Friday, March 04, 2016

From the Old Mailbag

Or what passes for a mailbag. Today that mainly takes the form of an e-mail inbox. But anyway, we received this:

Hi Steve.
I read your article in the last peg board and it may be a little difficult to believe, but I agreed with almost all of it. There is a virus going around (Especially in TV animation) called unpaid overtime and deficient schedule. I am with you 100% that no artist should be asked to, or feel like they need to do this. The problem I have found is that the artists are still afraid to say anything about it and are bullied if they do. This is where I feel the union needs to step in. This problem is not in one or two studios, but in all of them. This is where we need our union to take the lead so that artist who are still afraid to rock the boat can fallow.

The other problem that I have seen is that in "unwritten" agreements, the artists weeks are not 40 hours but 56 to 60. How is that possible if the agreement in the CBA was 40? If the union is to be strong then the union needs to lead. Not on an individual by individual basis but as a whole. The artists are still terrified. Even those of us begging them to stick to a 40 hour schedule can't convince them. So it has to come from somewhere else. If the guild thinks these artists are going to come to them then...well you're waaaay out of touch with the people who pay the dues.

I'm sorry to point out that a great number of the guild's members pay their dues but never show up for a meeting or cast a vote. They pay them because they feel like they have to. If you truly believe in what you wrote then please look into the 40 hour thing and start there so the artist have a leg to stand on.

After that we can talk about all the scheduling and pay issues that are being avoided by the studios. The union should be a constant companion to the artists. Day in. Day out. For a long time now the artists and the union had no power at all. Now that is changing but the artists still don't see it. Stand up. Make them see it and not in a newsletter or meeting that no one reads or goes to. Be in the face of the studios. If you lead, they are chomping at the bit to follow.

Here was my response:

Hi (Blanked Out],

This was a topic of discussion at the last exec board meeting. One of the board members said he knows live-action crews that always exit at five or six p.m. on the dot, and nobody hangs around. Forty is forty. And the live-action crew members all work as a unit. And when camera shuts down, no further work get s done. Simple.

For animation, where everybody works independently in their cubes or at home, it’s more complicated. I’ve spent twenty-five years policing the contract and here’s what I know: Artists who are fast can (usually) get the work done in forty. Everybody else works extra hours for free because they’re concerned about being cut if they ask for o.t. Other artists want to make extra fancy boards (I know some of these at various studios) and work weekends for free. Other artists are in studios eleven hours a day, but they spend three hours shooting the shit, watching YouTube videos in the cubicle, etc.

I’m aware of a lot of the stuff that’s going on. I’m also aware that it’s difficult to police because artists take work home on their thumb drives and work there. A lot of people tell me that fear of layoff makes them work free o.t., even though I get calls from studios these days complaining that they can’t find “decent board artists.” (I’ve pointed all this out at General Membership meetings. The response is: “Yeah, well we’re still worried.”)

And you are absolutely right that the union should lead. That the union needs to step in. But understand that the union ain’t just Steve Hulett running around to the studios (even though Steve does a lot of that). The union is EVERYBODY in it. The union is EVERYBODY making sure that people fill out their time cards (legal documents) accurately, making sure that other artists ask for overtime when they need it. Because the union isn’t Hulett or some fat guy in bib overalls with UNION stenciled across his wide backside. It’s the people inside of the Animation Guild, all the folks who don’t show up for meetings, who forget to pay their dues, and also the people who HAVE read the contract and DO send in the wage survey and do volunteer as shop stewards.

I can tell you that there are departments in studios that DO NOT do free overtime. I can also tell you that there are departments down the hall in the same studio that do tons of free o.t. because the artists are frightened about getting laid off if they don’t hit the schedule. Here’s the joke: Nobody from either department gets laid off … because the studio NEEDS all of them.

I could go on, but we both know how the industry works. But if there’s something here that I’m missing, if you can tell me what you want me specifically to do to get artists from staying late and taking work home, then write me back how I should make the union lead, and I’ll do it. Honestly. I’ve been working to get people to stop doing free work since 1990, and haven’t figured out a solution yet. I’ve lectured members about it, gone to studios late at night and caught people working (and they tell me they’re “getting paid” when we both know they’re lying), I’ve harangued people at their desks, written articles and blog posts about the problem, and the free work still seems to keep happening.

But if you’ve got a plan, please tell it to me. I’m always eager to learn. And I’m happy to try new stuff.


Steve Hulett

In case I sound a wee bit dour up above, let me say that there are numerous artists who stand up for themselves, who talk with their peers, who push back when a supervisor asks them to "push the hours out to the next day at straight time," and who do not take work home to perform free labor. But many still feel under the gun. The way to alleviate the tension and pain is to ...

1) Communicate with each other.

2) Call the Guild office to let us know what the problem is.

3) Know that in unity (and this means getting the assistance of the Guild and fellow artists) there is strength.


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