Thursday, February 07, 2008

Trials of an Artistic Career -- Part I

These are the kinds of things that drive me crazy:

I get a call today from an artist doing assistant work -- old-fashioned cleanup for hand-drawn animation -- at a small, non-union company sub-contracting work from one of the four giant, entertainment conglomerates which brighten our drab lives. (No point in me telling you which one; it's non-covered work and isn't relevant anyway.)

The company has him working as an "independent contractor," which in and of itself is a large stretch, because the company is 1) giving this guy directions on how to do the job (a no-no), 2) supplying him with the pencils, paper and animation desk necessary for that job (another no-no), and 3) insisting that he drive to the company's premises and be at the animation desk working by nine o'clock (a major, big-time no-no if he's an actual independent contractor).

In case you don't know, everything above -- and I mean everything -- is okay if the artist is working as an employee. But since our cleanup artist is being 1099ed (the numerical term for "i.c."), numbers one through three are out-of-bounds. (The Internal Revenue Service has regulations governing these things. A shame it seldom enforces them.)

Of course I tell the artist all this.

And the artist says to me: "Welll ... I thought what was being done might be wrong ... but I needed the work."

There's one other small wrinkle: I'm getting this call today because the artist has been waiting over a month to get paid, and he's getting ticked off.

Sound familiar at all?

So I go through the various remedies: The artist can go to small claims court. The artist can go to the California Labor Commissioner and file complaints for a) unpaid overtime, and b) non-payment of wages (the good part here is there are extra penalties that can be collected for late payment.)

The artist asks me to call the employer/contractor and try to get him to spit out a check. I have zero leverage, but I say I'll give it a try. So I punch up the employer's number ... and by great good luck the guy picks up, and acts kind of rattled that I actually know the applicable IRS regulations and that he's (most likely) violating them.

He makes the usual alibis ("The client hasn't paid me yet, but as soon as he does I'll pay Billy ...") and I make the usual snarky, biz rep come-back ("It's not Billy's problem that the conglom hasn't paid you. He needs to get his MONEY!")

We hang up. And an hour later I start to think maybe the conversation has done some good when I talk to Billy the artist and find out the employer has just phoned Billy up -- after three-weeks of avoiding his calls -- and said "Okay already! I'll get you your money by tomorrow! Monday at the latest!"

Apparently the gent is worried that something bad will soon happen if he doesn't placate the cleanup artist he's been stiffing and give him a live check. (This remains to be seen, but I'm hopeful).

Moral: When you've busted your hump for an employer and the job is over (or you're still doing the job and he's not paying you), there's no need to be nice.


Adam Strick said...

Thanks for posting this Steve! I was actually working for an employer under those exact conditions for my first job as an animator right out of school. Except they were paying me at the right time, but not the proper amount for overtime...and there was a good amount of overtime. I wish I would have known specifically about those three things and the independent contractor before going in but they were hiring students that didn't know or didn't care because we needed experience or wanted to get (under)paid to do what we love. It only lasted about 3 months but still easily enough time to live and learn by.

Graham Ross said...

another great post on being an independent contractor. This has always irked me with employers mostly becuase I have never known the in and outs of being a contractor on a job. In addition its kind of weird to tell a potential employer that what they're doing is wrong when there's a ton of inexperienced people out there willing to get screwed by working as a contractor. Again I'm going to ask you do a couple of posts detaling how to work in the industry fresh out of school without getting screwed.

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