Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ratification of the IA-AMPTP Basic Agreement

Remember that big union-management umbrella contract called "The Basic Agreement"? How the IA and the Alliance of Producers thrashed out a new deal for a three-year agreement back in November? When the American economy was going to hell in a rusty hand-cart?

If it's slipped your mind, here's a brief refresher of the results:

Wage increases for the IA Basic Agreement consist of 3% effective 8/2/09; another 3% effective 8/1/10, and another 3% effective 7/31/11 ... The AMPTP believes the cost of its deal with IATSE amounts to an increase of about 3.8% a year for the next three years ...

The reason I bring it up now is the IA had a gathering of union business agents over at its offices this morning, and they got detailed information about the oncoming ratification vote for the new contract. Ballots designating a Yes or No vote will be mailed to IA members the end of this month.

Fine and dandy, but since the Animation Guild isn't in the Basic Agreement group of unions anymore, what does this mean to TAG members? ...

Quite a lot, actually. While the TAG contract is not bound to the Basic Agreement the way it was twenty-plus years ago, the Animation Guild's agreements are still yoked pretty tightly to the Basic's deal points.

Like, the pension and health package found in the bigger contract is our pension and health package. And the Basic's wage increases are (in my experience) TAG's wage increases. The two agreements are negotiated separately, but there is little daylight between the two deals.

Because of that, a lot of Animation Guild artists have a keen interest about how the latest Basic Agreement deal got to where it is. Like for instance, why didn't our bargaining reps go for more, go for better, go for different?

It's the three talking points union members ask their union leaders. The subtext is: "Are you f*cking kidding me? This is the best you can do?"

A lot of the questions here and elsewhere centered on how the new agreement calls for a higher number of contribution hours to qualify for health coverage, rising from 300 hours now to 400 hours in August, 2011 (the final year of the next contract):

Q: If the number of qualifying hours go up, why didn't participants' bank of hours (the account of extra hours worked) get raised to more than the 450 hour cap?

A: Increasing the Bank of Hours would increase the cost to the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan.

And remember, in 2000 the Bank of Hours was increased from a cap of 300 hours to 450 hours, without any changes to the Plan's eligibility. For over 90% of Health Plan participants, that 450 hours will still be enough to bridge shortfalls in contribution hours that happen after 2011 ...

There's a little bile out in union land regarding some of the changes in the Basic Agreement. Many of the 15 IA locals in the Bargaining Unit have had internal discussions about upcoming changes, some fairly hot. (For example, here's a Q&A from the Cinematographers' Guild.)

My take on all this (and yeah, I'm a labor thug, so I'm prejudiced) is that the IA did a more than credible job negotiating the new contract, 3.8% gains compounded annually, right in line with the other unions and guilds. (Unlike commenters at Deadline Hollywood, I've actually sat in the negotiations and read the damn deal points. The IA locked down a serious New Media deal, complaints to the contrary.)

But face it. When you're sitting at a negotiating table in the middle of an economic meltdown -- and that's what was happening back in November -- you're not going to make gigantic, heroic strides toward the bright and shiny future that is everyone's dream. You're going to be lucky to hold onto your posterior.

Well, we held onto our posteriors. But it wasn't a joyous occasion while we did it.

My sense of all this, based on my lengthy battle-scarred history, is that the Basic Agreement will pass with 75-85% approval, and that TAG will negotiate its contracts in the next few months and achieve similar results.

But I left my seeing crystal at the vacation home in the Hamptons. So we'll just have to wait for the final scorecard.

In the next few days, assuming I can puzzle out how to put up a balky pdf file, I'll be posting a question-and-answer fact sheet about the new contract.


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