Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Organizer's Notes: Letters of Persuasion/Intimidation?

On the organizing front, I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't have a couple of "irons in the fire" going. At a local animation studio, TAG has been collecting representation cards, and the artists recently received a letter from the company's management. We thought it would be good to share that letter ... and our response.

Dear Employees,

We have been told that a union representative is trying to organize the artists of [company name removed]. If that is the case, I believe this is a good opportunity to explain to you what you can expect to hear from the union representatives.

First of all, in the event a union organizer (or fellow employee) hands you a union authorization card, we suggest you consider it carefully before signing it. Authorization cards are legal documents, and if you sign a card, you give the union the right to use it for two purposes:

  • (1)If the union gets cards from over 50% of the employees, it may use them to try and demand to be recognized as the employees' representative without there being a free, secret ballot election.
  • (2)If the union gets cards from 30% of the employees, it can petition the National Labor Relations Board for an election

If you look closely at the cards, you will see that they are the same as signing over your rights like a legal "power of attorney". We suggest you give careful thought to the importance of an authorization card before you sign one and turn over your personal rights to the union.

Union organiziers may use every trick in the book to get you to sign. They may say such things as - the Company is going union; that you are obligated to sign by contract; that everyone else has signed, so get on the bandwagon; that your signature means you have only talked to the union. They may even promise you better wages, a pension, health benefits, or a regular, full time position if you sign the card. None of these claims are true, so don't let the union organizers mislead you. Keep in mind -- the union cannot guarantee any changes in your wages, benefits or workplace policies. The union can only guarantee your handing over your money to them in monthly union dues.

In making your decision, it is important to remember what you have already without paying monthly union dues and running the risk of being ordered to strike. Also, at [the company], employees do not need a union to speak for them. We have an open door policy that gives you the ability to address your concerns one-on-one with management.

The decision you make may be the single most important decision you are asked to make concerning your employments with [the company]. We are confident that once you know the facts about unions, you will agree that unions are not in the best interest of [the company's] employees and will therefore not sign an authorization card.

If you have any questions feel free to talk with [names removed] or any member of management or your supervisor.


Below the jump you can see our response ...

It's come to our attention that a [manager of the company] has distributed a letter to you regarding signing representation cards and what we'll be telling you. After reading the letter, we're surprised to find that [the manager] has accused us of using tricks when the letter [the manager] sent to you is filled with distortions and half-truths.

Representation cards are vehicles TAG uses to gauge the level of support we have in organizing studios. As we stated [previously], once we receive a majority of cards based on the amount of artists in the unit, we'll approach [the company] to negotiate a contract on your behalf without an NLRB election. However, [the company] is the deciding factor in that decision. If they don't recognize the Animation Guild as your bargaining agent, we'll approach the NLRB to be named the agent by earning a majority of your secret ballots.

Have we stated, "the Company is going union, so sign now and get on board?" Or that you have any obligation to sign a representation card? Nope. It's our hope and intention to provide the strength of a collectively bargained contract, but giving us the right to represent [the company's] employees is up to you. (That's the law) Any contract would be based on our current contract, but it could be different. That would depend on the negotiation process, as well as input from you.

[The company] is fighting against your right to make decisions about your working conditions. In our contract, we stipulate overtime hours, which days are holidays, wage minimums and more. Why would that be something they wouldn't want you to have input on?


  • Our contract has a No-Strike / No Lockout clause that says while the contract is in place, a strike can not take place
  • The union cannot order a strike, only you can. If *YOU* want to strike, *YOU* have to vote on and approve it.
  • If we reach agreement with [the company] on a contract, you will pay no initiation fees, only dues ($28-36/month.) If we don't reach a contract, you will pay neither initiation fees or dues. Simple.

While the letter states that one of the benefits of employment at [the company] is the ability to have one-on-one conversations with management, we feel the strength of the collective voice to be much more effective.

While we expect animation and effects studios to push back against organization efforts, fear mongering of this nature needs to be made public. Its important for everyone to understand the lengths that some companies will go to when attempting to protect the imbalance of power they hold in the workplace.

Nobody should get the idea that management's response up there at the top is unusual.

They know they can't say: "Sign one of those g.d. cards and you're fired!" so they don't. They know they can't say: ""You vote to go union and we'll close the place down!", and they're careful not to.

But they are certainly free to imply, to elliptically threaten, to wring their hands and whine: "We just don't know HOW we'll be able to keep the doors open with all the extra UNION costs!"

The name of the game is to get employees to vote NO in a National Labor Relations Board election. Employers can't directly threaten to shut the workplace down, since that's prohibited under Federal law. But employers are certainly at liberty to use the various other tricks, one of which is on view up above.

In the unending struggle to bring non-union facilities under contract, it's all about which entity has the momentum, hearts and minds, and ultimately the juice.

-- Steve Hulett


Anonymous said...

Steve, how come they won't have to pay initiation fees.

I had to pay them in order to enjoy the union benefits. Seems a little unfair...

Anonymous said...

That management letter is so transparently overheated it's funny. I like they way the try to imply that signing a rep card is like giving the union power of attorney! Too rich. I hope the folks at that studio see though the scare tactics.

Anonymous said...

Spell out the name. Artists deserve to know which companies engage in intimidation. Anonymity only protects the offender. TAG, by keeping the company name out you're complicit in perpetuating incidents like that.

Anonymous said...

I particularly like the bit about the "open door policy". Yeah, cause when you only work here for 3-4 months at a time, we REALLY want to hear what you have to say. We're "family"! Riiiiight....

Steve Kaplan said...

Anon 1:01pm -

Initiation fees are waived as an incentive and to help remove the financial barrier for organization. As you can see, artists at a facility that hasn't signed a union contract face real and specific burdens that need to be overcome. Removing the financial barrier for entry is a token of appreciation that we ask our Executive Board to grant the artists that had to face this challenge.

