Sunday, June 24, 2012

District Two



Not the title of an indie sci-fi film, but a medium-sized IATSE convention held this weekend in Reno, Nevada ...

I've attended District conventions for the entire time I've served as Animation Guild business representative. What they are is gatherings of IA locals in Hawaii and a cluster of Western states. They occur annually, and they are usually filled with education seminars, fiery political speeches by politicians who support labor (there's a surprise), and advocacy for fraternity, equality, and liberty.

... Also higher wages and better working conditions. (Another surprise.)

In years gone by, TAG's President Tom Sito was one of the first union officers to publically advocate health coverage for same-sex couples, and I supported a renegade candidate for District Two Secretary-Treasurer. (Nobody else was willing to nominate him.)

This time around, the convention was larger than usual and people were energized.
IA President Matt Loeb gave a speech detailing the change in attitudes by the studios negotiating labor contracts. He described how negotiations for new labor contracts have turned nasty and rancorous, and that this likely reflects newer corporate attitudes toward labor in general and entertainment unions and guilds in particular.

And beyond unpleasant negotiations, unions in general are under attack by billionaires with money to burn, and we had several barn-burner speeches about anti union initiatives percolating in California and elsewhere.

Everybody at the convention understood that their middle class life-style was on the line. Everybody got that we are out-matched in the moolah department, and that if there is any hope of turning back the Koch brothers and their allies, minds will need to be concentrated, wits gathered, and action taken. Nobody kids themselves that they can match the oncoming campaign dollar for dollar.

The IATSE is making strides in boosting its political PAC, and several thousand dollars was raised from delegates. It isn't nearly enough, but it's better than four quarters in a tin cup. One speaker said earlier today: "Labor, decimated though it is, is still the last line of defense for working people to make a decent living and enjoy a dignified retirement."

There's lots hanging on the elections in November. The delegates up in Reno signalled clearly they're acutely aware of the high stakes.


22 comments:

DSK said...

Here's another surprise. Unions might have a little more moolah if their representatives didn't spend weekends in ritzy, out of state hotels.
Seriously, is there anything you learned there that couldn't have been published online or achieved via web-conferencing?
It really says something about Local 839's faith in organized labor when it outsources to a Rhode Island design firm a logo that it's members (other than the Executive Board) never had an opportunity to vote on. Then, after the money has been spent, it tries to hide it and pretend it never happened.
Other than that, I hope the sheets were clean and the room service was attentive, given that I contributed to it.

Celshader said...

Here's another surprise. Unions might have a little more moolah if their representatives didn't spend weekends in ritzy, out of state hotels.

Hi, DSK. I don't know if you read the same post I did.

I work next door to you in the Los Angeles VFX industry. We don't spend a penny on reps, because we have no union representation whatsoever.

We have TDs, lighters, compositors, riggers and character animators, just like your animation industry. Our work generates at least as much $$$ as your animation industry (Avatar, Avengers). However, most of us work without any health coverage and without any retirement benefits. We also work 10-hour days standard, though we often work more hours to meet increasingly tougher deadlines.

From this post, it sounds like the studios plan to drag you and your co-workers down to our level. Why not? We VFX artists have proven that Los Angeles' Maya/Nuke/Houdini talent WILL work under sweatshop conditions for insufficient compensation. Why should animation artists get better treatment than VFX artists? To studios, you're just overpaid cogs in their money-making machine.

If I were you, DSK, I would not be taking potshots at the union reps. I would be saving up for a fight three years from now, at the next contract negotiation. The producers made it clear in Round One of contract negotiations this year that animation artists aren't valued at all. I expect worse from them three years from now.

If you don't want to end up in the gutter with the VFX artists, DSK, I implore you and your co-workers to save your $$$ so that you can negotiate your contract from a position of strength three years from now.

If the $1 you may have spent on your reps' travel costs still disturbs you more than what the studios have planned for you, you're welcome to jump ship to my non-unionized industry. In VFX, artists have to save everything they can for mere survival.

Steve Hulett said...

DSK:

Thank you for your complaints.

Maybe if you participated in union activities, you'd have a bit more satisfaction. Maybe if you'd run for the executive board, you'd have more input.

Union democracy, and all that.

Regarding the new union logo: It was proposed, debated, and voted on by the TAG Executive Board, as prior logos were proposed, debated, and voted on by TAG Executive Board. In this case, a majority voted to approve.

Union democracy, and all that.

As for District 2: It's a small, yearly convention to which most delegates pay their own way. TAG could have fielded twenty-five delegates; it sent four.

Steve Hulett said...

