Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On Negotiations, part II: war stories

There are probably as many colorful anecdotes regarding contract negotiations as there are negotiators. I've been doing this since the early nineties. Here are a few tales that stick out in my mind:

Early nineties: I'm involved in my first big union negotiation. Because I don't know any better, I've worked a lot of hours pulling proposals together with our negotiation committee, and we have a nice fat laundry list of demands.

The IATSE representative (that's somebody from the West Coast office of our "mother international") is a grizzled veteran who's manner is brusque. He sits in on our first caucus before the actual negotiations, looks at all the proposals and bellows at me: "What the hell are you doing!? You don't want to come in with this many proposals! You want to keep the thing short! Get in and get out! What you doing!?"

We go in with the list anyway, and get pretty much nowhere. We propose reclassifying "sheet timers" as "timing directors"; the producer reps tell us we can't use the term "director" because the Directors Guild of America has exclusive use of the term "director" in its contract. The TAG negotiating committee finds out later this is...ah...not true. (We have "directors" in the contract now.)

After the first day of this negotiation, the Warners negotiator -- a Vietnam veteran named Jay Ballance -- announces that Warners is not going to negotiate over some of our "off the wall" proposals. He slams down his briefcase, sweeps his papers into it, and storms out. I think: "Wow."

A day later he's back. Nothing more is said about our proposals. This is, I soon find out, is what can be classified as "negotiation theatrics."

Mid-nineties: This is when Lion King is making ka-jillions for Disney. TAG President Tom Sito decides that the time is ripe to try and get residuals for animators, directors, story people. Tom has a meeting with Disney staffers. Many say (and here I paraphrase): "Go for it, but we're not sticking our necks out and doing a job action or anything. But, ah, we'll take it if you get it."

Tom makes a couple of impassioned speeches during negotiations. One is on behalf of impoverished retirees sitting at the table who negotiate against labor relations veepees driving their BMWs and Lexuses. Retiree Ed Friedman -- sitting near Tom at the table -- leans over and whispers to him: "Uh, Tom? I drive a Lexus..."

A short time later, Sito has a tantrum over an employer demand, knocks over a chair and stalks out. His fit makes an impact. (Three years later when he tries much the same thing, it has less of an impact. This is where I relearned the truism: The law of diminishing returns...)

Film Roman/IDT Entertainment Negotiations:

This was, in many ways, the most amazing negotiation I have ever taken part in, even though it was a first-time organizing negotiation, where the new contract is not always supercalifabulistic...and the rest of it.

The big difference was, the Film Romanians were ticked off. They thought they'd been treated badly by management and weren't going to take it anymore. They voted by almost 90% to have TAG represent them as bargaining agent. Twenty of the heavy hitters who worked on The Simpsons and King of the Hill volunteered to serve on the negotiating committee. And when management, angry at the size of the committee, back-tracked on an offer to serve everyone lunch, they got more ticked off. So we started off on not a great foot.

Once we got into the swing of things, however, negotiations went relatively smoothly. Management initially balked at some of the retroactivity for health benefits, but when they realized that employees were ready to strike over the issue, they did a smart about face.

After that, negotiations went -- dare I say it? -- swimmingly. Leverage is a wonderful thing when you have it (too often you don't). We wrapped up all outstanding issues and reached an agreement on a sparkly new contract in just a few days, and I must say that TAG's relationship with the company has been fine ever since.

I'll admit it. I enjoy leverage. It pops up so rarely.


Jason said...

Thanks again for your daily posts. Whether it is remembering the past or marveling about the future, I visit every day. Your current post was great. Great stories. I take something away from each post and espcially today, I can apply a lot of what I read to my own career. Thanks for being so faithful with your posts. I speak for all of us when I say I look forward to it every morning.

Anonymous said...


The main effort here is to shine a light on various workplace realities in animation.

And I'm back from vacation.

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