Friday, October 08, 2010

Organizer's Notes .. When did Union become a bad word?

Growing up, I can remember seeing Norma Rae and trying to understand what unions did for their members. I also remember hearing about the benefits of the collective voice and wondering how my self-employed father could get those benefits. I grew up knowing what the acronyms SAG and UAW meant and who the Teamsters were. I remember thinking of how great it must be to be part of a group that worked with the company to make sure that working conditions were kept up in order to maintain employee satisfaction and therefore profitability and productivity.

When did all that change? When did being a member of a Union change into something that needs to be kept hidden?

At the risk of being labeled a Marxist, its pretty easy to point a finger at Big Business/Republicans and say that the money hungry bourgeois have spread their propaganda against the tools available to the working class designed to bring a modicum of comfort and peace of mind. When you strip away the rhetoric, who really benefits from vilifying organized labor?

Organized Labor stems from the needs of the workers to unite in collective action to secure fair and equitable wages and working conditions. To achieve this, a balance of the decision making "power" in the workplace had to be forged. Through decades of negotiations and concessions, contracts and agreements were hammered out giving the workers leverage and a voice in the operations of the workplace.

Within the last 30 years, union membership in our United States has seen a significant drop. This link shows a more linear decline from 1948 to 2004 with a steep turn in the decade between 1974 and 1984. There are multitudes of theories bandied about that ascribe reasons for this shift. Market globalization, the crash of the auto industry and the increase in resistance on the part of corporate management being the most prominent.

There is still one unshakable fact that this Organizer can't get past. The reasons for labor organization haven't changed because the desire to make money hasn't changed. The entertainment industry will remain because people want to go to the movies and turn on their televisions to be amused; and are willing to pay for it. That money then gets distributed back to the people who sat in their seats to: write the story, draw the character, model the cast, paint the textures .. among the other tasks it takes to get the production done. These artists will consistently be the ones who will be asked to sacrifice in order for the companies/producers to get more for their buck.

And therein lies the struggle. So, no matter how many websites are built by mischievous organizations aimed at disseminating false and scandalous information about Labor Organizations, the need for worker protection against wage and workplace violations will still exist. Our vigilance and contractual protection, matched with a seamless cloak of health and pension benefits across the industry, remains the strongest option for the artist who just wants to exercise their skills and enjoy a long and prosperous life.


Unknown said...


My upbringing was very different. Where I come from, organized labor was seen as nothing but a bunch of troublemakers. I grew up hearing stories about "mischief" that union members would make to create problems for non-union employers. The first time I heard a friend tell me he was applying for a job with a union employer like it was a GOOD thing, I was dumbfounded.

Now that I've actually been in the workplace for a while, I can see the merit of an organized labor force. I can also see why businesses would want to keep their employees from organizing. If a company can keep more bucks in the bank simply by negotiating with their laborers individually instead of collectively, why wouldn't they?

So attributing anti-labor rhetoric to businesses and pro-business political parties probably isn't far off the mark. (And I even tend to lean to the right.) As far as I know.... and just like you, I have only my own experience to back this up... businesses have been discouraging union organization as long as workers have attempted to organize. I remember watching a movie in high school that depicted the Homestead Strike at Andrew Carnegie's steel plant in Pennsylvania in 1892.

As I said, it's all about the green stuff. You can say that well-treated workers benefit everyone, and you can even be right; but unfortunately, people are inclined to overlook long-term benefits when faced with potential short-term gains. We're lousy at the whole deferred gratification thing, and that applies to the suits as must as the ones getting their hands dirty.

- Palmer

Anonymous said...

Labor law is just as fraught with politics, inconsistency, and questionable ethics as corporate law. Mythology is for movies-of-the-week and high school textbooks, whether it be Norma Rae's or Rupert Murdoch's.

It's always more complicated than the movie-of-the-week because the subject requires people to actually sit down and be honest about why the current us/them argument is dysfunctional, why it does not address the fundamental problems with the laws and economics that govern the labor/management debate. I myself don't see people rushing to admit they're union when you have public service unions draining government coffers. Leverage is leverage, but the ETHICS there fucking stink.

Anonymous said...

When a scumbag terrorist supporter like ronald reagun and his ignorant hoards decided to expand Corporate Communism.

Anonymous said...

>When a scumbag terrorist supporter like ronald reagun and his ignorant hoards decided to expand Corporate Communism.

Like a sound bite or bumper sticker, doesn't inform the debate or help solve the dysfunction. And I voted for Carter.

rufus said...

There's no denying that there is an effort to vilify unions. Glenn Beck is only one of those brained washed pawns who mindlessly repeats all those mantras over and over again.


Anonymous said...

And just what does the Union do for the Producers? (Yes, I know, it offers experienced employees, but THATS not what I am looking for). (Because the producers of the animation industry have whittled away the benifits that make it harder for the employess to have to be continuously go to a LIST of Union Membership and CHOOSE from that list and hired from that list before they can bring in help from the outside).

