Wednesday, July 05, 2006

When Local 839 fought for residuals

The Peg-Board, April 1969 Here's the header of "The Pegboard" -- from April, 1969. Look closely at the above and you'll see that it's labeled "April 1969 -- Vol. 1, No. 1." This might seem confusing when you consider that we have been publishing the Peg-Board since 1958. What happened was that this was the first Peg-Board edited by Jim Carmichael, a long-time union activist who had edited The Animator, the Screen Cartoonists Guild newsletter, in the 1940s. Previous to this, for several years the Peg-Board had been a mimeographed sheet written entirely by Larry Kilty, the then Business Representative. Carmichael's opinion of his editorial predecessor was most likely reflected in his decision to start the renumbering over again. When this issue hit guild members' mailboxes, negotiations for a new contract were going on. Guess what the hot-button issue was, back in that idyllic and simpler time?... Why, the union was attempting secure individual residuals for its members (who would have thought?). Back then, the average annual salary was $4,480. And the average length of employment was 28.5 weeks per year. (80% of employment was in television. The other 20% were in feature work -- mostly Disney. Feature employees were working 50 weeks per year.) In that time, the average live-action (IA) employee worked 1448 hours per year. In animation, the average was 1309 hours. Our guild was arguing that residuals were necessary to bring animation artists up to parity with everyone else in the entertainment industry. Nice try, but the union negotiating team didn't prevail. The contract talks dragged on and on, going nowhere. And as Tom Sito recounts in "Drawing the Line": "When [IA President Richard] Walsh sat down at the table on the union side, the Local 839 militants hoped a big gun like him would help turn the tide in their favor.... To their chagrin, the old gentleman only mouthed some vague platitudes. ...Then Walsh broke the deadlock and quickly closed a deal with the producers. The final results were far below everyone's expectation: no residuals, no basic or animation super-local, just a few increases in minimum pay. When [Animation Guild] members were told about the results, they cried collusion and rejected the contract offer on August 7.... Walsh agreed to go back and negotiate further. But he threatened disciplinary actions against the [Guild] if it continued to be uppity. Another mild contract was quickly negotiated with some more token bump-ups in salary rates..." What else was in that April '69 issue? A rundown of the work going on around town, which included this: Hanna Barbera -- The "Golden Boys" [Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera] have another fully symphony season tuning up, led by Joe on violin and Bill at the kettles. The orchestra this year will play major works; three are seventeen half-hours each and are tentatively titled: "Scooby Doo," "Penelope Pitstop" and "Dick Dastardly." These three sagas will be back-stopped by seventeen full one-hour shows, entitled (as of this date) "The Nashville Cats." Yes, it looks like another really BIG year at Flintstone Palace. For decades, Hanna-Barbera prospered as the most successful independent animation studio in Southern California. As Sito recounts, almost everybody who was anybody in animation passed through its doors. But Bill and Joe grew old, and the regulations prohibiting networks from producing and owning their own shows went away. It was only a matter of time before H & B would morph into a corporate subsidiary and be gobbled up by an entertainment conglomerate. Today, it's nothing more than a nameplate at Warner Bros. Animation -- a small cog in the Time-Warner machine. And here's the cartoon from the bottom of that Pegboard's front page... ...a rather pointed commentary on why animation employees needed more than $4,480 per annum to sustain them (the work was seasonal for all but a chosen few)... THIS cartoon was on the back page (also in Tom Sito's upcoming book). It had Business Agent Larry Kilty (the gent in glasses) arguing with the producers and their dog why more money was, ah, kind of needed (that 28.5 week employment year was painful).
Courtesy of Anne Guenther, who was our Recording Secretary at the time.


Anonymous said...

Seems like only yesterday. I remember when year round employment was only a dream shared by a handful at Disney. The rest of the industry lived with layoffs, and an uncertain future.

Few of us could have imagined the animation industry today. Yeah, we never got those residuals, but let's face it. That truly was fantasyland.

Anonymous said...

The loss of the residuals argument in the '69 negotiations led to the internal union upheavals of the '70s and what Sito calls the "runaway wars". I'll leave him to tell that tale in his upcoming book.

What a lot of people still fail to understand is that under the Hollywood IA contracts, producers do make residual and supplemental markets payments. Those payments go into the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan, and thus they benefit everyone who works under the Guild contract.

In order to gain residuals back in '69, a good portion of the membership was willing to forego their participation in the Hollywood benefit plans and strike out on our own for health and pension coverage. Back in those pre-ERISA days, when the pension was mostly employee-funded, you could withdraw your pension contributions ninety days after layoff. A lot of transitionally-employed people treated their pensions like high-interest bank accounts, to be tapped into (or cleaned out) after every layoff -- thus radically devaluing their retirement nest-eggs. And, of course, in 1969 trading one cheap health plan for another cheap health plan seemed a no-brainer.

With benefit of thirty-seven years of 20/20 hindsight, what to me seems a no-brainer is having that money go towards our benefits. Look at what most working people in this country have for health insurance and pension ... and look at what we have: the most financially stable health and pension plans of any union in the entertainment industry, period. Good to excellent health benefits with little or no co-pays ... no employee contributions ... a stable pension return and a downright rich IAP.

Losing the residuals fight in '69 was a bad thing because it weakened the union -- but what has happened as a result over the last thirty-seven years is hardly a disaster.

Ken Kearney said...

I worked with Larry Kilty in Aptos CA at the Bob Carlson Studio in the '70's. Larry was quite the guy!

Site Meter