Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Simple Art of Organizing

A few days ago, I strolled into a studio and got braced up by an artist about organizing animation studios. He told me the following:

I spent six months last year working at a non-union place that paid okay wages but terrible benefits. Me and a few other artists wanted to send in rep cards and unionize the show, but we couldn't get enough artists to go along with us. They were scared they would get fired and wouldn't find other work. What are the chances they'd get fired? What are the chances we'd organize the place? I really, really needed my benefits ...

Here's the answer (paraphrased) that I blathered out:

Organizing comes down to one thing: leverage.

If you have enough leverage, the company will sign a union contract, if you don't, they won't. Here are varying degrees of leverage employees have:

Signing rep cards and forcing the company to "lawyer up" for a National Labor Relations Board hearing and election. Companies don't like to spend money on this kind of stuff.

People refusing to work for a company because it isn't "union" with "union benefits". When a company can't get the people it needs to work on its film, it goes and signs a contract. (This is why the screen Actors Guild often gets companies to sign its contract. A company that can't get SAG actors can't get its film made ... or sold in most markets.)

A crew walking off the project right before sequences need to be shipped or put into full production when there's a deadline staring the company in the face.

The artist wanted to know how much leverage was needed to organize his particular shop, since he figures he'll be working there again. I told him it boils down to money.

* If the cash outlay is way higher than their present "low wage, minimal benefits" business model, they'll fight.

* If they have to spend more money doing legal battle than the union contract costs them, they'll sign the contract.

* If the head of the company is rabidly against "going union", then more leverage will be needed, if -- on the other hand -- the head of the company doesn't have a bee in his bonnet, then less leverage will be needed.

I'm a classical cynic on this subject. Union organizing is like lots of other things in life. "Fair" and "unfair" is a useful rhetorical device, and often worth using, but what counts in the end is what you have the power and ability to get. (The recent DGA and WGA contract negotiations are excellent cases in point.)


Site Meter