Friday, February 15, 2008

If They Want To Get Rid of You ...

... it's sometimes tough to stop them.

I bring this up because a while ago ... and also at various times over the years ... I've seen artists railroaded out of a job not because their work was sub-par but because:

1) The boss was out for them. (There'd been some argument, and despite apologies, the head guy still held a grudge.)

2) The boss had a pet or pets he wanted to bring in to the artist's job-slot, and the artist was in the way ("Nothing personal, but my buddy takes precedence over you.")

3) The boss is told by a higher up that (s)he must make room for somebody else on her or his crew ... so the employee is handed a layoff slip, or written up.

You can probably think of variations to the above, but you catch my drift.

The shoals and eddies of the workplace are often treacherous. As an employee, new or old, you deal with over-sized egos, overactive paranoia, territoriality. These realities are always there to a greater or lesser degree, and an employee always has to be aware of them ... or suffer the consequences.

Many times, despite being endlessly pleasant and hard-working, artists suffer bad consequences anyway, because many things are simply outside their control.

How does a labor union enter into all this? Over the years I've found that the most effective way to counter these kinds of problems is to strategize remedies:

That could mean making "nice" to a supervisor who, frankly, doesn't deserve to be made nice to, but that's the best political move to make. It could mean recruiting allies who will vouch for the quality of the employee's work. And in certain situations it means filing -- or threatening to file -- a grievance.

The grievance route -- a step-by-step process between union and company that starts with a letter from the union laying out the problem and ends with a binding judgment by an outside arbitrator -- can be either effective or counter-productive.

I always tell a potential grievant the prospects I see for winning and losing a grievance. And I go over the ramifications a grievance will have. It seldom makes the company happy (it's a pain in the backside, it takes up time, etc.) And it can often (though not always) get the grievant pegged as a "trouble maker," which hurts the grievant's future employment with the company. But I've had studios tell me after a grievance, "that person is never coming back here!" And twelve months later, the person is back.

And sometimes push-back is helpful; in fact the only logical thing to do. We've had a number of grievances through the years where individuals have walked away with cash settlements because studios messed up the contractually-required discharge procedure (one write-up warning of a problem, followed by a second write-up). Occasionally the company backs off because it doesn't want to hassle the time and expense of full arbitration, and so compromises.

One point I emphasize to employees who are hot to file a grievance: You can be the finest artist this side of Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci, and no arbitrator will go near the question of whether your storyboards or design work are "good" or "not good." The only thing an arbitrator will consider is, Were the contract provisions followed or not?

This is sometimes tough for aggrieved artists to process. "I was screwed over! My work is great! Why can't I bring that fact into the arbitration?" Because arbitrators aren't experts in line quality and artistic ability, and they always flat-out refuse to become one for the purposes of a job dispute with a conglom.

The cold reality: If Fat Cat Productions wants you gone badly enough, you'll be gone. Often the best solution is to walk away and get on with your career and life. But there are sometimes ways to soften the blow of an abrupt departure.


Anonymous said...

Hey Steve -

I enjoyed this post. It's a great reminder that we are still in an industry run with people, and wherever people are involved, Politics comes into play. An old veteran told me once to find your "patron" as soon as possible and build political capital. An interesting idea.

One quick note: in the last line of the article, I thought you were referring to an actual animation studio (having confused Fat Cat Productions with Fat Kat Animation). Silly as it may seem, I didn't catch onto the hyperbole until a third read.

Floyd Norman said...

Wise words, Steve. The corporation is a big machine, and it has no feelings.

As artists, we take things personally. More often than not, it has nothing to do with our work or how likable we are. Sometimes Fat Cat Productions just needs us gone.

Better to lick your wounds and move on. Chances are you'll be back there again anyway.

Steve Hulett said...

Fat Kat Animation -- a remnant of the Bluth-Fox studio in Phoenix, actually had (allegedly) a different problem.

FKA wanted people to keep working. It just didn't want to pay them.

Anonymous said...

Haha! To add to the confusion, I actually through you were talking about .

Anonymous said...

It stripped the link, but I thought you were talking about FatKat (

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