Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The WGA's Grabby Demand

We noted the WGA's "Pattern of Demands" back when they happened, but a few days ago I got a call from a Higher Up at our Mother International who said:

"You know, the WGA wants grab some of 839's jurisdiction again. We're not going to let that happen. They want animation writers, maybe we want live-action writers, hm?"

I've got to confess that I didn't have much reaction when I read The Reporter's original story before Christmas. The Writers Guild always asks for animation jurisdiction, it's in their DNA.

And then, after much huffing, puffing and rending of garments, the AMPTP says "No" for the seventh time and the Guild withdraws the proposal. Because WGA members aren't going to hit the bricks over animation jurisdiction, and everyone not wearing a straitjacket knows it.

So the animation proposal is tucked once more in the WGA's bulging leather satchel labeled "Hopes and Desires" until the next contract negotiation, and the parties move on to other topics.

Meantime, the IATSE would like to represent live-action writers. And why not? Fair's fair.


Anonymous said...

I guess it would be too much for the wishes of the actual animation or live-action writers themselves to play even a tiny part in the equation, huh?

Anonymous said...

that would make way too much sense.

Steve Hulett said...

Wishes aren't enough.

They have to get the language the WGA earlier agreed to keeping much of animation off-limits OUT of the WGA agreement.

It's about leverage. The Writers Guild either has the muscle to get clauses and provisions out of its contracts, or it doesn't.

To date, it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

That's leverage with AMPTP, who we don't expect to take into account the best interest of workers. But the actual writers expect a little better from the unions in the matter. The WGA may say they want animation writers, but an important question to ask is what do the animation writers themselves want? If the animation writers massively want WGA, then why is this union Higher Up saying "we're not going to let that happen" and treating it as a huge turf war? Either improve TAG's contract in regards to animation writers or stop fighting and treating it like an unwanted turf war. We know the desires of the actual workers have no weight with the AMPTP, but don't tell us they should have no weight with the unions either. We also know there's been bad history with the WGA, but still we expect the unions to suck it up and at least take into account the will of the workers themselves.

Anonymous said...

The IA has nothing to gain and everything to lose by letting writers go to the WGA. What can you get producers to give to IA members, and The Animation Guild members in particular, to make up for the loss of all the writers from the membership?

Anonymous said...

Are animation writers really that big of a group that it would destroy IA and TAG if they left? Unless it's a totally devastating event like that, what gives you the right to treat them like hostages in the thinking you display above?

I would really love to know the name of the union Higher Up, because that's someone who in my opinion has totally lost sight of the purpose of a union.

Anonymous said...

'Workers unite' means 'power in numbers.' It strictly is a number game. Unions are no different than networks chasing ratings or films chasing box office or candidates chasing votes or banks chasing consumer debt. Don't kid yourself about life. It's worse than you think. You are a number. You are an investment that helps maintain TAG's future contributions to the big pile of money that keeps us afloat, the MPIHPP. If enough writers in animation have the 'leverage' - ie, whatever other recent euphemism you want to use for power and money - to hold the WGA and TAG and the AMPTP hostage for a slice of the WGA pie instead of the smaller TAG pie, go for it. All's fair in Machiavelli's universe, 'Brother.'

Anonymous said...

I agree that that's the way it seems to work in real life, but I and I think most people would still make a distinction between unions and AMPTP. I don't expect AMPTP to have any interest other than getting my labor at the cheapest rate. I DO expect unions to at least give some consideration on the matter. To weigh their possible hit with the benefit to the actual workers involved. They may be losing a few members, but that also means they don't need to provide benefits to those members.

In any case, I don't respect that attitude from a union person, whether it be IA or WGA. Part of their equation should be what's best for the actual workers. I would never vote for someone who took this nameless Higher Up's attitude on the situation.

Anonymous said...

I agree that unions should, in theory, act as one. In reality, they do not. Pattern bargaining is the theory, and it produces as much dissent as it does agreement during negotiations. As for the AMPTP, the only differences between them and a guild is the legal framework that defines each. The institution that survives is the one that maintains enough power and influence to pursue and change the laws on the books that support their institution. You are kidding yourself if you think the higher ups of IATSE use playbooks any different than the AMPTP. Their PR is to make sure you perceive them with the mythology that surrounds the institution. A higher up at IATSE has the same worries and concerns as his counterpart at AMPTP. He's not thinking about the individual. They're both insurance salesman. Safety in numbers and economies of scale.

Anonymous said...

Probably true to a large degree. Sad nevertheless. The "We ARE the union" mantra kinda goes right out the window then, huh?

Anonymous said...

Why can't TAG writers vote to leave TAG. The WGA cn try to negotiate the animation studios or let board artists do the stories like the good old days.

It's obvious that most of us resent writers and most writers could care less about us. SO let's get this divorce finalized.

Steve Hulett said...

I spent a dozen years earning my living as an animation writer. In the time I was writing, the Writers Guild repped no animation writers, and today represents those writers mostly under the Fox agreement for animation in primetime.

In animated features and other t.v. cartoon shows, the WGA represents few writers. As I understand it, part of the problem is that the Writers Guild is stuck with their contract language (so far unchanged) and labor law.

Labor law says that the WGA can't raid another union's jurisdiction while a contract is in force. Doesn't matter what animation writers want. The law is not going to allow them to get represented by another labor organization.

You might not like that reality, but the WGA has to deal with it. (Just as it had to deal with its nonsensical "strike rule" three years ago that prohibited Guild writers from working under a TAG contract. I understand the WGA's motivation, but it was ... how do I put this? ... heavy-handed overreach that was quickly walked back, since the Writers Guild didn't need lawsuits on top of a strike.)