Did you sign a rep card at the studio you joined? Was it already under contract when you joined?

Steve Kaplan said...

Anon 2:09pm -

No. Bringing the example of what artists face into a public forum is important so that everyone can see what kind of fight management will put up.

Naming the offending company only serves to strengthen their resolve and puts our campaign at risk.

Steve Hulett said...

Steve, how come they won't have to pay initiation fees.

I had to pay them in order to enjoy the union benefits. Seems a little unfair...

I, too, had to pay initiation fees.

It's the usual practice of labor unions to waive initiation fees during organizing drives. It's offered as an incentive for employees.

Fees are waived at the point where a contract with the new company is acutally reached. (In other words, no contract agreement, no fee waivers.)

Anonymous said...

I LOVE that letter!!! Typical mangement scare tactics. Let's see them do that to teamsters, actors, or "writers."

Anonymous said...

Why is "writers" in quotes?

Anonymous said...

Ask a "writer". They know about all that "grammar" and "punctuation" and stuff.

Unknown said...

In response to the question:

"Steve, how come they won't have to pay initiation fees.

I had to pay them in order to enjoy the union benefits. Seems a little unfair..."

Steve, if I may paraphrase or more simply state, if you are new to the industry and gain employment at a Union studio or are for the first time in your career employed at a Union studio, you pay initiation fees.

If you are employed at a studio that becomes a Union studio during your employment, the initiation fees are waived. That is an incentive the labor union offers in addition to the other benefits inherent to being a member of the union.

Best wishes to the employees and hoping for the best outcome for my brothers and sisters in the workforce.

Anonymous said...

And just to emphasize something that I've seen misrepresented - the initiation fee is a one-time thing. Whether you come into a union studio and pay it yourself (and this is usually done over time, in installments), or whether you're at a studio that goes union and it's waived, you'll NEVER have to pay it again when you later move on to other union studios.

I was at a non-union studio once where management tried to claim that the waiver of the initiation fee was a fraud, because supposedly you'd still have to pay it if you ever went to a different union studio. A different manager suggested that the waived initiation fee would later be added to our quarterly dues. At the time I didn't realize they were both lying. Live and learn.

Anonymous said...

I think the difference between getting hired as a nonunion member at a UNION studio and therefore having to pay the initiation fee versus being a nonunion member at a nonunion place and having that fee waived if they become members of the union is obvious, smart, and generous on our union's part.

The union minimum I got paid at my first job was a couple hundred more a week than what I was offered at nonunion Bluth at the same time, which made it easy to pay the fee and dues. The non-studio-tied health benefits added a lot to the greater value, too.

There is absolutely NO reason that anyone working in animation should want to be non union-unless perhaps you're starting your own studio as a producer/owner or are management who is expected to take that tack for the owners. But an individual artist? No reason at all. It's all a plus, there is NO minus.

VFXSoldier said...

About initiation fees.

I paid them also along with membership dues my first year at a TAG facility: $3500.

Like many artists I freaked out but was allowed to pay the amount over a year.

What I didn't know was in one retirement account alone - The Individual Account Plan, I earned $5500 over the course of the year. I didn't have to do anything for that.

After my 2nd year I only had to pay 400 bucks in dues and earned another $5500 which was invested and came out to be around $13000 when I left.

and that was just in one retirement account alone. I'm not even considering the pension and the union insurance which has no premiums or deductibles for your whole family. The health insurance alone at other facilities costs around 400 a month for families.

Artists need to spread the word about this.

Anonymous said...

Oh come off it. The union and the studios are all in the same business of selling you their snake oil.
Non-union studios use fear, while the union uses siren songs of "We'll take care of you and protect you from the big bad world."
Meanwhile, nothing changes and employees are still exploited.
The studios are not your 'family' and the union is not your 'family.'
It's all a business and you're all on your own no matter who you're affiliated with on paper.

Anonymous said...

Yes that's true. Except, of course, one fake 'family' guarantees wage minimums, paid overtime, vacation days, and health and retirement plans, and the other fake 'family' doesn't. I know which fake 'family' I'd rather spend the holidays with.


Anonymous said...

I don't know what family you're talking about because I've gotten none of that from the union.

Anonymous said...

Really? Because those are all the things stipulated in the union collective bargaining agreement, in black and white. I've gotten all of those things at every union studio I've worked for.

Which union studio did you work for where you did NOT receive guaranteed wage minimums, paid overtime, vacation days, and health and retirement plans?

Anonymous said...

Maybe the 5:26 anonymous meant he or she hadn't gotten any snake oil from the union family...

VFX Soldier said...

If you don't believe the $13,428 I got in my IAP account after 2 years with the guild you are more than welcomed to take a look at a copy of it:

Anonymous said...

Any worker in our animation industry who'd rather not be union is foolish. There's no downside, Repeat: no downside.

Anonymous said...

Do you REALLY know ANYONE who's EVER gotten paid for overtime? I never have.

Anonymous said...

I've worked in this biz for 13 years, 10 of it union. I've gotten paid for all my OT. All of it. It isn't that unusual, at least in features. Of course, I have friends who feel the need to, on their own, do free OT, but that's on them. Never doing free OT hasn't hurt my career in the slightest. If I were a TV board artist, I might sing a different tune, but I'm just describing my own career. Sorry you're has been so different.

Anonymous said...

That's because neither the union nor the studios give a good goddamn about tv board artists. In spite of the fact that most of us are among the most talented and hardworking in the industry, we are consistently treated like technicians at best.
If you're unfortunate enough to be a tv storyboard artist you will never be allowed into the feature world and you will never have any bargaining posture because no one in power appreciates what you do.

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