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!
Steve is your best bet for getting all the facts and benefits of being in a union. We'll just add some first-hand experience of the current US job market:
Health and pension are the two big wins for an artist working union. There are many other benefits, but these are the easiest ones to tell people about.
The working conditions in vfx are becoming an untenable situation for many people. The hire-and-fire cycle is something all too familiar to anyone working in visual effects. The problem is when you are forced to jump from company to company, with no portability of benefits.
In the United States, when your show is done, that's it. No healthcare as soon as you walk out the door. (some places extend to the end of the calendar month, which does you little good if you get layed off on the 29th).
You are now stuck with a $1600 bill per month to insure your family via Cobra.
The next gig might not even offer any benefits at all. Now you have to keep Cobra, or hope you get a job with benefits before the 18 months are up. COBRA continues group insurance (no denials for pre-existing conditions). If you go out on your own to find individual insurance, you will be denied if you have any pre-existing conditions. Then you will be stuck with no insurance at all. Living like that is like being a walking time bomb. Hoping you don't slip and fall, get in a car accident, cut your hand making dinner, etc. Better hope and pray you aren't trying to start a family when the axe falls.
18 months x $1600 = $28,800.
Meanwhile, those 6 months you were working, you are losing money by not having any retirement benefits.
Every one of those paychecks could have had contributions made to a pension. A real proper pension, you retire at 65, and you get a check in the mail every month until you die.
More and more companies aren't even offering a 401k plan at all.
Its embarrassing and unconscionable that the most popular draw for moviegoers, netting billions of dollars in profits, has driven many to an exit strategy from the business they love just to hang on financially.
Not all people though. Most of the rest of the live-action crew has these benefits already. The benefits are funded by the studios contributing 5% of residuals. See that enormous scroll of credits under Visual Effects? Those people get zero.
When you retire at the end of a non-union 20 year career you have nothing. Maybe some savings you can scrape together. Hopefully you invested wisely, and didn't have any terrible financial hardships.
When you retire at the end of a 20 year career working under a union contract you get a monthly pension check, and have health insurance for the rest of your life. (You should still save and invest regardless of union status by the way).
Artists working at Disney, Dreamworks, Sony Pictures Animation, and others, enjoy this protection now.
It's become totally acceptable to say to someone "Well, if you wanted to start a family, you shouldn't have gotten into this business". That's an awful thing to say, no one should be in the position of choosing to start a family, or make giant robots fight instead.
So that's just health and pension.
That's not to even mention how a union will make sure you are payed for those hours and hours of unpaid overtime. Or the misclassification of employees as "temporary contractors" and then Yurcor skimming 4% of your pay for the honor of receiving a paycheck.
Obviously we're supporters, and these are actual real-world benefits that are having a positive effect on people's lives right now.
This isn't a revolutionary concept. There are over 100,000 members in IATSE, nearly 3000 in just the Animation Guild 839. We want the same rights and benefits that the rest of the crew has.
That's our take on the issue. Thank You.
I just stumbled across this on YouTube...(!!)
HI Steve, We have a question for you:
Will the US industry workers accept to lower their wages to stay competitive in front of Tax incentives and cheap labors?
Meaning 7$/hr per employees is big money for VFX facilities and it will be taken in consideration when bidding; so employees might have to accept to lower their wages to include the 7$/hr. This might become a requirement to help the US based companies to BID the vfx work at a competitive price and making sure the work doesn't slide away to Canada or from going overseas.
Also you talk about alternative plan what are they for smaller VFX facilities?
We'll like to hear your toughts on this possible ripple effect.
Hello the collective named Talk Management. Having addressed yourself as "We", I hope I don't offend by calling you as such.
Its my observation that the US VFX artist has already seen their wages lowered over the last few years. This is in no small part due to the tax incentives that your country started and now have become a large part of the reason the entertainment conglomerates force work outside the US. So, I'd argue that the US worker has already lowered their wage thanks to Canadian efforts.
Interesting that you'd argue that the contributions to MPI would be a consideration when biding for production work. I'd say that the mandate by the production companies that work be completed for a fixed price, and that they require work to be done partially (if not substantially) in a subsidized region as bigger concerns to visual effects studios when compared to the $7/hr/employee that MPI requires.
So, when speaking about "ripple effects", I'd rather consider the implications of the tax subsides than contractually mandated employer contributions to a group health plan.
As for alternatives to MPI, the IATSE has a strong history of writing contracts that suit the specific needs of productions based on their scale and scope. VFX studios would benefit from this experience as its not in anyone's best interest to write a contract that would put a studio out of business. The best option outside of MPI for health care is the IATSE National Benefits Plan. The costs for participating in that plan vary as the union is able to include some or all parts of the health plan in an agreement.
In this global economy, the current American workers requests are fully understandable when considering the US social security system. Unfortunately, the globalization of the VFX industry has pushes new challenges for all VFX workers and facilities into a new business model.
