Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Organizer's Notes .. The Power of Fear

When I first entertained the idea of becoming the Labor Organizer for our Guild, I didn't really have much of an idea as to obstacles or anti-union/organization rhetoric. What could people possibly have against bettering their own lives? How could someone turn down the opportunity to improve their quality of living? I was witness to some pretty horrendous work situations. I have a friend who considered the ultimate "early retirement" due to an illness that was, luckily, misdiagnosed. How could the people I worked next to and called my colleagues turn away from the very things they said they wished for?

Very simple .. They are afraid. ...

gump·tion/ˈgəmpSHən/ Noun: Shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness

It takes a good deal of gumption to be a successful animation artist today. From the start where one has their "A-Ha" moment and identifies the spark of creativity and desire to make pretty pictures. Then that person needs to build their skill set. If they're lucky and blessed, they've been given a leg-up and were handed some the day they drew first breath. Through years of training and practice, and the costs involved, the novice and aficionado has become an artist and now is eager to be a professional. The day finally arrives and said artist is across a table from a hiring manager. An agreement is reached and lo .. the professional is born!

We all can recall the path we took to become that professional. I'm confident a few of you reading that last passage even drifted back and remembered a bit of your journey. What perplexes me is how can the same people who fought and struggled to get that far, suddenly decide to stop pushing for themselves? Why is it ok to be the "good little artists" and accept less than expected just to keep the job?

Easy for me to say, right? I'm not the one scouring job boards and reaching out to everyone I know in order to find the next gig. When that call comes, its hard not to taste what 'Manna from Heaven' must be like. "Thank God .. there's at least four months of income."

I said it myself when I was riding the freelance highway.

So, when I speak to artists now with my Organizer hat and IA lapel pin on*, I shouldn't be surprised when someone says something to the effect of "Yea, but I just got this gig and I don't want to rock the boat" or "I would love to have that health plan, but I don't want to stick my neck out."

But I am surprised. These are the same people with the gumption to sit down and learn the craft; not an easy feat. Their necks are already stretched out from the desire to be the professional artist they've become. The time and effort it took to get to the place where I am asking them to sign a representation card proves that "boat rocking" and "neck sticking" is what comes with the gumption to do what it takes to be in the animation field.

Fear of making waves or of taking a stand just doesn't seem to be a part of the equation. I assign my impetus for seeking and accepting the job at the Guild to that very gumption. But fear is a nasty and mean foe. It keeps artists "in line" while doing what needs to be done to get the production out the door. It has forged the belief that the acceptance of horrendous hours and less than ideal conditions is the norm and that asking for more is arrogant and the recipe for blackballing and longer hiatuses between gigs.

So, what's a poor Organizer to do? I plan on beating the drum as long as I can. I will keep delivering the option of giving the artist leverage in the workplace through the strength of collective bargaining. Hopefully, I can tap into the gumption that drove artists to get where they are and help them decide that its time to take a stand for themselves.

The industry is not going away. Why not make it a bit more comfortable for yourself?

* I don't actually have an Organizer hat or an IATSE lapel pin .. but they *are* on the way


Floyd Norman said...

As an animation old timer, I've witnessed another sad situation from my colleagues. While we labored on the drawing boards in our bull pins, they griped and complained about management and how we workers were oppressed by the fat cats.

However, once they had their own company and tasted the big time, they totally morphed into the same ruthless jerks as their former employers.

I found it interesting how these pro-union workers suddenly became anti-union once it suited their interests.

Anonymous said...

BUT FLOYD! They know that by going Union, they are getting 'experienced labor'. Why would they resort to hiring unexperienced newbies?....not because they agree with the fatcats that any ole' monkey can do it....hmmmm?

Toutouffe said...

I experienced the same kind of situation in my studio.
Without getting in all the details, there was a disagreement between the head of the studio and the animators, so everyone was complaining at lunch time, saying that management is not beeing fair etc... Then when I decided to have a meeting to propose solutions (that of course would imply beeing ready to strike if no negociation was possible), suddenly all the previous discussions had dissapeared and no one was willing to take a stand.
It's not as if they each had to stand out for themselves seperately and be alone in the spotlight, we just had to take a common decision, a common action. But people don't easily understand how strong you can be once unified, and each of them is scared because they visualize each actions individually.

The sad point is that those who are motivated to challenge management when they feel things are unfair, lose that motivation very fast when confronted with the ambiant individualisme.

Anonymous said...

It's not interesting. It's called reality. You either work for the conglomerate pile of money, the MPIHPP pile of money, or you try to scrape together your own pile. On top of all that, the MPIHPP pile doesn't stay solvent without the host mega-conglomerate pile performing well.

