Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Meeting About "On Call"

I spent the afternoon in a studio conference room, meeting with television board artists and others where a Labor Relations exec (who I happen to like) discussed the nuances of "On Call."

(For those who don't know, On Call is a kind of modified salaried position in the TAG contract. If you're at least 10% above union scale and exempt from overtime law, you can negotiate an On Call deal where you work Monday through Friday without additional overtime after eight hours -- such a deal. If you work an authorized 6th or 7th day -- usually Saturday or Sunday -- you receive additional "premium pay.")

The exec did most of the talking, with an occasional chime-in from me ...

The exec explained how:

1) Everybody gets credited with 56 hours in the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan every week, whether they work 30 hours or 70 hours Monday through Friday.

2) TAG's On Call provisions are similar to other O.C. provisions in other IA contracts.

3) The On Call deals have been in the contracts 20-30 years.

There were complaints about the tight schedules and work loads. The exec allowed how it's pretty much the same on the live action and corporate sides of the business, where smaller staffs are doing more work. ("Take our office. I'm getting more work with less staff and the quality's dropped ....")

It was pointed out by the L.R. guy that everyone must have known they were doing an On Call deal, since they had to agree to it. (I countered that for most artists, agreeing to On Call is a requirement for getting hired.)

I made the suggestion (not for the first time) that artists should negotiate a wage under 110% of scale, thereby rendering themselves ineligible for On Call. (Stony silence. Then a background artist said the wage minimums were too low. In my experience, the wage minimums have always been too low.)

After the meeting, the L.R. exec and I lingered to talk to various people. The exec said the number of live-action pilots the studio is making per season has dropped from 20 to 12, (a 40% drop.) A short time later, one of the studio staffers under our jurisdiction, somebody who doesn't do uncompensated overtime, said to me:

"We've got some artists who just aren't fast, and they complain to me all the time. They just can't keep up with the pace, and they don't want to get laid off. And they're good artists, just slow."

And therein lies the rub. The fear. The uncertainty. The desire not to be unemployed because a deadline gets missed, therefore the all-nighters that wipe out health and higher brain function.

If I had a clear, simple solution to make these difficulties go away, I would bottle it and sell it at cost. The L.R. executive offered one of his own:

"Look, it gets to the point where you're going to crack under the workload, you've got to talk to supervisors, other management or me. Because if you don't communicate about the problem, it's not going to change or get better."

Just because he works on the corporate side of the tracks, doesn't mean he's wrong.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you're at least 10% above union scale and exempt from overtime law, you can negotiate an On Call deal where you work Monday through Friday without additional overtime after eight hours -- such a deal.

I have a newbie question. What would make artists exempt from overtime law?

Steve Hulett said...

Government regs.

Certain job classifications are exempt from overtime requirements under federal and state law. Supervisors. Creative Leads. That kind of thing.

Contract language goes as follows: "... weekly employees in classifications covered by this Agreement who are exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, and whose rate is higher than one hundred ten percent ... of the applicable Journey rate may, at the Producer's option, be considered on an 'On-Call' basis if mutually agreeable with the employee."

Etc.

vfxsoldier said...

This is why one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your career is becoming a supervisor. It's just not worth the pay.

I know quite a few supervisors who actually request to go back to being a regular artist after the show.

They also fear getting rusty. Many long term cg supervisors in the vfx industry who go back to work as artists after being laid off were struggling because they have been so far away from the work for so long.

But why is this exec who I applaud for being candid bringing this info to you? Why doesn't he let the bosses up top know?

Because they only care about the bottom line.

vfxsoldier said...

By the way, there is a similar law in Canada a commenter on my blog pointed out to. She works at a facility just as an artist and doesn't get any OT.

Anonymous said...

"...This is why one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your career is becoming a supervisor. It's just not worth the pay."

you are totally, and utterly, unemployable.

Steven said...

Who is this poster who is constantly telling people that they are "unemployable." It's very annoying and more than a little bit creepy.

Who are you, the Secretary of Employment? What made you the universal expert on hiring?

Anonymous said...

Who is this poster who is constantly telling people that they are "unemployable."

I absolutely guarantee you it's someone who is unemployed.

Anonymous said...

Being a supervisor is one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself, even if it doesn't work out. Leadership isn't just about pay.

Not much of a 'soldier-like' statement. More like a 'don't-stick-your-neck-out' kind of statement.

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