Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fighting Letters, Fighting Unions

From comments down below:

What do you think of Tom Short's appalling letter (I guess it's clear what I think) to Patric Verrone, lambasting the WGA for the strike? Why not a letter to the studios lambasting THEM for failing to negotiate a reasonable contract with the WGA and instead offering only stonewalling and rollbacks -- thereby ensuring that the WGA's only possible and reasonable response would be to refuse such an offer and go on strike? So much for labor solidarity.

Would I have written the letter that President Short wrote yesterday to Patric Verrone?


Definitely not my style. (Verrone's measured reply is here.)

But having said that, it's useful to know not just the correspondence between Mr. Short and Mr. Verrone, but what's happened between the two labor organizations in the recent and distant past that's caused the hostility ...

The bad blood between the IA and the WGA goes back a long ways, long before Tom Short was President.

In 1983, after the animation guild's '82 strike, the WGA tried to claim animation writers as part of its jurisdiction. There was an arbitration on the issue involving the WGA, IA, and AMPTP. The WGA ultimately lost the arbitration, but the IA wasn't pleased with the WGA for what considered a "jurisdiction grab." It was ticked off, actually.

This was two IA Presidents before Tom Short.

Now, the WGA has every legal right to organize animation writers. The AFL-CIO has a rule (called Rule 20), that prohibits AFL-CIO unions from raiding one another's jurisdictions, but guess what?

The WGAw isn't a member of the AFL-CIO. So why should it follow the rules of an organizations to which it doesn't belong?

Nevertheless, the IATSE was and is ticked about it. (I'm putting aside here who's "right" and who's "wrong," and who has the "moral high ground." I've been around the biz for thirty years and think of those things as rhetorical flourishes that are often useful, but ultimately irrelevant. In the end what counts is the result achieved. Do you have the muscle and/or leverage to reach your desired end, or don't you?)

But the long jurisdictional battle over animation is old news. Way old news. So let's jump to the last year and a half, and look at a newer point of contention between the IATSE and the WGAw.

You might have heard of the reality show America's New Top Model, and how the WGAw tried and failed to organize the writers on it. What you might not know is that the WGA and the Editors Guild (one of the IA's larger unions) had a joint campaign to organize the show.

The Writers Guild was going after the writers (natch), and the editors were going after the editors.

However, after some months of joint effort, the Writers Guild told the Editors Guild: "Thanks so much, it's been fun, but we're pulling out of this dual thing and going our own way." (I'm paraphrasing here.)

Next thing the Editors Guild knows, the WGAw is circulating fliers and doing a campaign to organize the writers and the editors.

And the Editors Guild, along with the IATSE, is ticked at the Writers Guild.

Now, again, the WGAw has every right to organize editors. It's not in the AFL-CIO, the editors on Model are unrepresented, so whichever labor organization gets them under contract, wonderful for them.

But the Editors Guild didn't like what was going on, thought it showed minimal labor solidarity, and thought what the Writers Guild was trying to do "sucked." (The word an Editors Guild organizer used when he was telling me the story.)

Oh yeah. And this WGA grab for the editors? It caused Tom Short to become even more hostile toward the WGA.

So now we're up to the present. And the WGA has gone on strike, and the President of the IA is looking at seventy or eighty thousand IA members getting laid off for an undetermined amount of time, of the health and pension plan being drained, and there's nothing he can do about it, the levers are out of his hands, and he's even more ... well, I've beaten the word into the ground, so I'll stop.

And you're right, the letter that he wrote yesterday had a lack of civility to it, and certainly didn't show union solidarity.

But, you know, there's union solidarity on 8 1/2" x 11" bond paper, and there's union solidarity through concrete, real-world actions. I firmly believe this, and I try to act on my beliefs.

Which is why I was walking the WGA picket line at Universal this afternoon.


Anonymous said...

The was nothing appalling about that letter. He simply voiced his concerns and feelings on the matter.

Anonymous said...

A labor organization that chooses not to belong to the AFL-CIO might have a credibility problem making an issue of "union solidarity."

Anonymous said...

Choosing to not belong to the AFL-CIO is a choice that a union and its local membership should decide themselves. Unfortunately, for alot of union members, who saw their independent unions raided by AFL-CIO shell unions (like what happened to UE and other former CIO members after their expulsion) no love is lost between them and the less than rank and file oriented AFL-CIO (and the monumentally worse Change to Win).

The fact that the WGAw is an independent union (as are the Stage Directors and Choreographers, ACTRA, and the Writers Guild of Canada are independent) is not, in and of itself, a statement on their union solidarity or principles of rank and file democracy. In fact, a noticeable demand in the WGA's bargaining this round is a line, similar to Teamsters, allowing them to respect pickets. Does this absolve them of their sins? No. But it puts things in perspective.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this detailed explanation. I'm a Local 700 editor, and my spouse is a WGAW writer. I was shocked when I received that letter, and have been upset at the total lack of support, or even discussion from my guild. At least now I understand the backstory. I keep thinking how fast this strike would be over if we were able to show true solidarity among all the guilds. Instead, most post production people remain working, earning money for the studios. The letter is appalling because, for petty reasons, it undermines the whole point of having unions in the first place. I understand the friction that has been created, but that could certainly be handled with more diplomacy than publicly undermining a fellow guild's efforts. I can't believe I have a contract that forbids me from honoring picket lines. It's ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Your account Top Model is factually incorrect. You are mixing histories. The Editors on Top Model had been represented by IA Local 700 for over a year when the WGAW began to organize the story producers. At no point did the WGAW ever try to organize the editors on Top Model. The Organizing Director at the WGAW made a courtesy call to the IA in advance of the strike at Top Model to tell Tris Carpenter that the story producers were going to strike. The convoluted history of the WGAW and editors predates Top Model by about a year and is a totally different story. You don't have to believe me you can call Ken Mok at 10 by 10 Productions and ask him when he negotiated a deal with the Editors Guild. He'll tell you it was well in advance of the WGAW/story producer organizing.

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