Thursday, May 01, 2008

Making a "Union Shop" ... What Does It Take?

Back from my undisclosed location, I respond to

What does it take to get guild benefits at DD , R&H and other VFX studios?

I can fill in my rep card , but with short term gigs being the norm at these studios it may be difficult to get enough cards of current employees to get anything off the ground.

To get a viz effx facility ... or an animation studio ... or anyplace unionized and paying health and pension benefits into The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan (or some other labor pension plan) is simplicity itself.

All you have to do is apply sufficient leverage to company management, and they sign on the dotted line.

So ... what the hell is "sufficient leverage"?

It could be no more than a simple rep card count and well-mannered negotiation ... closely followed by a contract signing.

Or ... it might be a decisive vote of the employees in a National Labor Relations Board election, and then a negotiation and contract signing.

On the other hand, the company, after losing the NLRB election, could kick and scream and stall and insert poison pills into a contract negotiation that the guild or union would never agree to.

Which might call for more leverage, like for instance employees walking out en masse when the company is staring a production deadline in the face and the consequences of being shut down are catastrophic. (Its back to the metaphorical wall, if you get my meaning.)

This "wild cat strike" method is how the IATSE often organizes production crews on film shoots. It's often hard to pull off with a production house, but is certainly a weapon that has -- on different occasions -- worked.

The option that would most likely achieve results with a visual effects company might well be the last one, because the other methods are slower and whatever leverage the employees had could be, like, gone before cards were collected and a vote held.

Over the years, I've witnessed all the above strategies used successfully in getting union contracts. I've also seen these various strategies fail. The biggest problem for viz effx houses is they operate on razor-thin margins and cut their own throats in bidding wars with other effects shops.

It's one of the reasons so many of them branch out in trying to produce original content where profit margins are (maybe) higher. But God knows there have been facilities that have flourished as "union shops." In the final analysis, if the employees have the will and sufficient leverage, the company ends up union.


Anonymous said...

Seems to me that profit margins are substantially higher with studios that produce original content, as nearly all of them are union. thats an interesting observation.

i honestly wish twice as many shops were producing original content, but with media consolidation the way it is the three or four giant media companies have boxed out any original content not owned by them. i don't remember it always being like this. the "big giveaway" media deregulation pushed through in the nineties allowed these huge media empires(Viacom, Time Warner) to exist and the first thing they did was refuse to broadcast any content that they don't own.

so besides libraries of great shows sitting in vaults without being shown on television's channels, we also get a situation where an independent studio is incapable of producing original content that will find a place on the air.

how bad was media deregulation for the studio landscape? directly after it passed, Jim Henson studios was done for. no channel would broadcast The Muppet Show because they didn't own it....
how sad is that? the entertainment industry sure used to be a lot more vibrant.

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