Thursday, August 17, 2006

Of Picket Lines and Union Contracts...

Last week Earl Kress, the Animation Guild's Vice President, motored over the hill to picket with the writers of "America's Top Model." The scribes are having a dust-up with management as they try to get a WGA contract. They have hit the bricks, and welcome anyone who desires to come and hike up and down in front of the building with them. I plan on joining Earl the next time he goes, but it hasn't happened yet... I've done my share of sidewalk-pounding with a picket sign slung over a sweaty shoulder, and it's never easy. It probably wasn't easy in 1941, and it's less easy now, because now we're fighting the headwinds of corporatist times, a management that isn't inclined to give an inch, and the deep pockets of multi-national conglomerates. Usually, it all comes down to leverage. You either have it, or you don't have it. And you know pretty quickly if you can move the big rock with the steel bar jammed under the little rock, because management caves in relatively short order. They want to talk. They want to "work things out." But when they are sweet and reasonable, it means one of two things: 1) You have them by the short hairs and they CAN'T get the work out unless you're back in your cubicle doing it (replacements being out of the question because of the skill-sets involved and the tight deadlines), and they HAVE to get the work out. Or... 2) They've done the math and calculated they can "go union" without busting the budget. So it's a cost-benefit thing. It's less painful for them to sign a contract than take a lengthy strike from angry employees. In the middle of my middle years, I have become a cynic. I have no patience anymore for what's "fair" or "unfair." I read and watch too much news from too many parts of the globe to believe in earthly justice. For me, there is only what's "doable." And we'll see in a fairly short period of time if what the writers want from "America's Top Model" is doable or not.


Anonymous said...

I heard on NPR that the Top Model writers were joined on the street by the writing team from THE SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY. Bravo! Thats the way to do it. Just because you're not connected to a show, doesn't mean it doesn't matter to you as well. The fight of every single film person effects the conditions of all. Thats why when we picketed Nick many moons ago, we had WGA and SAG people among our numbers.
We like to think of ourselves as individual artists, but to the money guys we are all the same, a tribe, a herd, a natural resource to exploit like offshore oil. What's a more individual and solitary job than writing a script? Yet there they are, marching shoulder to shoulder.

Robiscus said...

i've always considered union support on a case by case basis, as my time in NYC left me hearing many first hand accounts of their shiftless, corrupt labor unions. that aside(and the fact that entertainment business unions here are definitely a different breed), there hasn't been an issue in recent memory that has incited such strong feelings of support as the picketing of "America's Top Model". the endless deluge of relity shows is less about what the public craves, and more about the bottom lines for these executives and entertainment companies. they have sidestepped the established business protocol for creative content by classifying their scripted shows as reality tv. the schedules are brutal, the main players not protected by SAG(even though they are acting), and their editors are writing the stories uncredited and uncompensated.
its a fleecing plain and simple and its happening at every major network. it is present even as polls reveal that the public at large does not even have a desire to see more reality programming. it is present because of the financial return for the company. if they could run their entire company on interns whose only compensation would be experience, then they would.

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