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of people get turned off to unions because they spend huge sums of their members money trying to influence elections and lobbying congress. The members have no say how this money is spent, and many of them do not agree with the union leaders agenda. That money could be better spent increasing pensions funds, better health care, etc.

That being said, local 839 does not appear to do this. But that may be because it is not a big union and doesn't have the funds. I'm speaking of unions in general. Oh, and kudos for banning "electioneering" this time around.

Steven Kaplan said...


I have to agree with you. Money is the root of the issue. After all, if you're management and your workers elect to go union, there *could* be cost increases involved in your operations.

However, what are the benefits to having a labor force that feels protected and secure? Where is the cost/benefit analysis that shows how a company will be stronger for having employees that aren't concerned about workplace labor violations or not having mechanisms in place to protect them if they arise?

Steven Kaplan said...

Anon 9:23am -

To say that our Union provides "experienced employees" has never sat well with me. It implies that we roster our membership and dole out work as its brought to us. That isn't the case.

TAG members are certainly experienced and skilled. Not having met a great deal of them, I only need to turn on the television or go to the movies to find evidence of that.

Producers benefit from having a labor force that is empowered by the strength of the contract we negotiated in their behalf and the tools we provide to enforce that contract. The producers should also take comfort in the knowledge that we are able to provide health and pension benefits which they contribute to. This can bring peace of mind and security to the artists at their disposal. These strengths and benefits bring intangible comfort to individuals and therefore a happier and more productive employee.

Anonymous said...

>^When lefties like the above spew harebrained lies.

Oh, I know you. You're the guy who doesn't question authority. Especially the institutions you are most invested in.

You are far more dangerous than Glenn Beck will ever be. Take a look in the mirror.

Anonymous said...

"Producers benefit from having a labor force that is empowered by the strength of the contract we negotiated in their behalf and the tools we provide to enforce that contract. The producers should also take comfort in the knowledge that we are able to provide health and pension benefits which they contribute to. This can bring peace of mind and security to the artists at their disposal. These strengths and benefits bring intangible comfort to individuals and therefore a happier and more productive employee."

OK, that is good and I agree. But it seems that the Producers dont want the costs involved with those benefits. They would rather the employess be on their own in regards to health insurance, and certainly pension benefits. This town is loaded with small houses that dont want to pay into thoses.

"To say that our Union provides "experienced employees" has never sat well with me. It implies that we roster our membership and dole out work as its brought to us. That isn't the case."
Just what IS the case?

Anonymous said...

The fuel for the fire of anti-union sentiment is in the pubic sector. Where members operate without ANY concern for performance and have a gross sense of entitlement to their position. You have government employee union out here in CA that flat out lied to the legislature about how itsa pensions would be paid for, and then a wave of those union members fleecing the system(and all of us tax payers) by double dipping and ballooning their pensions. We can't pay for this, and more importantly, their jobs do not warrant the returns they are getting. We got ripped off by the government employee union.

Then you have the LA Unified teacher's union that will go to bat for members in all circumstances with threats to strike if anyone questions their performance. Or even if the community asks for a teacher to be fired for sexual misconduct in the school LA Unified sides with their members - to hell with the people that they work for. Not to mention that the structuring for new teacher assignments is flat out racist, where new inexperienced teachers got to Watts or other impoverished areas and those with seniority are allocated to Santa Monica or other plush areas. Where does that leave impoverished school districts? With inexperienced teachers year round, every year. Not to mention the RIDICULOUD guarantee of tenure for these under achieving dolts.

This system is going to change, because the unions are lazy, shiftless and are working from a contrarian standpoint. They have forgotten who they serve and the people of this nation are at a tipping point. People like Governor Chris Christie in NJ and Meg Whitman(who will be elected in a few weeks) are going to fix the massive problem that the public employee unions have become.

Their behavior is enough to create a palpable anti union sentiment in tis nation. Look not further than the words of Albert Shanker, founder of the teacher's union:

“When school children start paying union dues, that 's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.”

Anonymous said...

No, it's an undisputible fact that reagun illegally sold arms to Middle Eastern terrorists to fund an illegal terrorist war in Central America.

It's also a fact that he did everything he could to make it easier for corporations/campaign contributors to take American Jobs overseas.

Anonymous said...

I love how Republicans like you and Whitman are all so anti-union. Sure, there are many unions that are problems and many within them that are corrupt. But there are many that aren't and actually do well by there members.
What you don't understand is that people like NutMeg are also corrupt and, even worse, hate labor and employees. She could care less about employees accept when it affects her bottom line.

When was the last time you (and I assume you're normally just an employee) trusted your bosses and felt they had your best interests at heart? And yet you want to put someone who was a CEO (a CEO that was a monster to many that worked for her) in charge.

