Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Letter to Steve Jobs

Word is that Steve Jobs isn’t keen on Pixar becoming a union studio. Now, this may be entirely false, but if it’s true, then I suspect it’s because Mr. Jobs doesn’t fully appreciate what being a union studio means. Which wouldn’t be too surprising, since our guild isn’t exactly like other unions, and most people have lots of misconceptions about us. On the chance that Mr. Jobs is leaning against going union, here’s an open letter on the subject (and most of this applies to any nonunion studio for that matter): Dear Mr. Jobs, We know you want the best Pixar, and the best for the professionals who make your great films. And we know you don’t want to introduce any element to your studio that would interfere with the innovation, creativity, and flexibility that have been keys to your success. Frankly, we think being a union studio would help you continue that amazing success. You’re known for spotting great ideas, so here’s some food for thought. Work environment -- this is often the first thing that people fear will go to hell when an animation studio goes union, but nothing could be further from the truth. Employees would be just as free to talk to management directly. Time clocks won’t be introduced (unless you as boss suddenly want them). There won’t be new rules on how people have to act, or dress, or do their work, or interact with their supervisors. We see this issue frequently raised by management (with statements like, “A union will create a hostile, adversarial workplace!”), but it’s baseless. The work environment and creativity at Nickelodeon and Film Roman didn’t change when those studios recently signed guild contracts, and they won’t change at Pixar because you go union. Benefits -- don’t the people doing this incredible work for you deserve the best benefits? I’m sure Pixar benefits are pretty good, but I’m confident our health plan and pensions are the best in the industry. Now, are they so good they would be an excessive financial burden on the company? As we’ve documented elsewhere, residuals pay for half of our health and pension plans, so it’s an incredibly cost effective system. And those benefits are portable to most of the other studios doing feature animation in California. Salary -- we’ve heard that Pixar salaries aren’t the highest in the industry, but we know they’re not slave wages, either, so going union probably wouldn’t affect salaries (and your budgets) much. The union only sets salary minimums (and we encourage our members to negotiate for higher wages based on their individual merits). Only those employees who are currently making below the union minimums would get a mandatory raise. Union contracts also always contain a provision that no one’s salary can be lowered as a result of the contract, so anyone making above the minimum would continue to their current wages. Grievances -- one great thing about our union contract is the grievance procedure. First off, there’s nothing in the contract to keep employees from settling things as they always have, by a conversation with their supervisor or human resources. But there are times when that doesn’t work so well. Our grievance procedure is a multistep process that starts very informally (where most issues are resolved). It culminates in binding arbitration, which is usually a far less painful (and less expensive) process than the alternative, which is going to court. Formal grievances are thankfully rare, but when they do come up, this process usually manages to solve sticky problems without things getting ugly. Flexibility -- the union doesn’t dictate who you can hire, or how many people you have to hire, or what kind of work they can do for you. Animation is as close to a meritocracy as any industry, and we recognize that decisions about what project to do, and who is going to work on those projects, are studio decisions. And every studio does things their own way. Being a union studio doesn’t mean applying cookie-cutter solutions. Most union studios have side letters with TAG, specifying unique job titles and conditions. Interaction with Disney -- right now, loaning employees between Pixar and Disney might get awkward. Which benefits plan will they be under? When do Pixar people have to become union members if they work for a time in Burbank? The elegant solution would be a unified set of benefits and conditions. In the end, we recognize the symbiotic relationship between any studio and the union. We want the best for our membership, who need vital, creative studios to prosper. You want a healthy, strong crew who can make long-term careers of this work, so they can keep making your great films. We think it’s no fluke that most studios that have lasted over the long haul have virtually all been union studios. So give it some thought, and let us know if you have any questions. Oh, one last thing, Steve. The video iPod -- brilliant! Your pal, Kevin


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