If I were you, DSK, I would not be taking potshots at the union reps. I would be saving up for a fight three years from now, at the next contract negotiation.

Take all the potshots you want, DSK, I've got a thick skin.

Sorry we didn't see you on the negotiation committee. Maybe if you'd been there with us, down in the arena, we would have gotten a better deal. Maybe your passion, directed at the studios, could have counted for something.

But hey. We'll be doing it again in three years. Maybe you'll be on the front lines with us.

DSK said...

And where is the new logo now and why was the post with comments on it deleted? And why was the job outsourced rather than awarded to a Guild member?

For the record Celshader, I've worked at Union gigs where there the only option to not working a 50 hour week was turning down the job, as well as within the VFX industry (non-union) where I worked 40 hour weeks.

Celshader said...

For the record Celshader, I've worked at Union gigs where there the only option to not working a 50 hour week was turning down the job, as well as within the VFX industry (non-union) where I worked 40 hour weeks.

I've worked in VFX for 12+ years and an 839 gig for one year. You'll have to try a wee bit harder to convince me that non-union VFX artists have it easier than 839 artists.

Your 50+ hour 839 gig came with health and pension benefits. At best, your 40-hour non-union VFX gig lacked pension benefits and 839-quality health coverage.

I know VFX artists who are broke, blind, disabled and/or dead because they lacked sufficient health insurance while working in our non-union industry. I also know many more VFX artists who will subsist on Social Security and nothing else in their retirement, despite the enormous wealth they generated for others during their lengthy careers.

The studios will drag you down to our level, DSK, if you let them get away with it.

DSK said...

Since the Guild's logo was posted last Thursday and unceremoniously removed within 24 hours I've been trying to find out why they felt the need to outsource it's design to an out of state firm rather than award it to a Guild member. Mr Hulett has found the time to post 9 additional entries to the blog but apparently none to answer this question, let alone the reason as to why the original post and logo have been removed. It's hard to believe he doesn't have an answer, but even if that is the case, couldn't he at least say so? I'm not advocating the elimination of Local 839, but as a dues paying member I think I have both a right and an obligation to hold them accountable for how our money is spent. After all, it's role is to work for it's members, isn't it?

Unknown said...

Potshots are coming from Steve and Cel Shady here as well. DSK states that he/she has worked at union and non-union shops in the animation industry in both the guild categories and as a non-union vfx worker. If this is a truly open forum, I'd say DSK is voicing concerns that are legit. He/she is focusing the magnifying on our guild and how our funds are used by our reps. Full disclosure is a reasonable request. Don't be so defensive Steve and Cel Shady. Squelching DSK borders on prior restraint.

Without whistle-blowing or self examination of the guild by folks like DSK here on the Tag blog it is possible that we will never be made aware of misappropriation of funds, or unpaid overtime by nefarious mid managers without fear of getting found out and fired if we say anything about it.

Sounds to me like DSK would like a full disclosure of your expenses at the convention. The statement "most delegates pay their own way" was rather vague. Steve, if you paid your own expenses that's great.

Open debate is a good thing... I applaud DSK's questioning of "this is the way we run the guild".

ps- most of my colleagues didn't care much for the Rhode Island ag logo...who was it who commissioned it from the Rhode Island firm. To a man my colleagues all stated that any new logo should be done by one of our many talented member artist's right here in toon town.

Question authority...even if it makes a union rep uncomfortable

Celshader said...

I'm not advocating the elimination of Local 839, but as a dues paying member I think I have both a right and an obligation to hold them accountable for how our money is spent.

Fair enough. As Steve pointed out, you're more than welcome to attend union meetings and even try to lead the union if you're not satisfied with how union funds are spent.

I still think your priorities are misplaced. A union logo does not threaten your financial security. The anti-labor stance of the studios does.

I've seen first-hand how studios treat VFX artists. Don't let them do the same to you, too.

Steve Hulett said...

Since the Guild's logo was posted last Thursday and unceremoniously removed within 24 hours I've been trying to find out why they felt the need to outsource it's design to an out of state firm rather than award it to a Guild member. Mr Hulett has found the time to post 9 additional entries to the blog but apparently none to answer this question, let alone the reason as to why the original post and logo have been removed. It's hard to believe he doesn't have an answer

No hiding of anything, DSK. I was out of state when the post was taken down, and found out about it after the fact. The reason it was taken down is the board wanted to do a full-bore rollout, and not put it on the blog prematurely.

This was Mr. Massie's error, and mine. (I gave him the okay to put the post up in the first place.)

