Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Whose Side Are You On?

Several years back, I caught a little hell for revealing to a Bloomberg reporter that Walt Disney Animation Studios was going to lay off crew. I did it inadvertently (we were setting up a lunch date), but the reporter took my passing comment about upcoming layoffs, contacted the corporate Mouse and pried a confirmation of the layoffs from clenched company fingers.

Disney Corporate told the reporter 140 animation staffers were being slipped the axe.

Problem was, WDAS management had been soft-soaping the crew, telling them that lay-offs would be "small." When staffers read the number reported by Bloomberg on their work computers, the atmosphere got a little ... ahm ... thick. ...

Shortly thereafter, a manager in the upper reaches of the Hat Building sent around an apologetic e-mail, and I got some testy phone calls from Disney Labor Relations. A Disney animation supervisor told me over lunch:

"Some people in management wanted you banned from the property. Human Resources told them that really wasn't possible, but they don't like you much ..."

At the time, I felt bad about that. And I felt even worse when word came down from On High that I had been banned from Disney's new IM Digital/ Robert Zemeckis unit in San Rafael. I'd been deemed "a troublemaker."

Corporations are good at conjuring self-righteous anger when they're working to keep labor reps in line. However, the above is rich when you read the Department of Justice's "Competitive Impact Statement," telling what was going on at the same time I was being a Bad Union Boy:

Beginning no later than January 2005, Lucasfilm and Pixar agreed to a three-part protocol that restricted recruiting of each other's employees. First, Lucasfilm and Pixar agreed they would not cold call each other's employees. Cold calling involves communicating directly in any manner (including orally, in writing, telephonically, or electronically) with another firm's employee who has not otherwise applied for a job opening.

Second, they agreed to notify each other when making an offer to an employee of the other firm. Third, they agreed that, when offering a position to the other company's employee, neither would counteroffer above the initial offer. The protocol covered all digital animators and other employees of both firms and was not limited by geography, job function, product group, or time period.

Senior executives at the two firms agreed on the protocol through direct and explicit communications. In furtherance of this agreement, Pixar drafted the terms of the agreement with Lucasfilm and communicated those written terms to Lucasfilm. Both firms communicated the agreement to management and select employees with hiring or recruiting responsibilities. Twice in 2007, Pixar complained to Lucasfilm about recruiting efforts Lucasfilm had made.

Complaints about breaches of the agreement led the two firms to alter their conduct going forward to conform to the agreement.Lucasfilm's and Pixar's agreed-upon protocol disrupted the competitive market forces for employee talent. It eliminated a significant form of competition to attract digital animation employees and other employees covered by the agreement. Overall, it substantially diminished competition to the detriment of the affected employees who likely were deprived of information and access to better job opportunities. The agreement was a naked restraint of trade that was per se unlawful under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1. ...

The irony? At the time, I felt a wee bit guilty about revealing the layoffs to Bloomberg. The normal rule is to "nurture good relations" with the companies with whom you've signed contracts, and I had violated the rule of treating employees like mushrooms*. So I had to pay for my transgression.

Friends and neighbors, it really comes down to this: You might dislike unions. They can be craven, greedy, short-sighted, incompetent, and all the rest. But they are nowhere near as venal as many large corporations, where breaking laws and regulations is normal operating procedure and "just business."

Laws are for the little people. Corporations are above things like that.

(You can find more think pieces on this subject here and here. Probably other places, too.)

* "Cover them with bullshit and keep them in the dark."


Anonymous said...

Twice in 2007, Pixar complained to Lucasfilm about recruiting efforts Lucasfilm had made.

So Pixar complained to Lucasfilm for legally promoting their own self-interest by not adhering to their previous agreement to willfully break the law.

Doesn't Pixar know there's no honor among thieves?

Floyd Norman said...

I hear you, Steve.

Unions aren't perfect, but sadly, corporations are scum. Many years ago, an old movie guy once confessed to me, "there's no better way to steal money."

The beat goes on.

Anonymous said...

The dark side.

g said...

Corporations arent scum. Its the greed that drives corporations that are scum, and the ones that succumb to it.

I love the idea of talented teams banding together to make something great, and for a profit. But when all the guys at the top are making billions, and the talent is making peanuts, theres a problem.

Anonymous said...

corporations are amoral entities with all of the rights of individuals and none of the consequences for bad behavior. by definition they are driven by greed. the bottom line at any cost. wake up.

Anonymous said...

It's called Corporate Communism, and we have dick and bush for bringing it out of the wingnut closet--and bankrupting our country, both financially and morally, while they were at it.

Anonymous said...

If movie productions had actual profit sharing, instead of the BS that shows a movie never makes a profit, then maybe things would be better.
Sigh, alas, corporations are made up of people with all their petty greed and jealousies.

runtothehills... said...

"It's called Corporate Communism, and we have dick and bush for bringing it out of the wingnut closet..."

More like Corporate Fascism to me. And it comes from BOTH parties, not just from the republican side...but yes, bush really screwed up things....

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