Friday, March 20, 2009

But ... What About 839? ...

A commenter on Deadline Hollywood Daily asks (in regards to the ratification of the IATSE Basic Agreement):

Hey, how did IATSE 839 vote on this union wide contract?


How is that even legal? What a joke.

Comment by iatse 839 — March 20, 2009 @ 4:20 pm

And Biz Rep Hulett replies:

Funny thing about TAG 839 not getting a vote inside the IA bargaining unit.

From 1952 until 1985 TAG was one of the IA locals in the bargaining unit, getting to vote on each Basic Agreement as it was negotiated.

But in 1985, kindly old Nick Counter told then IA President Walter Diehl that the AMPTP would no longer be negotiating on behalf of the studios as regards Local 839. In other words, the Alliance was kicking us out of the bargaining unit because we had been overly frisky in 1979 and 1982 with job actions. (In other words, we went on strike.)

Although the IATSE authorized the strikes, when we were pushed out of the bargaining unit, the IA contested the expulsion, but not strenuously. And so, ultimately, we were out. (These things happened while I was a feature animation writer at Disney and serving on the TAG executive board as Vice President. But I didn't participate in the 1985 negotiations.)

From that day to this, we have negotiated contracts all by our loneseome, separate and apart frmo the IA Basic Agreement. Generally, we negotiate the same deal that the IA locals inside the bargaining unit negotiate.

Disadvantages? You're not part of the larger body, and so you have to fend more for yourself. (In recent years, the International has become a more active participant in our local negotiations. They were less involved in the early and middle nineties.)

We have lsee input regarding the Health and Pension benefits that are negotiated under the Basic Agreement, not under our local agreement.

Advantages? Because we're out of the unit, we've been able to negotiate a 401(k) Plan ... in addition to the Motion Picture Health and Pension Benefits that we've had since the fifties.

Happily, members vote on ratification for each and every Local 839 agreement.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Nikki commenter. Since Nikki F. has blocked TAG comments on her blog in the past, I take the liberty of answering you here.


Anonymous said...

How is it that the 401k plan needed to be "negotiated"? If the studios don't contribute to it, why would it even be an issue? Or do they contribute in some way?

Steve Hulett said...

To get a 401(k) in the first place, we had to negotiate it.

In the early nineties, we worked to get a supplmental 401(k) Plan to add to the two MIPHP Plans.

Studios said "Ixnay."

Then TAG President Tom Sito circulated a petition, signed by Disney animation employees, urging Disney to negotiate a 401(k), and we finally got one in early '95 ... after contract negotiations.

Yes, it's a "no match" Plan, but very useful nevertheless. (Like every other pension plan in the country, it's taken a hit over the past year.)

Steve Hulett said...

One additional point. We couldn't have a 401(k) if we were part of the IA bargaining unit. A 401(k) in that context would have to be extended to all IA employees in the Plan, and would be a nightmare to administer.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand. What gives the AMPTP the right to dictate to the IA who gets to be in their bargaining unit? If they don't have the right, what gave them the leverage? It seems to me the IA should have told the AMPTP to shove it on basic principle, if not legal grounds. Please explain.

Steve Hulett said...

I don't know what there isn't to understand.

In 1985, the AMPTP said: "We aren't negotiating on behalf of the studios as regards 839."

The IA could have challenged it; my understanding was that IA President Walter Diehl did little to fend this off. He said: "We disagree, but we'll sit down and negotiate with you anyway."

This is where the game of "chicken" comes in. What the IA Prez should have said -- in my opinion -- was this:

"We disagree. And we won't be negotiating any new contract with you until you come around to our position that 839 remains in the unit."

But this wasn't done. (I have a suspicion this is what Tom Short would have said. However, Tom Short wasn't Prsident.)

The IA didn't use its leverage to keep TAG in the unit. By sitting down and negotiating with the AMPTP without the issue being resolved, it conceded the AMPTP's position.

Anonymous said...

So what happens if the AMPTP refuses to negotiate because of 839, no contract? Would they, (the AMPTP), do the same thing now, considering that the leadership on both sides has changed since 1985?

Anonymous said...

__I don't know what there isn't to understand.

Are you kidding? Really? This is all perfectly clear to you? The That's friggin' scary.

Steve Hulett said...

Okay. Maybe I'm not explaining it right. So let me come at it from a slightly different angle

In many negotiations, one side or the other can say: "We disavow the practice of ..."

Whateve the practice is.

In this case, the AMPTP disavowed the practice of negotiating with 839 as part of the bargaining unit.

At that point, the IA should have said: "There is no deal unless 839 remains in the unit."

The IA didn't do this. Didn't try to do it. It disagreed with the AMPTP's decision but then went ahead and negotiated a new deal anyway.

Without 839 as party to the deal.

And I'll add one last small item: When I came into office, TAG filed a lawsuit in Federal court, maintaining that we were and should be part of the bargaining unit.

The court ruled (and I'm paraphrasing): "Ah, no. You got pushed out some time ago and the IA agreed to you being pushed out because they went ahead and did a deal with the AMPTP without you being in it.

"So, you're out."

Now, I could have appealed the ruling, spent more money on lawyers and legal filings, but I decided the money was better used elsewhere. And I dropped the matter.

And from that day to this, we've continued to be out of the bargaining unit.

Does that clear things up for you? Whoever you are?

Steve Hulett said...

Would they, (the AMPTP), do the same thing now, considering that the leadership on both sides has changed since 1985?

Would they, the AMPTP kick us out now? I don't think so.

But they're perfectly okay with us being out.

The IATSE could always attemtp to get us back in, but they haven't done that.

We would have to drop the 401(k) Plan if we did, which wouldn't be good.

Anonymous said...

I always assumed leverage in collective bargaining was based on numbers of employees represented, ie, the SAG/AFTRA tragedy. But this is just not the case much of the time.

The WGA and DGA seem to operate on a much smaller scale, and on very exclusive terms, but with mixed results. They appear much like many of your most successful talent agencies and small media corporations, using many of the same legal tactics to carve out their piece of the market. But they are burdened with outdated membership qualifications, defined in terms of a 50 year old marketplace. In that sense, they are hardly 'labor.' It is really hard not to laugh at picket signs essentially being held by attorneys. They have sat back for years simply earning the spoils of being defined as 'above-the-line.'

In any case, whatever you can define TAG as in this bizarro world of 'labor', our access to a 401K is very much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I wonder who still has a 401k.
I lost my 401k in 98. Along with 2 careers to computers. I didn't get any benefits from the 839, I fell short by one day. I did get a bankruptcy though.

Steve Hulett said...

I didn't get any benefits from the 839, I fell short by one day.

A shame you didn't tell us when we could have helped you.

Because if you were short by one day, we could have put you to work in the office, helped you achieve that final eight hours and gotten you vested.

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