As to "outsourcing," it was the board's decision to go with an outside designer after lengthy discussion about

1) d
Doing it internally, or

2) Holding a design contest with members (which had been done before ... with unsatisfactory results), or

3) Going with some other third-party firm.

(One reason we didn't go the "contest" route? It smacks of "free work," which TAG is hard set against.)

We know that some people will like the design, and others won't. But the long and short of it is: The executive board entertained a proposal about creating a new logo, it was discussed and voted on, and an exec board logo committee accepted the new design.

I don't have anything else to say, except that the logo will be presented again in due course.

Steve Hulett said...

Squelching DSK borders on prior restraint.

How is DSK (whoever she/he is) being squelched? No comments have been removed. I've responded to many of them.

And if DSK is a member, he has the LEGAL right to come into the office and look at the union's books. I encourage him to do so.

Fair enough?

What we don't do is put all the ledger entries up on the internet.

DSK said...

Celshader, my priorities are my priorities, and I'm more than capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, thanks.

Mr. Hulett, an entire post with multiple comment/questions was removed with no explanation for 4 days. That was the first squelch. The next day a follow up question of mine was deleted by somebody without explanation. That was the second squelch. I appreciate your reply though I disagree strongly with your awarding the job to an out of state firm rather than a local one.

For the record, does one of the members of the Executive Board have a relative working at Malcolm Grear Designers?

Kevin Koch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
b47ba542-bbe9-11e1-aed2-000bcdcb471e said...

Steve Hulett wrote: "As for District 2: It's a small, yearly convention to which most delegates pay their own way."

Did our delegates pay their own way?

I agree with DSK and Unknown that the new logo was not very good. I hope that the board will consider keeping the current logo instead of the new one.

Nathan said...

Did our delegates pay their own way?

For the record, I paid my own way, with one exception: The union paid for my accommodations, which cost the union a grand total of $248.60, with tax, for two days' stay.

In return: I voted on behalf of 839; I joined the IATSE Public Relations committee, in which I will serve over the next 12 months; I spoke with members of IATSE and other locals who share our common goals; I took the labor education seminar on strategies for future negotiations.

District 2 is run by Mike Miller, who joined us during our last day of negotiation this year. These guys really backed us up. They deserve our representation, and I went because it is part of my job as vice president to represent our union.

Any other questions?

Steve Hulett said...

Mr. Hulett, an entire post with multiple comment/questions was removed with no explanation for 4 days.

I was in Reno at the time. I would have been in favor of keeping it up, but I wasn't around, so there you are.

I appreciate your reply though I disagree strongly with your awarding the job to an out of state firm rather than a local one. ...

I understand your position, but the board made the decision to go with the Rhode Island firm. Companies in Southern California were considered.

Nobody on the executive board has relatives at Malcolm Grear Designers.

Steve Hulett said...

Did our delegates pay their own way?

Here's the whole kaboodle, kit and otherwise.

Nathan (TAG's Veep) told you his situation.

Executive Board member Janette Hulett, to whom I'm related, paid her own way to the convention and TAG did not pay for her room.

Bob Foster, TAG President, drove up, and was reimbursed mileage and gas. He had his room paid for. (He's constitutionally required -- ex officio -- to be at the convention.)

My room and transportation were also paid for because I, too, am constitutionally required to attend the convention.

Saturday, the delegation spent 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the convention hall doing District Two business. On Sunday, we spent 9:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in the hall, then checked out of the hotel and flew home.

Reno is glorious in the summer. Especially when you're in a large, windowless room for twelve hours.

KC Johnson said...

Hello hello! I'm a member of the executive board (in my 2nd term) and I've been very involved with the new logo.

To address some of DSK's concerns:

The members "(other than the Executive Board) never had an opportunity to vote on" the logo.

This is true. But we vote on many things in the Executive Board meetings, which are held monthly. We only bring the really expensive ticket items for vote to the larger group, like our annual holiday party (normal big ticket) or the new building (really big ticket).

The majority of our other decisions are made by the Executive Board alone, fulfilling our duties of office, like other Executive Boards of other organizations.

The new logo was no different. It took lots of research, healthy and diverse debate, and many individual votes, over months, to get us where we are with it today.

"And where is the new logo now and why was the post with comments on it deleted?"

The post was deleted because building a new visual identity is a tricky and difficult craft. Releasing a logo too early, and without proper supporting materials (such as answers to all of the valid questions posed in this forum) is not the best way to proceed.

When I saw it posted prematurely, I asked Jeff to delete it. He did so. That's the whole story.