The independent route is way more difficult, which is why so many fail. Don't knock it until you try it yourself. You quickly realize why the numbers don't add up to make it worth anyone's while to try a start-up. It's a bummer when they don't go union, but they should still be respected, applauded, for trying. By 'experienced' and 'newby' talent alike.

Anonymous said...

The power of fear, really? It's really the pain of being kicked in the nads by the studios and the feeling of dispair watching the union huff and puff while walking right by. And inexperienced newbies, even TAG supports them over experienced labor as long as they get their union dues. Even if the inexperienced newbies only work on one production and never see ant benefits, hey we got their money. Inexperienced newbies are cheap and who cares about quality when we can get the niave, and heck it's all done someplace else any way. All praise the bottom line on both sides.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody hear the California State Governor Candidates showing any promise to the animation worker? It is said that we have to affect the legilatures, but what about those at the top?
37 days until election votes counted!

Anonymous said...

_All praise the bottom line on both sides.

Yep, yep, and yep. The bottom line, and the fear of simply falling below it, rules the day, labor and management alike. It's always the common denominator in all negotiations - unless you can somehow pass the buck to the government, the public sector, to pay the bill. It's always what happens anyway, corporate and labor union alike. Kick the can down the road all the way to China. They'll pay for our corporate and labor pensions and health and do our animation on top of that! They'll figure it all out for everyone! Right?

Anonymous said...

If you want to have the tired seniority debate, just follow the California teacher's union debate right now. Complete race to the bottom. Either lay off a lot of 'newbies' or a few 'experienced' teachers. So which is it going to be, and who and what suffers most? Whatever side you believe, don't stop asking the questions of both labor and management. It's never as simple as a sound bite, however catchy a sound bite may sound, however simple the politician paints the picture.

Anonymous said...

And inexperienced newbies, even TAG supports them over experienced labor as long as they get their union dues.

Please explain how this is true.

Even if the inexperienced newbies only work on one production and never see ant benefits, hey we got their money.

No benefits? I know you vest in one of the pension plans after 10 weeks of work. And after 6 months you've qualified for substantial health benefits. Not to mention a week's severance pay after 6 months. and two weeks after a year. The other pension plan does take a while to vest, but there are a lot of benefits that come pretty early.

On the other hand, I didn't end up paying a penny to the union until I'd been working for several months, and even then I didn't pay off my initiation fee for almost a year, at which point I'd already accrued substantial benefits. So I'm really not sure what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steven Kaplan said...

Sorry to delete the previous comment, but calling out another website/blog who has disparaging things to say about the Guild and its officers and/or employees is off this topic.

Anon 8:47am -

Yes, really. Its fear that keeps artists from stopping any Union representative as they "huff and puff" right by to tell them of a grievance-worthy complaint. We support every member in any way possible. The only obstacle in our way is the fear of the artist. We can't support what we aren't aware of.

It sounds like you've experienced some trouble and weren't satisfied with your union representation. Feel free to contact me at skaplan@animationguild.org and we can discuss what happened and how we can help.

pappy d said...

Whoever draws the bottom line knows how much free overtime & how much goofing off on the job we do to the millisecond & has a good idea how much we need to be underpaid to keep us in fear. He/she doesn't know whether we stay late out of fear, professional pride, dedication to team or if we just get joy out of our work. In other words, whether we are men or worker units in a mathematical model.

Does it matter? If it doesn't matter to us, it sure as hell doesn't matter to systems analysis.

pappy d said...

: lacking courage and resolution : marked by contemptible timidity

Late Latin pusillanimis, from Latin pusillus very small (diminutive of pusus boy) + animus spirit; perhaps akin to Latin puer child — more at puerile, animate

Anonymous said...

Even if the inexperienced newbies only work on one production and never see ant benefits, hey we got their money.

Someone else already tackled this bit of foolishness, but I'd like to chip in my $0.02.

In 2004 I worked one union gig. In ten years of VFX work, I have only worked union that one time. For that one gig, I paid nearly $3000 in union initiation fees and quarterly dues.

I don't complain, though. In one year, I got that $3000 back many times over in union benefits. For example, under the union dental plan, I received $3000 worth of dental services for myself and my spouse (root canals, whee). I also got a year's worth of top-flight health insurance coverage for myself and my spouse that would have cost $750/month to continue under COBRA. In addition, I got severance pay and almost $2000 set aside for me in my IAP.

I'd happily work union again, and I heartily recommend union work for any "inexperienced newbie."

Anonymous said...

"I'd happily work union again, and I heartily recommend union work for any "inexperienced newbie.""

Well you got what you wished for. Scores of inexperienced newbies being hired over YOU. And you have only 35 more teeth to perform RC on.

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