My name is Steve Kaplan and I am the Labor Organizer for The Animation Guild, Local 839 of the IATSE. I am a former visual effects artist who joined the Guild to help facilitate the unionization of the industry.
I'd like to get a discussion started about unionization of visual effects with this group. What are your thoughts? Are you aware of who the IATSE Is? Did you know they are interested in forming a local specifically for the visual effects industry? Do you know what a union is?
Looking forward to hearing your views!
Like everyone else, I've heard rumblings. Can you tell us what the progress is on the unionization movement? Are there are a lot of people involved? What are the goals of the union, were it to be established?
Here are my two biggest concerns (although they may be unfounded -- but I worry):
1. If unionization means benefits and some guarantee of continued work for artists, it could put a huge financial strain on smaller studios, and maybe drive them out of business.
2. US-based VFX artists could find themselves without work, as the shows are outsourced to countries that can deliver work cheaper (and no longer even inconveniently, with cloud computing).
I'd love more information as well, anything you've got.
I've heard the cost argument quite a few times, and to smaller vfx shops it can be a concern. An IATSE contract would certainly attempt to have some kind of Health and Pension contributions written into it. Most artists we've spoken to have expressed this to be one of their biggest concerns and needs. However, we would certainly not want to draw up a contract that would put a company out of business due to costs.
Participation in the Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan (MPIPHP) costs employers around $7/hr/employee. There are alternatives to that plan that are available as well. The IATSE has a strong history of being able to be flexible with their contracts to suit the needs of productions and employers.
Outsourcing is certainly a concern for local artists. However, I believe that outsourcing will not be effected by the unionization of the industry. Companies are going to outsource to areas and countries that offer tax subsidies as production companies demand them to do so. Unionization will not hasten nor staunch that flow.
Thanks for voicing your concerns! For more general information, you're welcome to visit the website the IATSE has set up for the organizing effort: http://vfx.iatse-intl.org/
Ok, thanks Steve. Wow, $7 per hour, per employee...
You make a good case, though. I'm headed over to your website now to read more.
Is that a bad Wow, or a good Wow? Its difficult to nail down what costs would be connected to a union contract, without formalizing the contract itself. That's because its impossible to say what comes up in negotiations.
As I mentioned, there are alternatives and the IA isn't interested in putting a studio they're negotiating with out of business.
That's a surprised wow. I had no idea that the health and pension plan cost so much. But still, pension...wow. Feels like a pipe dream. I know, it shouldn't...we're as hard working as everyone else, even more so.
I'm a freelancer, sort of hovering on the fringe of the industry but not working on major films or anything (I live in Western NY...I think Girls Gone Wild did some filming out here, but that's about it).
Anyway...would unionization even affect me? I've done work on a couple of commercials for a local motion graphics studio. If VFX artists created a union, would I have to join? Would there be any professional requirements to join? Could I be prevented from taking contract work or full time jobs at studios if I'm not a member of the VFX guild?
I hope the unionization of the industry would effect you. I've been in contact with a lot of artists working in the New York area due to the prolific use of Yurcor in the area. We can start a new thread about my views of Yurcor's business.
However, unionization would only affect you if you take a job at a studio that has signed a contract with the union. That's how most people start their union membership today. For right now, the IATSE is focusing its VFX organizing efforts in Los Angeles as that's where most of the inquiries have come from. Artists in New York are welcome to contact us about unionization as well!
Having union membership does not bar you from taking non-union work. While in the past, some locals in some crafts were pickey about this matter, rules of that nature have long since been removed. Local 839, for example, encourages our members to call to let us know when they've taken non-union work so we can put them on 'Honorable Withdrawal' status which stops dues payment requests.
Thanks for the response, Steve. That actually clears up a lot!
Glad to help Sara. Feel free to visit the IATSE VFX website set up for answers like that: http://vfx.iatse-intl.org/
I'd like to add something that IATSE brought to my attention today on Twitter. Another potential benefit of belonging to a union (and one that never occurred to me) is something along the lines of TAG's class reimbursement program:
For the 2012-2013 grant year, the Contract Services Administration Training Trust Fund (CSATTF) has approved reimbursement grants for qualified members of the Animation Guild to take classes at four of the best schools for animation and CG training.
The grants will reimburse for two-thirds of the cost of classes taken at the following schools:
LA Valley College IDEAS Workshop
The grants are for classes that begin between February 1, 2012 and January 31, 2013.
To qualify, you must have worked at least thirty days under the Guild’s jurisdiction in the two years previous to the date the class begins. You must apply for and be accepted for the grant before the class begins, and no more than ninety days in advance. (In other words, if you are approved and subsequently postpone taking the class, you will have to re-apply.) You will have to submit paystubs and/or a letter from your current or past employers to CSATTF to prove your ninety days’ employment. This is a reimbursement grant, so you will have to pay the class fee in full in advance. Upon completing the class after grant approval, you will apply to the CSATTF to receive two-thirds reimbursement.
For more info, head to TAG's class grant page.
Thanks for bringing this up Kristy. Local 839 has been offering training class reimbursement through the CSATTF for a few years now. Part of the contributions that employers make to MPI goes to fund these and other programs like it. In the last two years, we've added new institutions to the reimbursement program, and next year I'm going to start a training class run by and for members funded by the grant. This is one of many fringe benefits that come out of the collectively bargained contract.
Very interesting. I think many artists, when considering the effect that a VFX union might have on their lives, aren't fully aware of the fringe benefits (such as these) that may come along with membership. While not the driving force behind the decision to join a union, fringe benefits could definitely make the prospect more attractive.