now. I will not be able to meet the demands of a VFX career as I get older.

Anonymous said...

Thanks last poster for sharing. My experience of non-union work is the same. Union folks get pensions, amazing health care, 401K etc. and someone to argue on their behalf with the boss if he or she doesn't pay as promised. Non-union. Health insurance: yes, but it's expensive - very expensive - and not as good. Oh, and once I stop working there, it's gone. Not like the union, where the benefits keep going for a while. And when I retire? Nada. But union folks get health bennies after they retire.

MaryC said...

My good friend Maurice Noble was one of the guys who struck at Disney - and Walt, who had previously treated him well, stuck him in a broom closet after the strike. Maurice lasted two weeks in the broom closet and then he quit.

He never went back to work for Disney, but he was never sorry that he'd struck either. Why did he strike? He said it was because he had lots of friends at Disney who were regular animators and painters who were not being paid well and had to work looooong hours and weekends. Yes, Walt fed them and gave them a party or two, but he was also a demanding boss.

It wasn't fair, as far as Maurice was concerned. He always liked to stand on the side of the underdog. I'm not sure that he would agree that conditions at Termite Terrace (where he eventually landed) improved so much after the unionization. No swimming pools or catered buffets suddenly appeared. But Maurice was grateful for the standardization in pay rates and for the benefits the union eventually won.

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