Saturday, December 11, 2010

Organizer's Notes: The Organizing Process

With the recent increase in activity on the Organizing Visual Effects front, I've had to go over the process of organizing visual effects studios quite a few times. After a few months in this office, the caveats of the organization process are now part of my regular mantra. Because as many times as someone asks me what the steps are, I'm still surprised how few people know or are aware of the process. What better place is there than this blog to share this information?

This process isn't exclusive to visual effects. It's mirrored in all organizing efforts, through all unions. This outline assumes a studio that employs artists who have heard of the union and are interested in learning more about becoming members. These artists hope to get their employer to sign a contract with the union so they may be able to enjoy the seamless cloak of health and pension benefits and work under the protection of a solid union contract.

A Showing of Interest

This is the opening phase of the process. At this stage, one or many artists become interested in establishing a better set of working conditions because of an adverse change in the workplace, or because they've heard about benefits or working conditions other artists are receiving under a union deal.

These artists then approach the Guild. Sometimes, we receive representation cards in the mail from members working at non-union studios who are interested in continuing their union benefits. Meetings are arranged, information is shared. The guild researches how many artists are working at the facility, how long those artists will be there and how many of those artists are interested in TAG representing them. A committee of interested employees is formed and it reaches out to co-workers.

Representation Cards

Throughout the process of identifying interested artists, we circulate representation cards, asking each employee to sign and return one to us. These cards are a physical representation of the intent of the employee to have the Guild negotiate in their behalf. We use the cards as a gauge to determine how many of the total artists in a facility are interested in Guild representation. The signing of a representation card does not initiate membership with the Guild. It shows the intention of an artist to vote in support of union representation should that become necessary. Signing a representation card is a confidential matter, which we fiercely guard. We do not share the names of those who have signed representation cards with other employees in the group, or the employer.

Majority Reached

Knowing the size of the group of artists -- also how many have signed representation cards -- we determine if a majority of the group is interested in "going union." Throughout the process, more meetings are held and more information is shared. By this stage, we will have a firm group of artists who have been in support of organizing to represent the group as its Organizing Committee. This committee represents the group in contract negotiation or acts as its voice when TAG presents contract proposals to the employer.

Company/NLRB Contacted

With a majority of the artists showing an interest in Guild representation, the Guild tells the company it plans to file a petition with the NLRB for an election to represent the artists as bargaining agent. At this stage, some companies forgo elections at this stage and move directly to negotiating a contract with us. Other companies insist on a hearing at the National Labor Relations Board. The Guild delivers the cards to the NLRB to show majority representation and cause for the petition. The NLRB verifies a majority showing by contacting the employer and requesting a crew list, then checking names against the cards. ( The NLRB doesn't share the names of anyone who's signed representation cards.) Once the NLRB determines we have majority representation, they arrange a secret ballot election to determine the sentiment of employees.

An NLRB Election is Held

The NLRB conducts an election of the employees to be represented, determining if there is majority support for the Guild. The election takes place at a convenient location, usually inside the studio, always by secret ballot. Voters' identity and eligibility are verified before they cast their vote. The NLRB counts the votes and announces the result.

Contract Negotiated

With election results showing the employees desire representation by the Guild, the employer and the Guild sit down to negotiate a contract “in good faith”. The Guild uses its existing contract as a base of negotiations, also the proposals of employees.

Contract Reached

If a contract agreement is reached and ratified by employees, those employees become members of The Animation Guild, subject to the rights and privileges therein.


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