As we've mentioned before, TAG is actively assisting IATSE VFX Organizer Jim Goodman in his pursuit of facilitating the organization of visual effects in the Los Angeles area. Jim has included us in an email message he sent out to all parties that have contacted him.
With his permission, I'm posting that message here for all to read.
In light of all of the recent discussion about unionization of the visual effects industry, here's is a "state of the union" status report straight from the horse's mouth:
Since last november, I have attempted to meet with every interested vfx artist possible. I've met with several hundred so far, and I only wish more would come forward to ask questions and hear directly what we have to offer. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those in-person meetings have allowed me to get valuable input from a wide variety of artists; visual effects supervisors, producers, roto artists, colorists, compositors, and 3D artists. Some of these individuals work for Major and Independent Studios, others at shops bidding and performing subcontractor-type work for movies and television shows and commercials and an occasional video-game.
Initially, I heard artists express interest in participating in the "Industry Health Plan". Some wanted legal representation so that they would not be subjected to "independent contractor status" and the dreaded 1099 (and resulting shift of tax burdens from the employer to the employee.) (We can help with that, by the way.) We heard horror stories of bounced paychecks. (We can help with that, too.) While most employers honor a "going rate" for certain categories of work, oftentimes employees are pressured to accept much less. We learned the industry is often engaged in a "race to the bottom" where one company attempts to underbid its competittors by squeezing lower pay, longer hours and unpaid overtime out of workers, with the threat of foreign competition and outsourcing. We met people who were promised medical insurance, only to be told those benefits are only extended to "permanent" employees, not "project" workers.
We know that long hours and six-day weeks are the norm in this industry, especially as the race to meet a theatrical release date approaches. But the one message that we heard repeated from every direction was the concern that a union contract might be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Add just one penny to the employer's costs, and the whole project would crumble. Work would be shipped to faraway places and ALL Los Angeles based employment would disappear. FOREVER.
Frankly, we've heard similar doom and gloom projections from industry-employers for years. How has the IATSE responded? We created a low-budget film agreement that allows independent filmmakers to get extremely competitive rates and conditions; to keep that work here in town. We negotiated rates and conditions for television pilots and movies-for-television that recognize the unique economics that apply. We've recently come up with accommodations for projects made for the internet, the "new-media-sideletter". A commercials agreement. An agreement specifically tailored for HBO and Showtime. Just to name a few examples.
We've recently and repeatedly been asked if an IATSE visual effects agreement might actually save an employer some money? You know, it just might!! We'll sit down with our new members and meet with Major Studios, Large studio-owned effects houses and post-production facilities, and independents. We'll analyze what those companies are currently spending for medical insurance and other benefits. And then we'll come up with a benefits package that won't put them out of business, but that protects our new members when they and their families need to visit a doctor.
When we begin negotiations with these employers, we will also conduct an exhaustive survey of prevailing wages. We're not being nosy, we just need to know what the going rate is so we can protect against that "race-to-the-bottom" mentality. That won't end the practice of paying "overscale" for many jobs. Heaven knows that tradition is firmly ensconced in our industry. We have no intention of discouraging that from happening.
So, we're hoping the community will meet us halfway. Give us a call. Send us an email. Then sign an authorization card. Come to a meeting. Let your coworkers know that if we stick together we can achieve some modest objectives like overtime, insurance, and a pension, without one more job being lost to outsourcing.
Thanks for listening.