Saturday, February 05, 2011

Who are we?

Artist: Ed Wexler

The Animation Guild is not a union of sixteen Executive Board members. It’s a union of almost 3,000 active members, all of them highly skilled and experienced artists, writers and directors who belong to Local 839 of the IATSE. Collectively they create and bring to life icons of American pop culture for TV, computer and movie screens around the world. The ancillary tie-ins put books, toys, games, DVDs and hundreds of related merchandise items into the hands of billions of people worldwide.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) consists of 394 local unions representing more than 110,000 skilled workers throughout the United States and Canada. It’s the largest labor union in the entertainment business, formed more than one hundred years ago. The collective strength and resultant benefits to the members of this organization are impressive. Those 394 locals represent fifty-seven distinct crafts, not just in the animation business but in everything from make-up artists to camera people, stagehands to scenic artists, costume designers to grips, trade show stagehands to ball park ticket sellers, script supervisors to projectionists, are all jurisdictions the IA covers.

United, we achieve great things. Decent wages help maintain a good, old-fashioned American standard of living that attracts people from all over the world. Our health care benefits are some of the best in the country. Our pension plans are superb -- and we have three of them: the Defined Benefit Plan, the Individual Account Plan (IAP) and our 401(k) Plan.

We have paid vacations, paid holidays, paid sick leave, free coffee (most of the time) and a 40-hour workweek.

It’s taken a long time to get here and there’s no denying things are better now than they were 100 years ago. If it weren’t for past achievements and negotiations, we might all be making $9 an hour, have no health coverage, no pension, no weekends, no holidays, no 401k, no free coffee.

It’s taken so much time and effort by thousands of members of a very huge family of fellow artists and workers to bring us all up to a good level of comfort and financial security I have to wonder why anyone would want to screw it up. Everything that so many have fought to get for so long has created a sense of entitlement and presumption among some members who seem to think everything was given to us out of a sense of benevolence and compassion. Without any effort on their part, or any notion of contributing to the protection and continuation of benefits that took years to attain, a fraction of our huge family thinks it’s okay to do nothing to protect those benefits, and take more without doing much to earn it. Conversely, they also work more hours to get less pay. Weird.

Which brings me to my point. For ease of calculation, let’s say you make $2,000 a week. $50 an hour. More than six times the minimum wage. Plus benefit contributions, based on hours worked.

You want to make your boss think you’re fast and always get your work done on time. Your boss has decided what “on time” should be, based on the budget and schedule drawn up by people who don’t do the work and don’t know what’s involved in getting the work done well. And your boss is looking to prove to his bosses that he can get the job done on time and within the budget, so he’s happy to allow you to work extra hours for free to meet the requirements. It’s sort of mutually beneficial that everyone lie to each other. You donate an extra twenty hours to look good, he pretends he doesn’t know you’re working an extra one hundred hours for free, and the big bosses think the budget and schedule can be trimmed a little more next year. So now we know the rules of the game, so here we go.

If you work sixty hours and only put forty hours on the time card, here’s what you’re doing to yourself and your fellow union members, not just in TAG but in the entire IATSE, over a one-year period of employment:

  • You’ve screwed yourself out of $1,000 per week, $52,000 per year — and that’s just at straight time.
  • You’ve screwed yourself and everyone in our Hollywood-wide benefit plan out of 1,040 hours of health, pension and IAP contributions.
  • You’ve essentially lowered your hourly wage from $50 to $33.33.
  • In so doing, you’ve screwed a fellow union member because you’ve taken work at lesser conditions than someone who might have insisted on being paid legally.

If you consider how many people do this at studios everywhere, the damage is astronomical. Multiply all that by however many people you know who do it and we’re talking about huge amounts of money and benefits that don’t go to those who created the stuff that made the millions that the studios reap. Guess who gets to keep it all? Duhhh …

On a recent TAG Blog posting, someone commented that, “Unions are only as strong as the people in them.”

I agree. Maybe that’s why critics claim our union is weak. Most of our members don’t even care enough about their own future to show up at a meeting once in awhile.

On a good night, less than 1% of the membership shows up at a membership meeting.

Get involved. Stop cheating. Quit lying. Stop screwing yourself and fellow members out of hard-earned benefits. Stop working for free and let someone else have a job.

“I got mine, eff you,” doesn’t work anymore. Try, “I got mine, how can I help someone else get theirs, too?”

Union doesn’t only mean what you get because you belong to one. It also means, “What we can do together to benefit everyone?”

— Bob Foster


Anonymous said...

Hands down the single best post I've ever seen on this blog.

Thank you.

You made a difference in my life, and I will continue to make a difference in others' as well.

A close relative of mine has been in the motion picture business for most of their life and makes absolutely sure that I never forget to support the Union endeavors.

Floyd Norman said...

I began my career at Disney back in the fifties. I remember being told I had to join the union. At the time I was just a young, dumb kid and didn't realize I would one day find myself 65 years of age. Lucky for me, I was able to retire with full benefits because of the union.

Trust me, you're only screwing yourself if you do other wise. Don't believe me? Wait until you turn 65.

Tom said...

Hi Steve, longtime reader and first time commenter.

As a fresh-out-of-college animation artist, I really appreciate your blog and all the Guild stands for. Thanks for filling it with useful information about the biz and how it works. It's been an invaluable resource.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Bob is and will prove to be the best Prez we've had since Sito. This great post is an example of how he talks TO and WITH the membership, not DOWN to it..

Steve Hulett said...

... Great post!

Not mine. Robert Foster's, our Prez.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous of 6:37, it's pretty shabby taking a back-handed swipe at Kevin when Bob is shouting out for unity. I've been in the union since Karen Storr was president, and Kevin did an outstanding job. I only hope Bob will accomplish half as much as Kevin did. At the Christmas party, I was talking to one of the executive board members who thought the same thing.

People like Bob and Kevin and Tom who stick their necks out to stand up for all of us deserve our support and applause, not anonymous snark.

Anonymous said...

Great caricature by the incomparable Ed Wexler!!

Anonymous said...

Miss the union but I've been lucky to be fully employed. Oh we all have snarks ,but hopefully they are constructive. I might do something about this though guys.

Anonymous said...

Participation at Animation Nation has been virtually dead for a couple of years except for Chuck, who has too much time on his hands, and Snakeskin, who's not even in the animation industry. AN was an experiment that had it's time, and has now slipped into complete obscurity. You know when the site isn't getting any hits - that's when Chuck throws up another attack at TAG. Thanks to the link above, AN will have a little blip of increased readership. People will go check it out, and see it's really just a private conversation between two cranky people who don't know what they're talking about, and move on.

Anonymous said...

I've been to a few union meetings. there's a pattern: when people are comfortable with how they're being led, they don't bother to go. When people are upset about something, they show up and complain. TAG members fill up AAI classes and show up to Gallery 839 openings, they just don't usually feel the need to go to meetings. I know I usually don't feel the need. taking the lack of meeting attendance as a sign of something negative just shows how naive those yokels at AN are.

Anonymous said...

AN is dead for us because we were all over it sometime ago, but it's more than just "private conversation" between two people. How is a public conversation private ? Apparently 45 people at their "Animation Night" so, readership. Look, I don't care, whatever, just letting yall know.

Anyway,I don't hear any complaints about the union and the movies are doing well. It is a good year I think.

Anonymous said...

I said 'private' because there is zero engagement with the working professionals in the animation industry. When your intended audience completely ignores you, 'private' probably isn't the correct word.

'Irrelevant' is closer to what I meant.

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