It's easy to blame the ''Canadians providers'' for the current US VFX situation. Remember, the globalization is not a ''Canadian cause'', Australia have 2x large US film Sound Stages (Fox in Sydney & Warner/Roadshow in Gold Coast) located in their country. Australia have 2 of the top world class VFX facilities (Animal Logic & RSP), New Zealand (Weta), UK (The Mill, MPC, Framestore, Double Negative, Cinesite) & France (BUF, Mikros, MacDuff): all of those facilkities have gained from the globalization of the film industry.
The mobility of the artists is now part of the VFX industry landscape. The artists now travels to work on the best features and projects. China and India have now jump in the race to provide services for the US Big 7 Distributions Studios.
The countries subsidies is a question of politics, lobbies and democratic choices. The US Government have decided to subsidies with large amount the top 3 following economic sectors:
02- US Arms industry
03 - Energy
Those Three economic sectors are subsidies in the Billions of dollars by the US Government. It's aquestion of social choices for the benefit of the country. In Canada and Australia, The Defense Department spends about 21 Billions dollars each and it's far from the US Defense Department Budget (530 Billions).
These are simple choices of where the societies and countries wishes to gain a competitive advantage. The country can choose freely what economic sector, in order to respect the WTO Agreements and get the best ROI for the population. The US VFX workers can't blame the other of the current situation, they need to focus on what can be done to increse efficiency and productivity to stay competitive.
The textile industry has runaway to Hunduras, China and Taiwan to maintain the corporate profits. Some companies such has American Apparel have proven to innovate and stay competitive while keeping the manufacturing in the US. Innovation and performance is the key to compete in the new global environment.
That is a pretty long winded response in support of subsidies. I never called into question the concept of them, I just blamed your country for starting the fire in Visual Effects. Its been democratically instituted in the Great White North and you're reaping the benefits from it. Kudos.
Its wildly unsustainable (http://www.stop-runaway-production.com/) and when it collapses, all international production and visual effects work will make like the Coyote from the Road Runner cartoons and leave a cute puff of smoke as it flees your country.
All this punctuates the need for unionization of the industry in both our countries, and world-wide in my opinion. As I pointed out, the current business model mandates pressure on the artists. With the production companies forcing work to be completed in subsidized areas, and not allowing for vfx companies to properly bid on the work to be completed, the pressures of doing business in this environment have been passed down to the artists to bear.
The only viable recourse the artists have is to band together and focus their inherent collective leverage to establish boundaries upon which the vfx studios will not be able to cross. Wage rates, health and pension plans, workplace conditions and standards. This will force the vfx studios to band together to use their leverage against the producers to increase the ability for profits while still being able to meet productions schedules.
As your business focuses on selling a product to the vfx studios, allow me to explain that It will take the combined strength of the artists union and a trade coalition to bargain with the producers to end the insanity we're facing today. Your business will likely profit from such actions as the industry will flourish from this kind of stability.
ps. Apologies for the tardy response. I was called away from work for the past week due to a family matter.
A few comments on the previous slew of comments and some of the following ones. I'm an on-set visual effects worker who has been fortunate enough to work under IATSE contract on most of the features for which I have toiled over the last decade and a half... and some of the ones for the decade before that. As a result, I have access to a superb health plan and the expectation of a pension check if/when I retire. These are not considerations I had when I was in my twenties, but they sure are now a few decades later.
With regard to subsidies and their effect on employment patterns: Producing entities go where they can spend less... it's that simple. Unionization of the industry in the US and Canada will not change that trend - and it will likely not accelerate it. Spending less might mean capturing the benefits of a tax incentive... OR it might mean spending Before Tax European profit money in European studios in order to benefit from not being taxed on that money - whether or not the dollar figure of the services is higher or the same as it would be in Lost Angeles, it might make sense to spend the money in SoHo. That's just the way it is.
An argument can be made that the last best chance to organize the vfx post-production workforce is NOW before the nascent vfx industries in Asia have matured to the point that the US is no longer competitive.
There is obviously a bit of a chicken-egg situation here, but understand that the vast vast majority of us who work on set are represented by either one of the IATSE locals or the Actors or Directors guilds, notwithstanding an awful lot of motion pictures are made in the United States and Canada. Generally if we get hired by a US company to work overseas, our contract follows us and our medical benefits and pension are maintained... the Producers understand the need to provide these fringes in order to get the crews they want. Will that be the case with supervisors gong overseas to work in overseas post facilities? Certainly not automatically, but if we can achieve representation for the workers in the US and Canada now, it's a darned good start.
Thank you for your comment Mark. We need more vfx people at your level to speak up now as well.
So...have there been any recent developments on the VFX Union front?
IATSE will be at Siggraph booth#352.
Near Canon and the Job Fair. There will be IATSE reps and artists currently and formerly in the union to talk about their benefits and how to sign up.
There are always strides being made, however big or small. Vanessa and I are constantly being contacted by artists looking to find out more information and asking about forming a union at their workplace.
As SPIUnion mentioned, the IATSE will be hosting at booth on the SIGGRAPH exhibition floor for the second year in a row. We are working to prepare for that as much as possible (with contracts being ratified and a General Executive Board meeting taking place in Vancouver currently, there are other matters that are also taking our attention.)
I am working on setting up a VFX Union discussion board where we can have conversations like this openly and regularly. Would you be interested in seeing something like that?