Monday, August 14, 2006

An Organizing Lunch

Every so often a group of us I.A. reps have lunch to discuss how we're going to garner support, then representation cards, and finally contracts from companies of interest (that's reality shows, or animation studios, or game companies, or live action shoots.) Friday was one of those lunches... We're agreed on various things: companies have deeper pockets and often more leverage. Unions often start from ground zero; trying to get info about who's working at a non-signator company sometimes means going through dumpsters, knocking on doors, making lots of phone calls. It usually means building support one employee at a time. And waiting for the right moment to start "a campaign" (no point in doing it when everybody is happy and content; better to wait until management does something stupid and/or greedy -- often the same thing -- which alienates employees.) Various war stories got told: Like the group of editors who the Editors Guild thought might be kind of iffy about voting YES in an NLRB election...until management -- determined to defeat unionization -- started squeezing them hard, calling them into mandatory meetings, reading them the riot act. And the final vote? 100% for the Editors Guild, much to the surprise of management. And the Editors Guild. Sometimes I'm surprised entertainment unions and guilds organize any company at all. I've been around long enough to remember when the I.A. repped maybe sixty percent of medium to large-budget movies, maybe twenty percent of low budget flicks, and a diminishing amount of television work. (What the IATSE repped on cable was virtually zip. A couple of producers used to write the IA President snotty letters saying they would NEVER sign an I.A. contract.) The fact that, over a decade and a half, the I.A. clawed its way back to 90-100% representation of theatrical, cable and television work is a testament to the tenacity and creativity of I.A. organizers...and the venality of many producers. Which isn't to say unions/guilds don't make mistakes. Union and guilds fight among themselves (not always good.) And we talked about how, how a couple of weeks ago the Writers Guild pulled writers off a reality show with ten of thirteen shows already done, which probably wasn't a real swift move because when most of the shows are finished, your leverage is like, nil. We also discussed the future. There are whole industries out there (video games, for instance) that work employees eighty hours per week as a matter of course. It's not for nothing that I get phone calls asking for information and help about "going union." The challenge, of course, is that we're starting from ground-zero in an industry that is now bigger than television and movies. So the task of getting to signed contracts is, ahm, challenging.


Anonymous said...

Unions can not only at times be unduly worried by issues of jurisdiction, but we need to recognize two important factors effecting workers today- the increasing importance of our benefits and the mobility of the labor force. As our health system breaks down and our politicians attack what social safety nets we have left, our union benefits become even more important.

You recall one of my many pipe dreams was one day to see reciprocity of benefits. That you could work in LA, New York , Ontario or Marin and your pension and health insurance follows you.I think that kind of bauble would be too tempting to resist. Like a Roman Citizen could go anywhere in his Empire and claim his rights by declaring Civitas Romanum Sum! So could a union animator claim his right in an Emergency room in Toledo.

When I was prez we all tried to bring that up a few times, I don't know if any further headway has been made on a national level since.

p.s. What is a Pipe Dream, anyway?

Jenny Lerew said...

Tom, I think "pipe dream" refers to a pastime of the mid to late 19th c(and much earlier in the east), an effect of opium smoking. In other words, a sort of 'fever dream', delirium or simply a drug-indiced fantasia. Nothing based in reality.

And no, I don't know that by personal experience--unless you count watching Lon Chaney in "Mr. Wu" or Johnny Depp in "From Hell". ; )

Site Meter