Monday, September 15, 2014

Rick and Morty II

Apparently, though there is now a contract in place for "Rick and Morty" , one of the show creators is not happy.

[Justin Roiland]: Just want to comment on this. I care about the [Rick and Morty] crew. I would bend over backwards to make sure they are happy. The problem here is that the union went after the OLD studio (Starburns) and the new studio (Rick and Morty LLC) had no idea. By the time we found out about this the union was strong arming the crew to walk out. We had almost no time to put together a deal with the union. It was incredibly stressful and absolutely unnecessary. To put a deal together over a weekend is just nuts. We would have landed on just as good a deal regardless of this gross time limit put upon us by the union. It left a really bad taste in my mouth. I am happy the crew has benefits and all the other perks that come with unionization, I just don't like how the whole thing went down. It was unprofessional and not needed. I love my crew and want them happy and am constantly in awe of their talent, dedication, and hard work BUT FUCK THE UNION. Get some better business ethics. You came off desperate and indecent. Not every production needs to be treated like monsters. Especially one that is RUN by the two creators and our line producer. ...

(Add On: It seems the Reddit thread linked above has been taken down. Whatever. Let us continue anyway.)

To be clear here, the Animation Guild had no idea there was an "old" or "new" studio. After the crew approached us several months ago, we believed we were organizing Rick and Morty the Adult Swim Show and (by extension) Starburns Industries. We found out when we filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board that the company had changed between Season #1 and Season #2 to "Rick and Morty, LLC". Until that moment, we were in the dark about the newest corporate wrinkle.

And just so everyone knows ... From the beginning, we were about organizing Rick and Morty, the show. ...

We've gotten questions about this from others. Here's what I wrote (now slightly amended) in answer:

My two cents:

Regarding Starburns being blind-sided by the Animation Guild, it’s twaddle. The crew (which is top notch, by the way) was being paid sub-par wages and no health or pension benefits. (And I don’t mean they were offered a skim milk HMO and weak 401(k). I mean they were getting NOTHING. ZIP. NADA.)

The crew, unhappy about their treatment (they were on 60-hour weeks which made their 40-hour weekly wages still well below TAG minimums) approached us early in the summer and we held multiple meetings prior to a vote for any job action. We collected NLRB representation cards and prepared to file a petition for a vote for union representation.

Prior to TAG filing the petition, I called the studio multiple times to let them know what the Guild was doing. I left messages each time and got no response. We then filed the Labor Petition and the NLRB notified Starburns about the filing. It took them over a week to answer, but there was then communication, during which we learned that Starburns Industries –- the company listed on our petition -- was not the entity under which the “Rick and Morty” crew now worked. (Starburns Industries had been the company during Season #1. At the start of Season #2 – which is still in progress – the show was switched to Rick and Morty LLC which happens to have -- surprise! -- many of the same principals as Starburns. Until the interaction with the NLRB, the Animation Guild didn’t know this.)

So. “Rick and Morty” topkicks were well aware that the Animation Guild was busy organizing the crew. We were informed by staff that the company met with the artists while we had the petition at the NLRB to tell them how unionization wasn’t a real swift idea, and the Motion Picture Industry and Health Plan had crap benefits anyway. (You know, as opposed to ZIP, NOTHING, NADA.) Why would it do that if it had “no idea” about what was going on?

But back to the main story: The Labor Board informed the Guild that since the petition was incorrect, the ultimate outcome was that it would be dismissed by the board. So we were faced with going back to square one with rep cards and filing a new petition, and knowing we didn’t have a lot of time to do this, or going to the crew and explaining the situation and seeing what they wanted to do.

We held a lengthy meeting with most of the “Rick and Morty” artistic staff on the evening of Thursday, September 4th detailing the above and asking them what they wanted to do. Doing a strike to leverage the company to a contract was one of the discussion topics. After much back and forth, almost everyone in the meeting voted to walk off the job the following Monday (September 8th). No arm twisting by the Animation Guild was involved.

We were told that word of the vote reached Rick and Morty LLC soon after, which is likely true because the company then moved with alacrity to sit down and negotiate with the Guild. Their lawyer called on Friday afternoon and agreed to begin negotiating toward a deal “in good faith”. She also asked that we agree to NOT pull the crew on Monday.

To which we said no. (We never set any deadline to reach a deal, but we never agreed to call off any alleged strike.)

We then negotiated with the company through the weekend. Bright and early Monday morning, the company’s representative again asked us to not pull the crew. Again we said no, saying if we had reached a proposal by noon-time we would take it to the staff and see if they wanted to hit the bricks or not.

Happily, the company and guild reached a tentative agreement at 11:00, and Steve Kaplan and I drove it to the “Rick and Morty” crew around 11:20. They were out on the sidewalk waiting for us, and we went through the deal points. When we finished, the staff voted to ratify the deal. There was no strike.

Lastly. This tale isn’t about Rick and Morty LLC being blind-sided. They weren’t, and we can demonstrate that.

It’s also not about some poor little independent company getting “strong armed” by the big mean union. Rick and Morty LLC has little to do with this. The story is actually about a large international conglomerate named Time-Warner low-balling a skilled artistic staff on wages, health and pension. Time-Warner/Turner owns the property and pays the bills, not R & M LLC.

It is, finally, a story about leverage, as most things in life are. Unions don’t have leverage often, but in this case The Animation Guild did. The fact that the Guild representative couldn’t get his calls returned until after the Labor Board petition was filed, the fact that the company didn’t get serious about engaging a lawyer and talking about a contract until after they found out about a strike vote should be evidence of that. Obviously we can’t prove a negative, can’t prove that Rick and Morty LLC wouldn’t have greeted us warmly and sat down and done a deal if we had come hat in hand and said “pretty please”, but that’s not how things work in 21st century Hollywood, and we doubt it would have worked that way here.

Last point: I'm truly sorry that Justin feels that we're the assholes here. It's not our purpose to tick off creative talent, though it seems in this case, we did. Back several months ago, we responded to outreach from the Rick and Morty crew, and events took their course.

I've been doing this job a while now, and more often than not artists choose not to walk off a show. The R & M staff chose a different path, and I respect that. Others should, as well.


C.M.B. said...

how is anyone supposed to know what company they're actually working for in this day and age of payroll contractors? I once worked for one of these ambiguous LLCs too, but as far as the paperwork was concerned, I worked for Entertainment Partners.

Princess Perky Pants said...

I have no doubt you did everything you could have to do this in an orderly manner. The use of the term "strong arm" upset me a lot as I know that is not this unions MO.

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