Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Biz Rep's Report

I'm off on the high seas (unless the ship goes down; then I'm under it), but here is my pre-prepared Business Representative's report from last night's General Membership meeting. ...

Wish I could be at the meeting tonight, but I'm on a long-planned vacation so this will be read.

The biggest (and saddest) news is the passing of TAG's long-time Vice-President Earl Kress. Earl had been battling cancer most of this year. We were all hoping for a recovery, but the cancer, unfortunately, had spread too far.

Earl enjoyed a long career in animation. He came out to L.A. from the east coast in the middle 1970s, and his first job (two months after he got here) was working as a writer for DePatie-Freleng. After D-F, there was feature work at Disney, and beyond that decades of script work at almost every animation studio in town. Earl wrote award-winning scripts for "Pinky and the Brain" and "Animaniacs," picking up two Emmys for his work. He was still writing at his death, having penned a direct-to-video "Tom and Jerry" feature last year, one of Warners biggest sellers in the Tom and Jerry series.

But around here we'll remember Mr. Kress as an ardent union man. Earl served on a long string of TAG negotiating committees, and pushed strenuously for more respect and better wages and benefits for writers in animation. Because of Earl, writers under TAG contracts can now write ONE half-hour script and outline and maintain their health coverage, as well as secure a qualified pension year. This is no small accomplishment, because it improves a LOT of lives. And Earl Kress is the individual most responsible for that.

One more thing about Earl's activism in labor. He wasn't just a TAG officer for sixteen years. He was also a founder of the Animation Writers Caucus inside the Writers Guild. He pushed for the betterment of writers on a lot of fronts.

On other subjects, employment at union shops is up over the last three years as television animation work continues to expand. TAG has signed contracts with APU, a subsidiary of Wildbrain Animation, and we have just signed an agreement with a new animation company, the name of which must remain secret until the company rolls out its press announcement. We are repping animators under an IA-Disney contract on a stop-motion show called "Cinder Biter," directed by Henry Selick (I think) and produced by Tim Burton.

On the feature front, Disney has hired a number of new employees for "Wreck It Ralph" and has expanded its development of new feature properties. DreamWorks Animation has done some lay offs and restructuring, mostly due to story hiccups with "The Croods" Their next feature "Puss in Boots" will be out in November.

Re grievances, TAG successfully pushed a grievance over screen credits on [*] ... securing a monetary settlement and screen credits for story artists on the Blu Ray, DVD and video releases. Last month we won an extra month's salary for a terminated employee at [*].

On studio issues, we've received complaints about lack of sick days at a studio that has none, and will discuss the issue with management. (I attempted to contact a studio exec before leaving on vacation, but he was out.) We have language in the contract regarding sick days, but it is only to require that sick-day policies continue through the term of the contract. It does not require that a studio has any set number of days, and a few have none. ...

We've received questions about upcoming negotiations. We estimate that our next contract negotiation will occur in the Spring, after the IA completes talks on a renewal of the Basic Agreement. Currently, the IA is holding information meetings about the Health Plan, which will possibly be re-designed in the next round of negotiations, so we encourage you to participate and make your voice heard at the meetings. I will be attending the Basic Negotiations when they take place, but TAG is not part of the bargaining unit, so our input is limited.

Lastly, the TAG 401(k) Plan remains viable and growing, although it's taken hits in the latest market downturn. Assets now stand at $136 million, down slightly from last Spring. I will be holding new enrollment meetings at all participating studios in October and November, and as always, I carry a bag of enrollment books with me during all studio visits. Despite the choppy stock market, I know a number of folks who now have (between the Motion Picture Pension Plan's IAP and the TAG 401(k) Plan) four hundred to six hundred thousand dollars in retirement assets.

* Grievance settlements are confidential, which is why we've removed some details here.


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