Thursday, August 04, 2011

Wage Minimum Fun

We get e-mail (now with Add On!):

Hey, Steve--

I keep hearing of people who are getting paid less than Union minimum. A boarder on my current show, '* * * * ', told me that he was paid $1680/week all last season--he didn't know that was below the Union minimum of $1833. Over the course of a season....about half a year....she unknowingly lost about $3,000 in wages.

Another friend told me they were being paid $1800/wk over at [blank] studio all last season on the [blank] show ...... I just fielded an inquiry from that show as they ramp up for the next season, and the PA was dumbfounded to hear that wages had gone up to $1872.74/wk. I believe their reaction was genuine.

... I'll wager heavily that my check won't be for $1872.74 or above when I get it next week, ...

I'm sure the big houses like Disney pay attention to these rules, but does one have to complain to the Union to get their wages increased up to CBA minimums at smaller studios? The two artists I know above wouldn't dare do that, fearing being labeled a rabble-rouser. Does the Animation Guild have any way to check if studios are paying Union minimums? ...

What the take-away for people reading this is, we can address the problem if we're aware of it. In most instances, I can be the heavy and nobody needs to get themselves in trouble. I can smudge fingerprints and do the inquiry discreetly and collectively. But ...

A) Individual members need to know what the current minimums are (they just went up)and

B) They need to report underpayments so that we can jump on it.

The studio that was paying $1800 to a production board artist prior to July 31, 2011? It was underpaying by $36.14 per week, not a big deal, but still. Here are some of the current minimums:

Animator, background, Layout, Designer, Writer = $1,628.56 (40 hrs/weekly)

Production Board = $1,872.85 (40 hrs/weekly)

You can find all the TAG wages here. (The pay rates start on page 64 of the c.b.a.)

Add On: We've gotten some additional e-mails from this post, people who -- believe it or not -- are being under-paid. We've made some suggestions to them about getting the under-payments corrected.

Obviously this is an ongoing issue. I was dealing with it in the 1990s, and I'm dealing with it now. When I am moldering in the grave, somebody else will be dealing with it. Because the issue(s) never go away.


Anonymous said...

I asked my producer about this and he said it is "being reviewed." He claims that he doesn't know what a production board is defined and since we are not credited as "production storyboard artists" that we are well above the minimum. I say that if our boards are being sent overseas for animation that should qualify as a production board. I don't really know what to do next. Please inform.

Anonymous said...

Dreamworks is underpaying their "Outreach" employees, and has been for years.
They basically pay them intern wages, but the employees have the same quotas and demands as full-status artists. Many times this "Outreach" status is tied to a 5 year contract.

Nobody says anything, because often they're fresh out of school, and probably dont know about the TAG Minimums, and/or dont want to get fired.

So... anything can be done here?

Anonymous said...

The DreamWorks Outreach system is a scam. The stupid thing is, many of them are NOT fresh out of school. Instead, they're usually industry vets with several years (or more!) of professional experience, but they happen to have recently done an online school like Animation Mentor, and that makes DreamWorks think they have the right to treat them like they really are fresh out of school.

The only illegal part of it is the way they misclassify the job titles. They claim people are the equivalent of inbetweeners, while treating them as journey animators. It's bad form, and DreamWorks management has no idea how much resentment is simmering below the surface about this issue.

Anonymous said...

Its a classic Dreamworks management tactic...
Tie your artist up in a contract for as little money as you can, for a term as long as you can.
Its the way they operate.

The Outreach workers wont complain about it because they're afraid they'll be fired.

Pretty disgusting and cheap for a corporation as large and pockets as deep as Dreamworks.

Anonymous said...

The DWA Outreach program is structured around the union minimums - not below the minimums. I have never heard that.

They will typically sign someone for a multi year contract that shows how the pay will progress at those union minimums and increase as the years go by. Often the artist is fresh out of school but more seasoned artists also accept these offers.

phil mcnally

Anonymous said...

Not exactly true. An 'outreach' hire gets the union 'minimum' salary up at DreamWorks north (formerly PDI), but they have to work more than 40 hours for that salary, and they get less than union benefits. So they definitely get the short end of an already short stick.

And at both Glendale and Redwood City, paying people as 'Animator 5' or 'Animator 3' when they're doing regular shots, under a regular quota, is definitely an abuse of the union minimums. It is exactly the same thing as hiring an animator but classifying them as an in-betweener or a breakdown artist. These people are not misclassified for a few months "while they're proving they can handle it." The misclassification, and underpayment, goes on for years.

Finally, if 'outreach' positions are offered to people with several years of professional experience, why is it called 'outreach'? Why not just call it what it is - lowballing.

