Monday, April 10, 2006

Uncompensated Overtime

The close blood relative of "unreasonable amounts of o.t." in animation is "uncompensated overtime." I ran across some of it today... I was at a large, high-profile studio that's part of a large entertainment conglomerate. I was going cubicle to cubicle in a production unit that turns out one of America's best-loved animated shows. A supervisor gestured me into his office. I knew from his expression he wanted to talk about something he didn't want broadcast, so I shut the door. "They've cut the schedule for the new season," he said, "and I'm working sixty to eighty hours a week to keep up. The studio told me I'm on salary and won't get any overtime. Can they do that?" I told him he had to be either "on-call" or "hourly" under the Guild contract, and that I assumed he was working "on-call." He said he didn't know, but I explained on-call ato him anyway. "You're far enough over contract minimums that they can put you in that category," I said, "and I'm guessing that they did. It means they can work you extra hours Monday through Friday without paying you extra money. But if you work on Saturday or Sunday, you get time and a half." He squinted his eyes, shook his head. "No overtime." "So they're cheating on the contract," I replied. "Want me to file a grievance?" I got another head shake. "Not really. I don't want to rock the boat." "Okay. Let me know if you change your mind." I departed his office and went on about my rounds. I have this type of encounter more often than I like. Studios have employees falsify time cards, or not report time spent working at home, or remove hours worked from an invoice. I first rubbed up against this phenomena at Warner Bros. A decade and a half ago. I've seen it lots of other places since. Most times, employees refuse to file a grievance because of fears of retribution. But I always offer to file grievances. Once in a while, somebody takes me up on it.


Anonymous said...

Overtime has and always will be an issue. My question is, why "file a grievance" when there are retribution for those who do? Are the grievance anonymous? What has been the past experiences for those who do file?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I too would like to know--when grievances are filed, does retribution often occur? And what form does that retribution usually take?

Kevin Koch said...

Steve can answer this better than I can, but from my experience, and from the situations I've personally witnessed, the fear of retribution is vastly overblown. I've been surprised at how often, when given a work assignment that will clearly entail overtime, that simply saying "So I assume you're authorizing overtime for this?" is enough to make the problem go away.

I really think producers sit in their offices half expecting to get a call from Steve, at which point they'll say "Oops, sorry, that was an oversight" and cut their crew some slack. And when the call doesn't come, because no one will stand up, they're happily surprised at how pliant we often are.

The fear of retribution is mostly in our heads, and in those few cases where it's not, who the hell wants to work for that kind of producer anyway?

Anonymous said...

I have been there, in all these situations. It's very, very difficult to convey just how much pressure artists are under. Many of these jobs are project to project. As is pointed out, many artists do the "extra" with no comment at all. So the artist who has every legal right to speak up knows he's measured against the "faster" ones(i.e. the ones that do work for free). It's a terrible problem: do I get my OT now, or do I possibly get myself uninvited next time the show needs a guy like me? Easy to understand the reticence. On the other hand, at Disney TV I've had a production mgr/producer ask for an assignment to be finished by "tomorrow"--at 5 pm(and not assigned til then, btw). "Is there OT?" "No. NO ONE has overtime! But it HAS to be done". What this meant was oviously that I was expected to working all night. Perhaps I was "on call" too--but personally, I have a problem with the Labor Board allowing anyone to work over a certain number of hours consecutively, UNpaid, period. Or even doing those kinds of hours; wasn't there a case some years back of a "typical" 20 some hour shift for a guy on a film at WB, who was killed driving home as he fell alseep on the 134 fwy? I thought that had created some sort of changes for people in production?

Anyway, it would be nice if things changed a little. I guarantee
you, if everyone who was party to OT shenanigans at some places I've worked in the past called in to the union, the phone lines wouldn't be free for days.

Steve Hulett said...

We're well aware of o.t. cheating.

It happened a lot at Meatball Productions, (the Adam Sandler animated flick "Eight Crazy Nights"), at Cartoon Network, Warners Animation, and recently on some of the shows at Nick.

In fact, an angry Nickelodeon production board artist pulled me into his office last year and said:

"It bugs me that the board artists on both sides of my office do free overtime. I refuse to and I'm fast, but these other guys are making me look bad."

The problem is, if EVERYBODY keeps hitting insane deadlines by putting in lots of extra unpaid hours, the only thing that happens is the schedules get even more insane.

Anonymous said...

Ever considered having the union periodically take an anonymous poll of current shows in production, having union members rate the productions they are on? You could rate the time given for a job, the pressure felt to work unpaid overtime, creative freedom and the like. Perhaps giving artist-unfriendly productions the reputations they deserve may make it a bit more difficult to find artists. Just a thought...

Kevin Koch said...

In a sense, what Steve does in his regular walk-throughs of studios is to informally poll people, and ours is a small enough industry that many people already know which places and people are a pain to work for. I think the real key is to get a larger portion of our members to push back a little when they're pressured to go along with these abuses, or to at least back Steve up when he goes to bat for us.

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