Thursday, November 09, 2006

Leverage II -- Thoughts of Some Non-Union 'Toon Studios

Last week, and a couple of years back, and a couple of years before that, I was told about non-signator cartoon producers explaining to animators how, gosh darn it, they were on a tight budget and there was just no way they could pay minimum guild wage rates or health and pension benefits to the artists ("So sorry, wish we could.")...

In each case, the artists found out that the companies that were paying them squat were, at the very same time, signed to Screen Actors Guild contracts that had pension benefits, health benefits, and residuals with all the trimmings.

Fifteen years ago, I sat in Gabor Csupo's office on Highland and listened to him blather on about how awful how our guild was, how he'd never sign a contract with us even if we pulled his fingernails out, etcetera, etcetera. When he finally wound down I asked him if Klasky-Csupo had, like, a SAG contract. He stared at me like I was a retarded kindergartner.

"SAG? Oh, SAG's great! Sure we have a contract with them. They're great!"

Then he went back to telling me how crappy we were, with a strong assist from one of his production supervisors, a young woman named Sherry Gunther.

Well pardon me all to hell, but I don't think SAG is anywhere near as great as Gabor C. made them out to be, way back in 1991. I think that Gabor Csupo put his name on the dotted line of SAG's collective bargaining agreement because there were some voice actors that he had to have for his cartoon shows, and the only way he could get them was go sign a Screen Actors Guild contract.

SAG, you see, had leverage (or a great block and tackle, whatever). This is, in the final analysis, the only thing that really delivers. "Fair and "unfair" don't really enter the equation.


Kevin Koch said...

And now Gabor Csupo is directing the live action Bridge to Terabithia for Disney, due for release early next year.

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile we've been flooded with calls that Klasky Csupo is dissolving what's left of their 401(k) Plan. You know, the company whose benefits were so much better than ours.

And how hard do you suppose it was to get Gabor to join the DGA?

Anonymous said...

what does gabor have to do with it anyway? I thought the deal was, if enough people signed, they are forced to become a union shop. Why even debate these things with him and people like him? just strong arm him into it.. that's what unions are good for.

Kevin Koch said...

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. If enough people sign rep cards, then either a studio agrees to negotiate, or the NLRB requires an election (which, if won by the union, requires the studio to negotiate). The key is that, in both cases, the result is the studio is required only to negotiate "in good faith." They are not required to sign a union contract.

In cases where the employees are fired up and potentially willing to take job actions, there's good leverage to get a contract signed. Likewise when the studio management recognizes that the union contract may actually benefit them in recruiting and retention.

On the other hand, if a studio refuses to come to terms with the union, and if the employees aren't willing to show any real support or backbone, then a contract probably won't be concluded.

Ultimately, unions are simply the collective will of a group of employees. If the will is strong, there's leverage (our word of the day), and a contract will likely be reached. Without that collective will, there is no leverage. That leverage, that collective will (i.e., the "strong arm" you speak of) is held by the group of employees, not the union representative.

Anonymous said...

Since so many of Gabor's artists were (like him) born in Cold War era Eastern-Bloc countries, many of them weren't into unions. Also, since KC sponsored their immigration, few were inclined to rock the boat.

Those of us who were born here and knew better left for union studios long before KC's implosion. Those who stayed were in for rude awakenings (as well as lengthy unemployment)

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