Anonymous said...

As PDI (Dreamworks - Redwood city) is non union they do not have union minimums. They are free to offer what ever they want I guess. I was thinking about Glendale which is union of course. I should have said that.

As for 'Outreach' Artist performing at very high levels and work load, you have a point. As someone who supervises layout artist, where 3D is concerned, I have to say I have no idea what the artists are paid or at what level they are employed. If some one is good I give them high level work.


Anonymous said...

I have no idea what the artists are paid or at what level they are employed. If some one is good I give them high level work.

This is the right attitude and approach for you, as an artistic supervisor, to have. Good on you. But then it's up to the production staff to recognize and acknowledge that, and pay that person according to the union contract.

We all know people usually work above their job title for some period of time to prove they can handle it, and that's been the norm in the industry for years, but DreamWorks has institutionalized these tiny, rigid, incremental steps. People end up misclassified for years at a time, and even after several films, with several tiny promotions, they're still below where they should be.

Anonymous said...

Dreamworks treats Outreach Animators as full status animators... full quotas and expectations. And cut-rate under Union minimum pay.

So... What can be Done?

This has been going on for YEARS.

Anonymous said...

This thread's been going for 3 days, and not a peep from either Steve on this apparent violation of the union contract.

Steves? What's your take on this?

Steve Hulett said...

My take:

DWA used to promote via the hand-drawn system, (In-betweener, Assistant, Animator.)

This continued into the CGI age, until they disavowed the practice (during negotiations) of promoting people from Animator 5 to Animator 3 to Animator 1. They started reserving the right to promote using all the classification rates.

I fought with DreamWorks for several years over the promotion process, the then-President of TAG and I had multiple lunches with DWA attorneys over it.

The issue in a nutshell: There is no set-in-stone promotion schedule, because there is nothing explicit in the contract. Disney, for instance, has fewer classifications and fewer steps than DWA because Disney uses a different contract, in effect from 2000. (Disney's choice. DWA claimed during the last contract negotiation that to use the Disney contract would cost them 11% more in payroll costs; I haven't done the math, and have no idea if this is accurate or not.)

Long and short: If somebody believes themselves to be misclassified or under-paid, they should call me. (818-845-7500). Complaining about it anonymously in a blog comment thread is not the most effective way to go about solving the problem.

Assistant animators (those would be CG Animator 3s) have been doing full-bore animation since the 1950s. They were given shots to animate by Milt, Frank, Ollie, etc. and they animated.

This isn't a new issue.

Anonymous said...

So we know there is a Violation going on... But I can almost guarantee the people in the Outrage program WILL NOT complain, because management has them so scared to death about losing their job, because they're up for review every 6 months.

And of course DWA claimed they'd lose 11% revenue if they used the Disney contract... its because they're fucking their Outrage employees. Looks like by at least 11%.

So basically... The Outrage looks like it will continue.

I don't know who I'm more disappointed with... Dreamworks...Or the Animation Guild.

Steve Hulett said...

How about being disappointed in members who don't call TAG to file grievances?

Because The Animation Guild can't investigate or pursue grievances if it doesn't know who's having their contractual rights violated.

Anonymous said...

I'm more disappointed by the fact that the Guild knows something is going wrong... But cant do anything about until somebody blows the whistle.
The people having their contractual rights violated are the Outreach employees at Dreamworks.

When there's a hostile work environment, where employees are scared to blow a whistle, things are bad.

Too bad the current system in place doesn't allow for anything to be done about it.

But since "This has been going on since the 1950's" I guess all is well, right?

Steve Hulett said...

I'd give you a call and discuss this, but I don't know who the hell you are.

What you don't seem to get, or choose to ignore, is when you say "TAG is weak and doesn't do anything about this problem," what you are actually saying is:

"I'm weak and won't do anything about this problem." Because this organization is only as strong as its membership chooses it to be.

You've made up your mind that it's somebody else's fault, so you're going to complain anonymously on a comment thread that few are reading because it's days old. But if that makes you feel better, have at it. I'll keep putting them up.

But in case you want to get down to names and specifics, my number is (818) 845-7500.

Anonymous said...

Why dont you, on your next walk arounds at Dreamworks, find out the list of all the Outreach employees.

And then pay them a visit.

Some of them I would wager a guess dont even know they're being exploited.

Explain to them why you're there, and see what they have to say about the situation.

Steve Hulett said...

And again, call me at 818-845-7500 and give me some specifics so that I'm not wandering aimlessly in the Lakeside Building (or wherever.)

You can keep your anonymity. I just want more targeted info and this thread isn't the place to do it.

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