Doesn't seem to make much sense to me...

dax said...

I have to chime in here...I really have heard far more negative about unions growing up than positive. I was in a labor union myself, and I hated it. I was used to working non-union, and the harder you worked, you were paid more, better schedule, etc. But when I went to the labor union, a lot of the people had attitudes like "I don't have to do that, it's not my job" or worked slow, basically nobody working more than they "had" to.

I haven't really seen this in the animation union (though haven't worked long in it), but it's also something that almost no cg artists I know even discuss.

Anonymous said...

I will never cross a union picket line in front of a business. However, I will always cross a union picket line in front of a government workplace.
Unions do not belong in the government workplace. They are an inherent and corrupt conflict of interest.
Government workers do not really have to worry too much about layoffs and fair treatment. There are plenty of laws for that.
Unfortunately the public sector unions have totally corrupted the public's view of unions so that the good unions in the private sector do not have a chance.

Anonymous said...

Unions suffer bad PR not solely because of the 'vast right wing conspiracy' that is so often blamed. Private enterprise has screwed the public plenty, but public service unions have an absolutely abysmal record when it comes to performance and accountability. Government & organized labor are just as much a bad marriage as government & corporatism and government & religion. Choose your poison.

Anonymous said...

The animation union lacks corruption because they don't really DO anything.
If this union were even half as effective as SAG or The DIrector's Guild I'd wave the union flag high but I just don't see it. 99% of the animation artist community is miserable and overworked and underpaid. So what's the point?
Bring up our union in any room full of animators and watch the laughs occur.

Anonymous said...

So we have to become corrupt to be effective. Actually, sadly, that is probably true with most legally defined institutions today. It's hard to find a single example of a powerful legal structure in America that did not act first in its own self interest. White collar crime, be it bankers or public servants, do far more damage than any single crack dealer could ever do in a thousand lifetimes.

Steven Kaplan said...

Anon 1:50pm -

The union is brought up in the on the last Tuesday of every other month in its general membership meetings. The next meeting is Nov 30 and it starts at 7:pm.

Be sure to come up to me, shake my hand and introduce yourself as the one who has changes to make.

I look forward to working with you!

Anonymous said...

Well I work in a non union place and I've been here for many, many years. I honestly can't figure out how I'd do better with the union. From my perspective, there's really no way to protect jobs anymore regardless of where you work. I get good benefits here..or at least they seem good to me. If the 839 could fight for better screen credit..that would be big. Also some profit sharing. But we know those things will never happen. Seems to me the only people that truly benefit are union reps that pull in a salary.

Steven Kaplan said...

Anon 3:30pm -

If you've worked at the same non-union shop for many years and have benefits and a pension plan that you're comfortable with, as well as a contract with your employer that you are comfortable with, I also do not see the need for you to organize and join the Guild. I also consider you part of a select few in the industry that can make that claim.

The benefits we offer are for the rest of the industry that doesn't have a job as permanent as yours and is under threat of labor violations and workplace abuse. These artists benefit from having health and pension benefits that follow them from job to job and a contract that is written in and monitored on their behalf.

Anonymous said...

Steve, Steve, Steve,...for a union organizer you sure seem to be missing the point. The guy that says he's been at the non-union shop for many, many, many years has no idea if he'll remain there for many, many, many more years (not to mention his fellow employees) and if he does get laid off then his great non-union benefits will not follow him to his next job. Assuming he's lucky enough to get that next job right away.
THAT is the main reason to work a union gig...not because union benefits are better (sometimes they are, sometimes they're not).

Shame on you...

Steven Kaplan said...

Anon 6:14 -

I think you've misread his post, not I. The anonymous non-guild member states that they have been in their position for "many, many" years. Then states that jobs are not secure and then that their benefits are good.

This person's conclusion is that since there is no job security and the benefits they are receiving are "good to them", there can't be an argument made in favor of Guild membership.

Come to think of it, I've heard this argument before. Criticism of Guild employee salaries, criticism of the Guild not creating or protecting jobs, desire for profit-sharing and screen credits, and the only strength of the Guild is the benefits. But, there's no way you could be that person. He is critical of Anonymous posting ability on this blog. It would be extremely hypocritical of him to be posting in that manner.

*That* would truly be a shame.

Anonymous said...

The animation union lacks corruption because they don't really DO anything.

When I hear people say this, I always ask them if the studios CHOSE to set salary minimums. I ask them if the studios voluntarily CHOSE to provide portable health benefits. I ask them if the studios voluntarily CHOSE to provide two different pension plans. I ask them if the studios CHOSE to improve those pension plans over the years. I ask them if the studios CHOSE to suddenly provide a 401(k). I ask them if the studios CHOSE to provide two weeks severance pay at the end of a job.

