Thursday, February 11, 2016

Of Unpaid Overtime and Other Contract Infractions

Uncompensated overtime and tight schedules have been issues for Animation Guild members for like ever.

I used to listen to my predecessor Bud Hester complain about them in executive board meetings. When I became biz rep, I encountered these things out in the studios myself.

There was the Warner Bros. production manager who asked layout artists to “help out” after regular hours for free. (This was back in the Bronze Age – 1990). There were Disney TVA board artists who rebelled at cramped schedules a few year later, had a meeting at Guild headquarters and then argued among themselves over what schedule was “good enough”. They never did decide.

There was the over-ambitious production manager at DreamWorks who had a crew of traditional animators working extra hours for free. (Remember pencils? Remember paper? This was waay back.) Somebody tipped me off, I made a late-night visit to the overworked staff and reported my findings to a company attorney. To DWA’s credit, it made all the late-night employees whole … and metaphorically paddled the production manager’s backside. ...

Then, more recently, there was the small sub-contracting studio that worked board artists on weekends ... and pretended not to know about it. Several artists complained to me, we held a meeting at a nearby diner, after which I swooped in on a bright Saturday morning, took names, and got the practice halted.

And several years ago, while walking around one of our fine conglomerate-owned animation studios, a surly board artist dragged me into his office and growled: “You know, the guy on the LEFT side of me is taking home work at night, the guy on the RIGHT side of me is taking work home at night, and neither is billing the studio! They’re making me look bad! Because I won’t do free work!”

I briefly considered offering to break those naughty artists’ drawing hands, then thought better of it. Instead I offered to talk to both story boarders, but the guy said no, believing it to be hopeless.

Which leads me to my point. It’s never hopeless to point people to their better selves (“forty means forty”); never pointless to make companies follow the collective bargaining agreement that they’ve negotiated and signed. Studio Human Resource departments like saying to employees (when it works for them): “You don’t like the on-call provision? Well, this is what YOUR union negotiated!” or “You’re not happy being a daily employee? It’s what your guild agreed to!”

But funny thing. When the same studio is on the far side of double time and/or time and a half, they don’t use the “what your union agreed to” argument so much. Often they pretend the overtime provisions aren’t there. The schedule is the schedule, and that’s it. We’ll look the other way while you stay late or take the work home, and if you hit your delivery dates, maybe we’ll retain you for the next cycle of shows.

When I bring up, in meetings and studio hallways, that members should follow the provisions of the contract, an artist will invariably say to me: “Easy for you to take that position, but we’re worried about getting fired. Or let go at the end of the season. The production people keep telling us ‘The board’s due on Wednesday and there’s no money in the budget for overtime.’”

When I respond that this is a non sequitur, that the show’s budget isn’t the artistic staff’s problem, the usual response is “Yeah, but we’re scared of being laid off.”

So let’s cut to the chase. Over the past year, studios have complained they can’t find qualified board artists; members have said in meetings that even slower storyboarders are being retained because it’s tough to find people. I know departments that refuse to work uncompensated hours and everyone continues to work. Hell, I know individuals that won’t falsify a timecard and they remain gainfully employed.

And those examples of “whistle-blowing” I gave up above? The people who reported contract violations to the guild? Every one of them continued to work. Every. Single. One.

But fear springs eternal, and old habits die hard. If you want to behave like it’s 1886 and there’s no contract in place and you’ll be cashiered at the end of the next shift if you don’t Knuckle Under, nobody can stop you.

But please know that there are alternatives to violating the contract and state law. You can call the Guild (818-845-7500) and explore other options, up to and including filing a grievance. There’s no charge, and you’ll probably gain some new knowledge … and maybe some extra self-respect.


Unknown said...

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