Reality often has hard and unpleasant edges to it. But the reality still has to be dealt with.

Anonymous said...

And we come full circle, back to the original post - which members of the WGA will be swapped to TAG to keep the books as tidy as they are used upstairs. Perhaps child support? Percentage of future residuals?

How does the WGA go about 'asking' for 'jurisdiction?' Upon what principle does one group stake a claim to the future earnings of the other group. It would be interesting to know what their legal argument is, as many of them are Harvard law grads. Exactly what constitutes 'animation' in this demand that keeps coming up? There is no difference between an 'animation' 'writer' and a 'writer.' One type works for Disney animation, and the other type works for Disney live action. That is the only thing that separates them. So the Walt Disney Co. corporate structure defines what is and what is not an animation writer. Just as they define what is and what is not an animation director. Both writers type ideas out on paper in various forms for studio producers.

ON the other hand, the WGA has it's own definition of what defines 'writing' and grants credit and inclusion in the guild on terms that it decides. Some 'writers' create stories on paper in script format and sell their rights to studios. The studios hire WGA 'writers' to 're-write' those stories. So then how does the WGA define 'animation?'

It's like watching politicians battle it out over voting districts.

Anonymous said...

I've seen this debate before, and it's frustrating how naive and uninformed so many people are. There's this assumption that if the IATSE unilaterally stopped representing animation writers, then somehow, magically, two things would happen:

First, that all those writers would then be covered by the WGA, and second, that those new WGA animation writers would get the same extraordinarily generous deals that live-action WGA writers get.

And where is the evidence that either of these things would happen? On the first issue, let's look at how many animation writers there are currently working without ANY union representation. In both TV and features, there are a fair number. Don't they want WGA coverage? Most probably do. So why doesn't it happen? This is the question people should be asking. For these writers, it's not the bad old IATSE keeping them from the wonders of WGA benefits -- it's the hard-hearted AMPTP and the lack of WGA clout.

And on the second issue of what the WGA could actually do for most animation writers, we actually have some hard evidence. The WGA has successfully represented cable TV animation writers several times. But they never brag about it. Why not? Because in order to actually get those contracts signed with the producers, they had to give up residuals and accept payment minimums that were far below their usual minimums.

There's a reason that the WGA has, on several occasions, gotten plenty of rep cards from animation writers, but has never gone to the NLRB. It's because they know they would win the vote, but that they probably wouldn't be able to follow that up by successfully negotiating a meaningful contract. That's why they walked away at Nick a few years ago, even though Nick was nonunion and they had the rep cards.

Anonymous said...

It's certainly no shocker that unions have plenty of politics in the mix. The Animation Guild has its own internal politics, but I've gotta say from what I've seen on the Executive Board these past three years, it's very mellow compared to our compadres at WGA, SAG, IATSE, etc.

Note that the "Higher Up" referred to is "at our Mother International", and therefore an IATSE person. IATSE is much bigger and much more political than TAG is. It's an unfortunate reality we have to deal with.

Saying that TAG is all about the numbers honestly misses the mark. The TAG leadership includes writers, so the well-being of the writers as individuals is not an issue that gets ignored.

The wishes of the TAG writers are very important, as are the wishes of all our members. In our last contract negotiations, we pushed for and won an important concession for the TAG writers. We'll have our next negotiations in about a year or so. What's important to you?

After that, it's a question of reality. That encompasses labor law, leverage, and strategy.

But it is your voice that gives us strength.

Steve, aren't a number of our writers members of both unions? These individuals should make their voices heard in BOTH unions.

Anonymous said...

Life is definitely messy and complicated and doesn't always work the way we think it should, so I can accept that as an answer. But that wasn't what was in the post. What I don't think is defensible is the attitude displayed by the union Higher Up. "We're not going to let that happen" is not the same as saying it's complicated and legal and other issues get in the way to making it happen. If you are a union person and you are willfully ignoring the will of the actual workers and instead treating it like a turf war because you feel entitled, you have totally lost my respect.

Anonymous said...

Sub-standard contracts signed, contracts that WGA membership would never agree to? How is that successful?

There is prime time and there is cable and now there is Google and the internet. And all roads lead directly to Madison Avenue. There is only one pie from which all these benefits are divided. There is no piece of that pie labeled 'animation jurisdiction.' The WGA seems to put this thing on the table purely for symbolic reasons, perhaps b/c live-action Brooks produced a very popular animated show that hit the motherload and he caught a glimpse of the light that Disney discovered some sixty years earlier. Like when Vincent opened the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

The people who actually draw the stuff don't get mentioned in the debate. Is it any wonder they're bitter?

Steve Hulett said...

What I don't think is defensible is the attitude displayed by the union Higher Up. "We're not going to let that happen" is not the same as saying it's complicated and legal and other issues get in the way to making it happen. ...

I was reporting what was said to me by somebody at The Mother Ship.

The context was: the Mother Ship wasn't going to let the WGA raid the IATSE's jurisdiction.

Just to let you know, I have in the past defended TAG's jurisdiction. (It's the job I get paid for.) But there was an instance with Warner Bros., when I had initially been told by the studio that "Those artists and writers working on Baby Blues [a short-lived animation series based on a comic strip] aren't covered by TAG's contract."

I took Warners at its word. And when, four months later, the WGA swooped in and commenced organizing the writers, and Warners came scurrying to us wanting to sign a contract to block the Writers Guild. I said no.

"If it wasn't covered by TAG four months ago, it's not covered by TAG now. We're not your prophylactic."

As I remember, the WGA ended up signing a deal on that show.

Anonymous said...

The love for writers in this so called union continues! Let us go, please. It's really quite simple. What's that? You won't be able to throw your holiday party if you lose our dues? Okay, never mind.

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