Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Fallacies of Costs and Unionization

One of the loudest arguments I've been hearing against organizing Visual Effects is one that postulates that the inherent costs of signing a union contract will either be A) the tipping point for visual effects studios' closures or B) the reason vfx work flies out of the state for greener (ie. cheaper) pastures.

I call this the "Cost Fallacy" and its the strongest of the FUD arguments out there today.

The cost that most people refer to when invoking this argument are the health and pension contributions. There are other costs in current contracts as well that stipulate items such as overtime pay, dismissal pay as well as the wage minimums. These don't get as much time in the spotlight but are still referenced now and again.

For clarifications sake, the current Health and Pension contribution rate is $4.53 per hour plus 6% of scale minimum per pay period. This will be raised to $4.88 per hour plus 6% of scale minimum on July 21 of 2011.

This argument assumes that the contracts we now have will be imposed on visual effects studios without negotiation or adjustment. It further assumes the negotiation process is nothing more than the union bullying its way into a studio boardroom and guiding the hands of the studio representatives as they sign on the dotted line. The studios would then be forced to bear the burden of these extra costs on their razor-thin profit margins causing the aforementioned results.

Nothing can be further from the truth. Even knowing what the health and pension contributions are, its impossible to say what the costs to a visual effects studio would be if they sign a union contract. Visual effects studios have yet to share their operating costs with us. I would imagine they would not be willing to do so if we were to ask politely. Therefore, what costs that are contractually agreed upon could actually be offset by what a studio is currently spending. Certain studio operating costs could be higher than what is contractually stipulated .. thus making unionization a cost benefit.

Image that if you can, through all the negative banter of union costs. Signing a union contract could be profitable for vfx studios. We'll gladly discuss this matter with anyone who can bring us the cost breakdown of their vfx studio.

What is not being considered in this argument is the organic nature of the contract itself. All points of a contract are negotiable and every point of the contract will be considered by both sides while in negotiation. Each paragraph and section would be reviewed, requests and demands would be made and concessions offered. This is the nature of contract negotiations. To base an argument on an outcome that hasn't happened is akin to trying to breathe air while sitting at the bottom of a pool. Not possible.

If that's the case, what would be in a vfx studio contract?

Good question. Once an organizing committee of artists in a facility is formed, we would bring copies of our contract as well as the Disney TSL contract for review. We would query the group to see what their specific needs and requests are and when the time came, bring those to the contract negotiations. At the same time, we would expect that the studio will have reviewed all of our contracts and have their own set of requests and requirements. Through much gnashing of teeth and rending of hair, an agreement would be reached and a new contract will exist between the IA and a visual effects facility.

Each contract negotiation is unique and reflects not only the specific needs of the artists at each location, but also the prevailing needs of the industry at the time of signing. Sometimes the studio and artists are happy to agree to our current contract and the process is simplified greatly. Feel free to peruse the contracts listed at the linked contract page above. I'm sure you'll find small yet noticeable differences between them.

What's most important to remember is that each contract depends on the artists who are involved in the negotiation process. As has been stated before, the union *IS* its members. The membership are the ones that craft policies and procedures, make requests upon its agents and benefit from the actions of the collective group.

We encourage all artists in the vfx industry to get involved in this process. Ask your fellow artists when the next meeting for your facility is being held. If we haven't gotten to it yet, send an email to Jim Goodman or myself. We would be glad to discuss organization and the benefits to you and your employer at your convenience.


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