The answer is always silence. Then I ask them if they've ever actually gone to a meeting, or tried to get involved to be the change they seem to seek. That's when the storm away, since it's not 'their job' to make the union stronger.

Most people would rather the union be a convenient scapegoat for their unhappiness. Put another way, they're rather curse the darkness than light a candle.

The truth is, if the union really did nothing, and provided nothing, then non-union studios would have no reason to fight so hard to stay non-union. But they do, don't they?

pappy d said...

I'd be interested to hear of a non-union shop with better benefits. I don't imagine a boss like that would want to be Anonymous himself.

handel said...

I"ve worked in union AND NON-union shops.
I can honestly say that I've had far more bad experiences in a union shop. Under a union flag. Yeah, sure there are bad things in a non union shop. There would be in any work place really.
BUT I"ve been better employed in non union shops and when there were times of layoffs, was able to find a gig fairly quickly. And yes the benefits were every bit as good as what the union offered.
There is so much that is assumed by being in a union. You are neither MORE protected NOR BETTER OFF under a union than if your on your own.
Being in a union doesn't mean your safer from being taken advantage of. For that matter, there really isn't all that much a union can do other than 'file a complaint' if the company is "abusing" you.
ON PAPER, a union looks good.
But in REALITY, it's just another of what it rails against.
...a 'corporation'.

Steven Kaplan said...

Handel -

Sounds like you had a bad experience when working at a union shop. I'm extremely troubled to hear it.

What specifically happened? Where did you work and which contract stipulations were violated that weren't addressed? When did you contact Steve Hulett and let him know of these?

The "complaints" we file are a far cry from the white-flag waving you make them out to be. I would hazard a guess that whatever happened was not brought to our attention and left unreported and unaddressed.

This union is as strong as the membership wants it to be. We are unable to enforce the contract when we are unaware of its stipulations being violated.

Email me at and let me know what happened and when.

Anonymous said...

Steve you need to stop acting like a horny virgin on your first date. It's pretty clear the BS that Handel was handing you and you took it hook, line and sinker.
He implies that by working at a non-union studio it somehow made it easier to find his next job and that he was completely satisfied with the benefits at the non-union studio, but he never mentions that those benefits stopped when he walked out the door, does he?

This guy is a Teabagger in every definition of the word and you need to be on your toes to not get swept up in his circle jerk...

Anonymous said...

If unions didn't exist, individuals could set their own industry standards for pay, benefits, etc. Ae we really so scared to negotiate for ourselves?
Every non-union shop I've worked for has had better benefits.
And being in the union does nothing to help you maintain a job or get another one of you lose it. I've gone through years on end without being able to find a job and the union neither helped nor hindered.
Being in a union allows you to work in a union shop. That's it. The advantages end there.
So again, I ask, what's the point?

Anonymous said...

Try reading a little closer and you might discover that if you work at a union studio the benefits you receive can follow you once you leave that job. As does your pension. Can you say that about your wonderful non-union job.
And (since you seem to be pretty brain dead) you might want to know you can negotiate your salary at a union job just as easily as at a non-union job. The union just sets a base pay that the employer can negotiate below. Considering that most jobs are offering as little as they can right now that has become even more important now than in previous years. The artists at Pixar wish they had that union base pay to start negotiating from...

Anonymous said...

If unions didn't exist, individuals could set their own industry standards for pay, benefits, etc. Ae we really so scared to negotiate for ourselves?

If you knew how TAG worked, you'd know that EVERY union member negotiates their own salary at union studios. TAG provides a backstop, so you can't be offered something ridiculously low. Because of the basic package that comes with union jobs, I've been able to negotiate for FAR FAR more as an individual at union studios. At non-union studios, you're usually illegally classed as an independent contractor, so the discussion of benefits ends right there.

But then, you're not actually in our industry, are you, or you would have known that.

Anonymous said...

You ask: "When did being a member of a Union change into something that needs to be kept hidden?"

I would suggest that like all human constructs, the union system has always had its good and bad points. Is it possible that as more and more of the benefits are enshrined in national labor law, the costs simply stand out more?

This thought came to me after reading this blog post --- in particular, this part: "workers [...] let the union approach fade away and instead delegated the social safety net functions to the government itself."

Anonymous said...

How does being in the union help secure a job? I'm at an animation (union shop) studio about to close, and I don't have a job lined up. I'm basically in the same boat as when I worked non-union.

The benefits are great when you get them, but not sure what else to say pro/con.

Anonymous said...

Who ever implied that being in the union secured a job (unless you're a teacher with tenure)? What planet are you on?
But if you worked enough hours that were banked your health care should continue for awhile - hopefully until you get your next gig.
I've been in the union 30+ years and have only had to go on Cobra once (for 2 months) and have never been offered benefits from any non-union employer and I have worked at a lot of non-union jobs over the years.
You do the math.

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