I bopped through several cartoon plants this week, and here are two stories I picked up. They present kind of "Ying" and "Yang" situations, so I recount both of them here:
Story One: The late-working, under-compensated artists:
"Everybody in the department is working 'On Call'*. We've got tight schedules and nobody can make the deadlines without working late nights and coming into work Saturdays. Only nobody gets authorization to come in on Saturdays, so we work the Saturdays for free.
"And everybody is afraid of getting on [the producer's] shit list so nobody speaks up or rocks the boat. But the schedules are getting worse. A lot of us don't get to see families much. I don't know how much more we can take ..."
What do I do when I hear this? (And I've heard variations of this story for freaking years.) I offer to file grievances. Offer to come in on weekends and see who's working and take names, then file a grievance for non-compensation. ("Just call me up, and I'll drive over ...")
So far, nobody's taken me up on my proposal.
(I've also suggested that people work 5% or 8% over scale so they can't be "on call." Nobody has bit down on that one either. The artists tell me they'll be laid off at the end of the season if they do ...)
Story Two: The eight-hour per day crew.
"There's a lot of designers and board artists around here who get pressured with deadlines, get intimidated into working free overtime, and do work it for free.
"But not us. Everybody in our department has talked and has an understanding. And when a production manager comes around and says, 'The deadline's been moved up,' we politely say 'then you're authorizing overtime?' And if the production guy says no, we tell him, 'Sorry, we can't do it.'
"We've drawn that line and the production people know it. And we don't get hassled. But the people out in the other room? They get manipulated and pressured and work free o.t. all the time. But that's their problem ..."
Two different shows at two different studios (and of course I'm not going to name them, for obvious reasons.)
And two different groups of people with different approaches to dealing with management. Group #2 isn't afraid to draw a bright line in the sand and declare "no uncompensated o.t.," Group #1 is. I can't sit here and tell you that Group #1 is totally unjustified in their fear of possible layoffs if they don't "hit the deadline" without asking for authorized overtime, but I do know that their fear is overblown.
But what I believe to be true doesn't matter. I'm not the artist with his job on the line. And if everyone's perception is that they'll get canned if they don't falsify timecards and don't charge for the Saturday worktime, then that becomes the reality.
Everybody knuckles under, everybody keeps their head down and slaves away, and everyone is unhappy.
Sadly, I can't solve this fustercluck, because I can't guarantee that nothing bad will happen if people stop working for free. I can't take their fears away. I can't wave a magic wand and bend production managers to my will.
All I can do is be a squeaking wheel, nudge, cajole and stir the pot where it's stirrable, and try to convince people if they stop working long hours for free, the sky won't crash down. And I intend to go right on trying, because Mom always said I was the most trying son she had. And I don't want to disappoint Mom now.
* "On Call" is a clause in the TAG contract that's been there since way before my watch. It's basically a paragraph that creates semi-salaried positions for animation employees who don't have to be paid on an hourly basis under state or federal law. If the employee agrees to be "on call," and is more than 10% above minimum scale, they can work above and beyond an eight-hour workday without additional compensation. However, if they work a sixth or seventh workday (usually Saturday or Sunday), then they'll be paid "1 1/2 times one fifth of their minimum weekly rate."