Monday, December 31, 2012

Year in Review

Tired TAG contract negotiators early on a June morning ...

The year 2012 is now in the history books. On the macro side, the Unites States economy got better in slow, tiny steps:

GDP Growth

1st Quarter -- 4.1% growth
2nd Quarter -- 2% growth
3rd Quarter -- 1.3% growth (yeowch!)
4th Quarter -- 3.1% growth

The above isn't (let's be honest here) particularly good by historical standards, but not bad when compared to the rest of the industrialized world ... and enough to return the incumbent President to office.

On the micro side (this union) -- we saw employment growth through most of the year, peaking at 2,770 employed TAG members before DreamWorks began laying off employees late in '12 ...

Until the 4th quarter, unionized animation employment had been on a steady, upward trajectory. Theatrical animation was (mostly) strong, and television animation enjoyed solid ratings. Our fine, entertainment conglomerates wanted to make more of both, and the Animation Guild prospered as a result. And unlike live-action, animation is somewhat more difficult to outsource to other localities, particularly pre-production work. Which is good for Animation Guild members.

But the BIG story for the Guild, far and away, was the negotiations for a new contract. In mid April, an energetic and focused negotiating committee -- composed of executive board members, staff, working members of the guild and Yours Truly -- went into talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and pretty quickly got ice water thrown in its face:

On April 19, after two days of negotiations for a new contract with the major studios, your negotiating team (made up of regular members just like you) felt compelled to walk out.

The studios were not willing to consider most of our proposals, and we were far apart on wage issues.

Animated features and television series are the engine that drives the Hollywood gravy train, yet our workplace and salary concerns were mostly ignored.

TAG's Executive Board has voted to hold a special membership meeting on Wednesday, May 30, to discuss the contract negotiations. It is imperative that we have a full turnout to receive your input regarding our next moves in the battle for a fair contract.

In the meantime, we urge you to discuss these issues with your fellow members. Your livelihood, and that of your fellow workers in animation, is at stake. We have been disrespected for far too long. Do you want our Union to stand up for itself? Then YOU need to stand up for your Union. Attend the special meeting.

The special membership meeting will be held Wednesday, May 30, at the Guild's offices at 1105 N. Hollywood Way in Burbank. A reception starts at 6 PM with beer, wine, and refreshments, followed by the meeting at 7 PM. ...

Long story short: We got the BIGGEST member turnout for a meeting in the time I've been doing this job. We explained how the producers were coming after us hammer and tong with a low-ball wage offer, how they had rejected almost everything we put on the table and pretty much sneered in our faces. And left us with no options other than to hot-foot it out of there.

The membership was incredibly supportive. They provided input on where they wanted us to go in future talks (WAGES), and answered en masse a digital survey that we put out before returning to the table.

Then in mid-June, we finally DID return to bargaining:

We restarted the Animation Guild-AMPTP negotiations early yesterday, and stayed into the early hours of today to finish the new contract deal. There was planning and waiting and too much eating in the caucus room. There were small side bars*. There were larger side bars. And there were negotiations and a final agreement across the table in the the Big Room ...

From TAG's press release:

The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE has reached tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. The labor contract, for a period from August 1, 2012 to July 31, 2015, was negotiated with animation producers represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

The contract calls for two percent (2%) annual compounded wage increases. Health, pension and IAP benefits are to be provided under the terms of the IATSE Basic Agreement, on which agreement was reached in April and which is currently awaiting a ratification vote. Other provisions of the new agreement include a new storyboard revisionist classification, and changes to the talent development program and the DreamWorks Animation wage minimums.

We were in talks until 1:00 this morning. We ended up, at the finish line, with the same economic package that the Basic Agreement bargaining unit reached in April. It was not easy. The producers made clear that we weren't necessarily going to be recipients of the deal bestowed on the IA locals inside the bargining unit, and we had to argue, push and horse trade for everything we finally got.

As you can see up above, we had a sizable committee, and everybody contributed. But I would like to offer a heartfelt "thank you" to Mike Miller, IATSE International Vice President, Vice President In-Charge of the West Coast Office and Director of the Motion Picture and Television Division. Mike was in there pitching from morning to night, and really helped drive the wagon to our final result.

* "Side bars" are off-the-record discussions that take place in hallways and small rooms without windows. Sometimes they're long and other times short. Sometimes you make progress toward a contract in them, but not always.

So that sums up the year 2012: Negotiations were the top Big Deal; continuing employment was the next big deal. Then, of course, there were all the other things: National and state elections, the continued sputtering growth of the world and national economy, the push for "right to work" in various mid-Western states.

It was an interesting twelve months in the Chinese sense of the word. We kind of expect that the next twelve will have their own highlights and lowlights.

Happy New Year.


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