At the top of the blog, it states that this weblog reflects "individual personal opinions and does not necessarily represent the official position of the Animation Guild".

You'll see the logo again, when it's officially released.

Just be patient with us, we're not trying to hide anything or stifle dissent. There's just a lot of work to do yet.

Thanks!

p.s. In my time on the board, I've discovered that our Guild has been very conservative and responsible with its finances (and by extension, your dues). We're really a very frugal organization and don't spend money lightly. Really, come in and take a look at our books.

My Ocean said...

I don't think DSK is necessarily in the wrong in asking about any of this, especially in light of the logo debaucle.

The post regarding the new logo should have been left up on the blog, even if it meant just removing the image of the new logo. The discussion is vital to the group overall; if the members of the union don't like the logo that the Executive Board agreed on (which I hear wasn't an unanimous vote), then the Executive Board should deal with that and not delete the entry as if it didn't happen. Because by doing that, it DOES appear that the union is silencing the opinion of the people paying dues, and by extention, paying for a logo that they don't like.

The reason the logo debaucle keeps coming up is because the union members aren't liking the way it's being handled. The answers we're hearing seem to be about covering asses, not providing clarity about the endeavor.

Whether that's actually the case can be up for debate all the live-long day, but for me personally, if the blog entry had stayed up warts and all, that would give me comfort that the union leadership is indeed about being clear and open to opinions and sometimes-more-than-occasional scrutiny of its members.

taloolahtoo said...

Well said.

Kevin Koch said...

Interesting comments, and further proof that volunteering to lead TAG is a thankless job.

Here's a little background. About 10 years ago the e-board and the membership voted to change our name from MPSC to TAG. After that, we decided we needed a new logo. I recall that the plan was that the logo/design would be used on a t-shirt, and if the logo was suitable, we'd make it a general TAG logo. This was our hedge - if we didn't get something cool enough, we'd just use it once on the t-shirt, and if we liked it, we'd use it more widely. We thought since 839 is a union with hundreds of designers and artists, who better to design something than a member?

We held a contest, with monetary prizes for the top three entrants. We advertised it as heavily as we could. I don't recall the prize money ($500 or $1000 for the winner?), but it wasn't trivial. We were reluctant to offer a huge $, since we had no idea the quality of designs we'd get. Most of the executive board had been around long enough to know that our members tend to be pretty passive, with a subset who are quick to complain but not so quick to contribute. (This isn't a criticism of the membership, just the way it is. Leading animators is like herding cats.)

The exec board wasn't expecting super-polished designs, just some sketches or even doodles that we could work with it.

Initially, we got almost no entries. Not even half-baked doodles. I asked some of my designer friends if they knew about the contest, and the general response was "I'm not really a logo designer." I recall that we extended the contest deadline and amped up the advertising. In the end, we got about 16 entries, from about 8 people (an individual could enter multiple designs). A couple were thrown out because they weren't even from people in TAG. Sadly, the executive board was underwhelmed by the responses. Most of the entries were not even by TAG members who drew/designed for a living, and as a result the proposed logos were mostly amateurish, overcomplicated, and inappropriate.

Caroline Hu, who won, put in (I recall) 3 of the 14 eligible designs. I think she was the only actual designer in the entire union who bothered to enter! Her designs were so far ahead of the rest that I think it was a unanimous vote. Still, we were a disappointed. We'd hoped to see several designs that we could pick from. We realized, in retrospect, that good logo design is difficult, and we were naive.

When we rolled out Caroline's design on t-shirts and the website, I heard some carping ("too bland, too on the nose, the mouse/cord and animation disk look like a sperm and egg," and so on). None of the complainers had bothered to submit their own brilliant designs, but they complained nonetheless. So it goes; negativity is the default mode for too many of us. Anyway, it's interesting to see people proposing this process again.

As for the sniping about the 'extravagance' of 4 exec board members going to District 2, are you serious? You have the Koch brothers and dozens of others spending hundreds of millions of dollars to destroy unions, and your response is that TAG compete by saving a few hundred bucks and not send delegates to this meeting? I'm guessing 25 cents of your dues per year goes to this ritzy extravagance. That is some serious moolah!

Do realize that people like Bob and Nathan and Jeanette take time out of their private lives to go to these meetings, without any compensation? To do the work of leading your union? And all you can do is sit at home and bitch on the internet?

Celshader is right, you need to figure out who's really looking out for you, and try giving them some genuine support.

balistic808 said...

A room in a Super 8 in Culver City costs more than a mini-suite at the pictured Reno hotel, just FYI.

- a VFX guy currently working in Reno

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