Lately, much ado has been made of the wage structure of the visual effects world. I've been quite active on a forum thread that was brought to my attention at CG Talk and the discussion lately as been focused on the Guild's wage minimums that are written into our contract. A few loud voices posted about how the wage minimums were "crushing meritocracy" and that the Guild, through its contract, "gives more through bullying tactics".
The venerable and ever-eloquent VFX Soldier crafted a post in his blog that spoke to the current truths to wages in the vfx industry, as well as providing a link to a Google spreadsheet listing over 2,500 job titles and salaries from "vfx, animation and game facilities".
What really was a shock was the vehement argument that was posed against wage minimums that we have written into the contract. Minimum wage rules have been in existence since this Labor Organizer has. Its been my understanding that wage minimums are set to protect the worker against management abuse and help provide a bare minimum compensation for work rendered. Our minimums are floors, intended to ensure that
Hulett: Wage floors and decent pay have been what Hollywood labor unions have been about since the 1930s.
For those who don't know Tinsel Town's history, until the advent of sound there were minimal protections for moviedom's labor. No overtime rules, no wage minimums, no meal breaks. As one Hollywood ancient remembered to the L.A. Times some years ago:
"You came in at 8 and worked until you fell down."
In the Spring of 1933, the studios cut salaries 50% across the board. Unsurprisingly, a slew of entertainment unions and guilds sprang up soon thereafter. Also unsurprisingly, wage minimums were part of their agenda.
Seventy-seven years later, not a hell of a lot has changed. A month back, the Hollywood Teamsters union came close to going on strike over a wage boost of 2%. (They wanted 3%, but ultimately settled for a percent less.) Studios have reined in oversacle deals, cut staff, instituted layoffs. Today at the animation studio of a large entertainment conglomerate, a lead pulled me into his room and said: "People have been uncompensated overtime around here for the last four months." I've told them to stop doing it, but it goes on ..."
Here's the dirty little secret of the movie workplace: It always goes on. Managers pressure employees not to share wage information (a protected right). Production supervisors lean on staffers to "help them out" and work for free. Producers tell artists "there's no money in the budget for overtime."
So is it any wonder that wage minimums are a big part of what Hollywood labor unions? And is it a surprise that wages and overtime pay are issues in the visual effects industry?