Monday, July 15, 2013

Organizers Notes: The Organizing of Nick CG

*NB - this is a reprint of an Organizer's Notes post put up last night. I thought it would be good to share on the TAG Blog as well
You may have seen our post that memorializes the ratification vote at Nick CG a few days ago. Between the hours of 12pm and 2pm on Friday, July 12th, 61 of the 70 eligible voters cast their ballots to decide if the agreement struck between the negotiation committee and the studio was acceptable. 55 of those 61 people said it was, and with that, the artists of Nickelodeon CG will join their traditional animation colleagues as members of Local 839, IATSE - The Animation Guild on August 1st.

This unit holds a special place with me. It was the first assignment that I was given by Steve Hulett when I started with the Guild. I learned quite a lot from what transpired in the past three years, and I'd like to share some of the important points here.

When I first connected with some of the supporters of the unionization effort at the studio, the effort was about to hit a snag. I was fresh into the position and eager to reinvigorate those who wanted union representation. I created a website dedicated to providing information and feedback for the artists. I had some repcards that artists had signed, and gathered email addresses.

For all my outreach efforts, I got little return. Eventually, one of the artists met with me and talked about the strong anti-union sentiment among some of the crew. At this stage, that sentiment was held at positions of authority and the supporters didn't feel comfortable making a push. They asked that I stopped messaging them, for the time being.

I was dismayed and disappointed. I explained this to Steve who assured me that "they just need to cool off a bit. They'll be back, and you never know what may come up". After some time, and much to my surprise, he was right. I was approached by artists who had just joined the studio and wanted to find out why the CG Unit was not represented by TAG when the traditional animation artists and writers were. These people became the cornerstone to a renewed push.

To a large degree, organizing has strong parallels to sales. As a former salesperson and sales manager, I found myself slipping into old habits of talking up the good points while avoiding the problem areas. I made some speculative statements to some of the artists which turned out to be completely false. This, rightfully, caused my credibility to drop. I learned that it was just as important to jump into the potholes as it was to highlight the benefits.

Being forthright about such things as the six-month gap that artists face before being able to participate in the health plan and then explaining that in negotiations, we could possibly get a pre-payment for their participation (as was negotiated back in 2003), helped to instill more confidence in the union's intentions and goals. This lesson has been one of the most important for me since taking the job.

The above lesson led to this epiphany. The real organizers are those who desire representation. Union organizers are nothing more than a repository of information that, mostly, is used to counter and defeat anti-union arguments.

As I mentioned, the effort to organize the studio stalled shortly after I started at the Guild. I kept in contact with some of my original organizing group, but the effort was jump started again when new artists contacted me. These artists had questions about what Guild representation could bring, and why the CG Unit wasn't represented. Through a series of meetings and email discussions, I was able to empower artists to speak to their colleagues and get more questions to answer. More people became interested, and I had a core group of "Point People".

These "Points" were the ones who spoke to their colleagues, answered the hard questions, and got artists to sign cards. They were the ones who did the hard work. Their numbers changed but their resolve never did. As much as I'd like to name them all, they know who they are and how much their efforts were responsible for the contract now in place.

Steve Hulett was very kind in writing the Press Release highlighted in the blog post. While I'd like to think that my presence and availability was the reason the effort was reinvigorated, it really wasn't. It played a part, but there were many other factors that pushed things along: the channel's ratings, the overhauling of the management and the push for new IP, the overall change in the entertainment delivery business .. all of these influenced the change in sentiment towards unionization from the artists.

Steve H. describes this as the "tipping point". A fixed moment in time where a confluence of factors brings the option of unionization and the protections and benefits it provides to the forefront of people's minds. I certainly see this as the way Visual Effects will be organized.

Take part in any of the public conversations about unionization of VFX, and you'll be faced with the persistent counter-arguments/fears. Those fears parallel the ones I faced in this campaign. VFX organizing will take the same resolve from dedicated artists who are willing to be the organizers and see their campaigns move forward and succeed.


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