Saturday, September 25, 2010

Actors' Unions Push Back

With pint-sized Add On.

Director Peter Jackson's non-union movie is not causing joy for SAG, AFTRA and other labor organizations:

Actors guilds including SAG, AFTRA and several international unions have issued an alert against the big-budget adaptation of "The Hobbit," stating that their members "are advised not to accept work on this non-union production." ...

The labor discord in Jackson's home country of New Zealand, where "Hobbit" will be shot, has simmered for several weeks. Letters to producers have been written by the International Federation of Actors (FIA), Australia’s MEAA, and others complaining that the producers have refused to sign a union contract.

The dispute ratcheted up on Friday with a strongly-worded member alert from actors unions in the U.S., Canada, the UK and Australia. ...

As the Nikkster relates:

... [N]ews reports say Three Foot Seven [the production company] has been trying to resolve the situation behind closed doors and is pissed it's now being played out internationally. ...

So producers are ticked off this sad story is hitting the media megaphone and getting news coverage and attention. What a shame.

I'm a long-time believer in using whatever leverage you've got to move things along. When the charm offensive doesn't work, then you use something else. If this story getting traction around the world helps a labor union to get a contract, then bully for the labor union.

Reports of management being upset because a non-union movie is getting negative publicity moves me not at all. I've sat in meetings where players professed to being "angry" at labors' demands or attitudes, and it's usually posturing. I know this because the scowls and doses of stink eye go away the minute the dust clears and the deal gets done. Smart operators -- labor or management -- know there isn't much profit in carrying grudges.

My own credo is: "Forgive everything, forget nothing." That will probably end up being the theme song here.

Add On: It's referenced in comments, but Peter Jackson jumps in with a lengthy response:

... [I]t sure feels like we are being attacked simply because we are a big fat juicy target - not for any wrong doing. We haven't even been greenlit yet! It feels as if we have a large Aussie cousin kicking sand in our eyes ... or to put it another way, opportunists exploiting our film for their own political gain.

Brawl on.


Anonymous said...

From Peter Jackson's statement...

"It's incredibly easy to wave the flag on behalf of workers and target the rich studios. It's not hard to generate an emotive response, nor is it hard to sway public opinion, since nobody seems to like the facts..."

Yes. As always. Exactly what are the facts of this specific situation? The rest is all posturing, pose, and total bullshit. On both sides.

the false prophet said...

Yeah, why should animators expect to get paid for overtime? who are these "socialists"? why do they complain about getting the evil eye if they don't work a minimum of 80 hours a week? why so touchy?
I mean, all they do is press the "animate" button, right?...

Anonymous said...

The above anon is right. Until we know the facts there is no point getting snarky.

Anonymous said...

It seems Peter Jackson has said:

"NZ law prohibits engaging in collective bargaining with any labour organization representing performers who are independent contractors, as film actors clearly are. The NZ Commerce Act claims it would be unlawful to engage with an Australian Union on these matters."
(NZ Actors Equity is apparently a part of the MEAA)

So it looks like what this union is doing is against NZ law. Not only that but Peter mentions that Warners are setting up a separate money pot for non-union workers so that they can share in some of the profits that the union members get, which he also mentions that they will honour.

Obviously this is a union/guild blog, but everyone makes mistakes from time to time, and that also includes unions. Maybe they are in the wrong this time...who knows?

Anonymous said...

I think what's at odds here is the question of who is really an independent contractor. By U.S. law, you cannot be an independent contractor if your work is controlled by someone else. An actor working on the employer's site, working from the employer's script, and following the director's direction could not legally be an independent contractor.

Maybe NZ law is different, but it sounds like they're trying to do to actors what a lot of VFX houses do to animators, and misclassify them as independent contractors.

Anonymous said...

The IRS (Internal Revenue Service) lists three categories of information to be considered in the determination of whether an individual is an employee or independent contractor:

Behavioral: Does the company control or have the right to control what the worker does and how the worker does his or her job?

Financial: Are the business aspects of the worker’s job controlled by the payer? (These aspects include things like how the worker is paid, whether expenses are reimbursed, who provides tools/supplies, etc.)

Type of Relationship:

Are there written contracts or employee-type benefits (i.e., a pension plan, insurance, vacation pay, etc.)?

Will the relationship continue and is the work performed a key aspect of the business?

An employer must show there is a reasonable basis to classify the worker as an independent contractor in order to escape the burden of paying taxes for the worker.

Site Meter