Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Studios and MisInformation

Yesterday, I hit two different cartoon factories. In the course of my rounds, some new hires asked me questions, a few of which made me gnaw on the inside of my wizened cheeks. I've hit on this topic before, but in the interest of continuing education, I address the questions yet again:

"The studio told me the union contract only allows them to give me two weeks vacation per year ..."

The fabled union contract says this: "All weekly employees ...who have had one year of continuous employment ... shall be entitled to two (2) weeks paid vacation." (Article 8).

But wait! There's more! The contract also says:"Nothing in this Agreement shall prevent any individual from negotiating and obtaining from the Producer better conditions and terms of employment than those herein provided ..." (Article 4.C.)

So guess what? Employees are free to negotiate more vacation, higher wages, and extra benefits. (Stock options? Abso-freaking-lutely). All it takes is juice and leverage.

Some people have those things, others don't. For instance, a dozen years ago, animation employees regularly negotiated for wages that were double minimum scale. Many negotiated four ... or five ... or six weeks of yearly vacation. Nobody in management said back then: "Oh, sorry. The union contract precludes us from giving you more vacation."

"Nobody at the studio told me anything about initiation fees or dues when they recruited me. All they said was they were a 'union shop.' Then they said they were 'legally prohibited' from telling me any details ..."

Actually, no. There's this "freedom of speech" thing. It's in the Constitution. And the studio folks can tell you as much or as little as they desire. Nothing at all wrong with saying little, and if they want to say, "Gee, there are initiation fees and dues, but we don't want to give you wrong info, so here's the number of the Animation Guild (818-766-7151), call them," that's completely okay by us.

But "We're legally prohibited"? Uh, no. Because the studio isn't.

"They also said, when we finished negotiating my deal, that they'd 'prefer it if I don't tell anybody what I was making.'"

Of course they'd prefer it. Because it really simplifies their task of negotiating with others if the others have no effing idea what their fellow employees are making. But as we've said 437 times before, Section 232 California labor code states:

No employer may do any of the following:

a. Require, as a condition of employment, than an employee refrain from disclosing the amount of his or her wages

b. Require an employee to sign a waiver or other document that purports to deny the employee the right to disclose the amount of his or her wages.

c. Discharge, formally discipline, or otherwise discriminate against an employee who discloses the amount of his or her wages.

I raise all these points yet again because if I don't repeat them over and over, people forget the law and their rights when they're in a manager's office being gently intimidated.

After all. If you don't push back here and there, pretty soon you're shoved right on over the cliff.


Anonymous said...

This question is sort of related... but are salaried Animation Artists (storyboard revisionists, character designers, prop designers, etc) considered "non-exempt" employeed when it comes to overtime?


Is there any case history of this that you know of? Of course this corresponds only with non-TAG shops. But I was just curious if you happen to know.

Thanks for helping spread so much information about an artists' rights. This blog has been completely invaluable.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I formed the URL incorrectly.

Dpt. of Labor "Non-exempt"

Steve Hulett said...

Sure. The answer is, "animators" are non-exempt under Federal regs (that is, animators with quotation marks).

The Fed's reasoning is: animators are working with created images and therefore are not performing original "creative" work.

Now, I'm not saying the guvmint is "right", only telling you what the regs say and mean.

As for "revisionists" or "assistants," the rule of thumb is that if an artist is creating original images, then she/he is exempt from Federal overtime rules (meaning, these folks don't have to be paid overtime.)

But artists who are working with already created images (cleanup artists, "animators," revisionists, etc.) are non-exempt 9meaning they get o.t.).

Many animation companies ignore these rules, because there's small chance that they'll be caught and/or penalized for breaking them.

Kevin Koch said...

The bottom line is that there are few artistic positions in the animation industry that are legitimately exempt from overtime.

That doesn't stop many producers from claiming otherwise, and there are a fair number of artists/animators who are willing to shoot themselves in the foot to go along with violating federal law . . .

Anonymous said...

Fox is going forward with a 20th season of The Simpsons. With the looming actors strike, and the cast not yet signed on, Fox is planning to replace them ALL with novice/newbie actors. Brilliant move.

Anonymous said...

Fox is going forward with a 20th season of The Simpsons. With the looming actors strike, and the cast not yet signed on, Fox is planning to replace them ALL with novice/newbie actors. Brilliant move.

That's never going to happen. Fox has threatened this before but they've never gone through with it because they're not that stupid.

Anonymous said...

Very very interesting. Thanks a whole bunch for the response on the non-exempt rule.

Anonymous said...

On the exempt issue...

What about game studios?

The char rigging I'm doing for game studios is the same thing I was doing for movie studios.
I was fortunate enough to be a settlement-check-receiving class member of the recent SCEA overtime lawsuit, but now a new studio I'm going to work for wants to again classify me as exempt from overtime.

Since both the EA and SCEA lawsuits were settled ouf of court, there is no legal precedent.
But the studios that continue to cross the line are playing with fire, are they not?

How can I frame the argument to the new studio that I don't wish, nor do I think, my work is exempt?


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