Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Union, Not Union

These are interesting and (semi) connected stories, so bear with me.

The first tale: A bunch of years ago, The Animation Guild was struggling to organize an animated/live action picture named "Cool World." (This was long before Brad Pitt was the screen and tabloid icon we know and love today)...

Every live-action member of the "CW" crew -- grips, gaffers, camera operators, make-up artists, etc. -- were working under union contracts. But not animators or board artists or checkers and all the rest. TAG wasn't in the IA "bargaining unit," so toonsters labored over or around animation tables without benefit of contract.

But I was trying to GET a contract, and I was super frustrated. I was slowly collecting representation cards, but not enough. Our Mother International, the IATSE, was making sympathetic noises and not much else (in other words, they weren't helping in any major way).

Then the Animation Guild caught a large break. One of Ralph Bakshi's key artists had talked himself into getting the company to give him UNION pension and health benefits, and had been collecting them for several weeks. I found out about it, told the company it couldn't be a "little bit pregnant" by providing one animator benefits while denying it to others (Federal labor law calls this "double breasting" and it's illegal).

The company -- Paramount Pictures -- saw the error of its ways and agreed to discuss a TAG contract. And I discovered, to my amazement, that Ralph had been hiring his animation staff at waaay above market rates. When the company and Animation Guild sat down to negotiate terms and conditions, I asked the Paramount Labor rep why the hell they were fighting so hard to deny artists pension and health benefits, when their producer/director Ralph Bakshi was paying more for 'toon talent than any other union production in town.

The rep smiled and shrugged. "Well, you know, sometimes we don't pay close attention..."

I guess.

Which brings me to my story from LAST week: An animation producer rang up and said "Hey, I'm paying pretty high rates to get people, qualified people, in here. And I might be able to save money if I signed a contract." (This phenomena doesn't happen every week, but occsionally it does happen.)

I told the gent that might indeed be the case, since many TAG artists I knew were real interested in maintaining health and pension benefits, even if that meant a dip on their usual pay rate.

Now, there's not a direct parallel here, because Paramount was paying high rates on "Cool World" because it was ignorant where market salaries were and let Mr. Bakshi do whatever he wanted, and last week's producer was paying high rates because he HAD to (since he wasn't offering union pension and health benefits).

But, in each case, the solutions were the same: it would have been more fiscally prudent to sign a TAG contract than not*.

*This solution doesn't always hold, of course. There are non-signator studio that pay below Animation Guild minimums. Just as there are signator studios that cut corners on the terms and conditions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, this sort of echoes back to the risk pool article you posted back at the end of August. Resisting unions seems to be a reflexive action with corporations, and not having the foresight to lose a battle occasionally and still win a war is standard operating procedure.

But thank you for your diligence in seeing these things through.

Steve Hulett said...

Actually, it EXACTLY echoes that August post, since I told the same damn story with a slightly different slant (daily blogging will do that to you. And I thought about linking to it, but it was late and I was lazy..)

Sometimes the market lifts all boats above contractual minimums, and sometimes it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Oops, Hi again Steve, I did not mean you were just copying and pasting your previous articles, it just means the big media giants are easy to predict when it comes to money issues. Atleast most of the time.

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