Saturday, August 22, 2009

WGA Animation Levies

An old conundrum bubbles back to the surface:

Writers Guild's foreign levies pool is bigger, annual report shows

The guild's West Coast union as of March 31 had amassed about $30 million in funds that have yet to be paid to writers whose movies or TV shows were viewed overseas.

The guild's West Coast union had amassed about $30 million in funds that have yet to be paid to writers as of March 31, according to its recently released annual report. That's up from $20 million in 2007.

Most of the funds belong to hundreds of writers, or their estates, whose movies or TV shows were viewed in foreign countries that levy special taxes to compensate authors for the reuse and copying of their work.

The guild receives money, held in trust, from foreign collection societies and is responsible for disbursing the proceeds to writers ...

If you're thinking: "Heey. Is the WGA holding money that belongs to animation creators?" you're firing on all eight cylinders . The WGA does indeed hold money for animation writers ... and others ... that it doesn't represent.

Back when I was young and frisky, Brian Walton was the head of the WGAw, and the Writers Guild repped zero animation writers (even while collecting European levies for them), I took issue with this cozy little racket. My gripe was that the WGA not only held money for animation writers, but that it told the union that did rep them absolutely nothing about the amount of funds held.

At the time, I was informed by the WGA that I could shove it. Walton's response to my objections was: "We (the WGA) should get gratitude we're doing all this work, instead of these brickbats being thrown at us."

Uh, no.

The WGA holds $30,000,000 that hasn't been distributed to the people who earned the thirty mill, and the problem, if the Writers Guild's report is accurate, is now worse rather than better. Year before last the amount was $20,000,000.

Think about those figures for a minute. Assuming interest is being earned on the dough, the Guild is picking up a nice chunk of change, on top of which, it's collecting almost $540,000 annually to administer the money (Does this include interest? Or is it an add on? Inquiring minds want to know.)

Either way, it sounds like lucrative work if you can get it. Especially when you're the Lucky Ducky sitting on the millions. (Maybe it's not a giant surprise that the WGA is being sued over the issue. And maybe I'm a little bit correct believing the set-up stinks.)

My issue is the same as it was in the 1990s. A labor organization that represents more animation writers and board artists than the Writers Guild of American (west) ever has, is shut out completely on administering foreign levies for animation writers. We are given no reports or updates, allowed no input. The only communication that flows between our two organizations is when the WGAw asks us for contact information for one of the people they don't represent but TAG does.

So they can, you know, mail out a check and have an address to send it to. Neato jet.

No doubt by next year, the WGA will be sitting on $40,000,000 that doesn't belong to it, and earning $700,000 for the privilege.


Anonymous said...

Is there no basis in law to sue for the funds?

Steve Hulett said...

It's occurrred to me.

You can sue over anything. Problem is, a lot of money would be spent, and at the end of it, what would be the outcome? I don't know the answer to that.

I keep hoping for the process to get better. And waiting ... and waiting ...

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. I have gotten a few checks from this fund over the years. Does that mean I'm just one of the lucky ones or does it mean I should have a lot more coming?

Steve Hulett said...

I've gotten checks as well.

But I'm not the one to ask, because I have no idea if you have a lot more money coming ... or just a little.

The WGAw is the entity to ask.

Anonymous said...

Ask who, exactly? And what answer do you think you would get? Good luck. They need to be sued.

It's not all just corrupt corporations in this town. Labor morality? Please. It seems to me that an organization that conducts a work stoppage and shuts down a working town on a moral principal, yet conducts its financial affairs with a total lack of accountability and transparency, is, plainly put - corrupt. The WGA is corrupt. Verrone put wants to poach animation jurisdication. They collect income from it. It is disgusting. These people are slime. How can they say they are serving in the best interest of working men and women when they hold back funds and earn interest on employee money? It is repulsive. What are they, a bank? Give me a friggin break.

Anonymous said...

I certainly don't excuse it, but the article says all the unions are doing it, so why should I assume this would magically change if it was moved from the WGA?

@Anon 10AM: It can hardly be called "poaching" when if given an actual choice, the vast majority of animation writers would choose to be in the WGA rather than TAG. I don't necessarily blame TAG for this; it's more of a bad labor laws thing.

Anonymous said...'s more of a bad labor laws thing.

The worst day in the history of the WGA would be the day those labor laws were changed. Many of the labor agreements the WGA was able to win in the 50's and 60's would be lost if employees could willy-nilly change unions. The power is all stacked towards the corporations, and there would likely be workers (and writers) who would be willing to cut out the WGA if they thought it meant a chance to get more work for themselves. The WGA would probably lose far more covered work than they would gain.

And there would never be a strike threat again. The moment a contract was up, and a union struck, the company would be free to sign with a different union, and hire a new workforce. Instead of unions honoring each other's picket lines (which doesn't even happen all the time now), competing union's would be racing to get in bed with the studios.

And for the animation writers the WGA might poach under those new labor laws, the problem no one ever wants to acknowledge is that getting a good union contract with a company isn't just about getting the employees to sign rep cards and vote. The WGA also has to negotiate a contract with the studio. The WGA has negotiated a precious few animation contracts in their entire history. Those contracts have never been close to having things like residuals and big money (i.e., live-action) payments.

Consider this: there are a bunch of animation writers at various studios who have never been under union contracts. Ask yourself - what's stopping the WGA from repping them? Maybe it's not as easy as some people want to believe.

Anonymous said...

I think it is just as important to ask why the WGA lists 'animation writing' as a 'jurisdiction' over which they are entitled. Exactly what does that mean and why was it stated as an objective of their last walkout? Until this article, I had yet to hear a rationale that explains this inflated opinion about what guild writing is and is not. It seems pretty clear that guild writing is any work that your particular guild can collect money on, in your name. According to this post, being a member of the guild is besides the point. What a total crock. This is exactly what banks and governments do. The fact that it's much closer to home makes it that much more repulsive.

And what process? This isn't a process. It's pure bullshit. What exactly are we waiting for? How could any of this be unraveled? What a complete and utter waste of collective bargaining.

Anonymous said...

I take your points, but is there no possible in between of willy-nilly and never?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christian Roman said...

I'm curious if these funds are the same as the funds the DGA has very willingly seemed to be distributing to animation directors...well, at least to me. These past few years I've been surprised to receive very generous checks for 'Foreign Levees Distribution'. Is the issue here that the WGA is not distributing these funds, or that they should have gone to the TAG guild if they related to animated shows?

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