Sometime back, I got into a discussion (some might call it a debate) with a bright-eyed young artist at one of our fine, non-signator studios. He told me:
"I don't want to work for one of those big studios, Steve. Give me the small place where I don't get the hassles. Where I can be less stressed. I make less money and the health care isn't as good, but I'm just not into being part of some giant company. It's not me."
He was working on a farmed-out show owned by one of the world's biggest entertainment conglomerates, getting short-changed in wages and health and pension benefits. I pointed this out. He shrugged ...
That was then. And this is 2010.
And nothing much is different. As I write, Neighbors From Hell is being jobbed by non-union Bento Box, even though NFH is owned by DreamWorks, Fox, and Turner Broadcasting (you'll note that we have a contract with that first name and the second two -- amazingly enough -- are parts of giant conglomerates.) And the non-union indie studio Wildbrain is busy with Peanuts
Are we picking up a trend here?
All of this, of course, is perfectly legal, because the monster corporations that rule us have subsidiaries and subsidiaries of subsidiaries, so labor organizations have the challenging job of organizing one sub-group, and then another sub-group. (It's a like pursuing shape shifters on a familiar but slightly alien planet, hoping you'll get close enough with a net to actually trap and tame the damn things.)
Of late, we've gotten disgruntled phone calls from staffers at various indie places who, for some reason or other, have grown tired of getting shafted with lower wages and crappy benefits while working on big corporate shows. I tell them I'm happy to assist them with throwing off the shackles of low-ball compensation, but they will have to sign rep cards and do a bit of lifting of the piano from their end. Some are happy to do what it takes, while others are a little hesitant. I always tell everyone I understand the stress they're under, but I remind them:
We're ALL working for multi-national conglomerates. But some of us are doing it under union contracts, and some of us aren't. So some of us are getting screwed worse than others.
But that's the way life is in this fine, corporatist age through which we journey.