Poach-gate Scandal: VFX Idol Steve Jobs Involved

Names are dropping in the latest set of documents obtained by techcrunch in the ILM/Pixar collusion case which VFX artist David Stripinis is cleverly calling “Poach-gate”.

What the memos reveal is that this wasn’t just some silly agreement that was made up between 2 recruiters over a coffee break. It was a clearly a mechanism designed to lower wages by some Big Bay Area tech company CEOs like Apple/Pixar’s Steve Jobs and Adobe’s Bruce Chizen:

In one particularly juicy piece of evidence from May 2005, Adobe’s CEO Bruce Chizen emailed Steve Jobs regarding “Recruitment of Apple Employees”. In the message, Adobe’s SVP for human resources writes “Bruce and Steve Jobs have an agreement that we are not to solicit ANY Apple employees, and vice versa.”

Then there is this memo sent by Pixar Vice President of Human Resources Lori McAdams:

“I just got off the phone with Danielle Lambert [of Apple], and we agreed that effective now, we’ll follow a Gentleman’s agreement with Apple that is similar to our Lucasfilm agreement.”

Lori McAdams has served as HR Director at other companies like Tippett Studios, Electronic Arts, and LucasFilm. LucasFilm and Pixar are involved in the collusion case. Was Tippett and EA also involved?

Furthermore, consider how remarkable this case has become. Steve Jobs, Pixar, and Lucasfilm. For VFX artists these names are nothing but legends to us and could do no harm. Look at what the Justice Department’s investigation revealed. Behind our backs they colluded to drive wages down.

What’s amazing is that even when warned that this practice was illegal Steve Jobs and others continued with the practice. PALM’s then CEO Ed Colligan sent an email to Steve Jobs that the no-poaching agreement was illegal:

“Your proposal that we agree that neither company will hire the other’s employees, regardless of the individual’s desires, is not only wrong, it is likely illegal,”

We Need To Organize

Ask yourself this question: Why did the most trusted people in our industry betray us?

Because they could. They knew workers in our industry look at Steve Jobs, Pixar, and LucasFilm as idols and that we would shrug our shoulders and look the other way.

I’m disgusted by the tone of the emails. The agreements between the companies seemed so casually accepted. What if just an organization that represented VFX workers in California existed? Don’t you think the tone of those emails would have changed?

There would be at least some concern by the execs that they could run into problems with a guild that found out about the practice. Sure there’s the law (which only gave a slap on the wrist), but they’re looking at the forrest. We need something focused on our set of trees.

I couldn’t help but agree with VFX artist Dave Rand’s tweet that basically says this is all just a big calling card for us to unionize:

A Giant Neon Sign Blinking “Please PLEASE Organize!”…we are!…even illegally n shamelessly..and right in your face

It’s sort of funny to see so many VFX workers outraged about SOPA and Andy Serkis yet this gets not much play at all. Orwell was right when he said “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

But perhaps there are more of us coming around and connecting the dots to the bigger picture. I couldn’t help but agree with this anonymous comment on a post by The Animation Guild:

Americans need to understand that the 1% are rich not because they work harder, but because they work together. Collusion, sweetheart deals, and outright monopolies. lawmakers, lobbyists and lawyers work for their friends and their friends pay them back.

Anti-union efforts are intended to prevent the 99% from working together. Each artist acts like he or she is on his own and has to undercut everyone else to be “safe”. That’s a losers game.

Soldier On.

Here are older posts on this issue:

Collusion

ILM Pixar Collusion Court Documents

Lee Stranahan On Lucasfilm/Pixar Collusion

VFX Recruiter Comments On Collusion

What Is The Croner VFX Survey?

May The Lawsuit Be With You

What’s Happening With LucasFilm/Pixar Collusion Case?

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19 Responses to Poach-gate Scandal: VFX Idol Steve Jobs Involved

  1. edwardh says:

    As long as there is no union (but even then), one can only hope that talented artists will take note of this and will refuse to work for such exploitative companies. Because even with unions – should people who have to be forced to treat employees in a decent really be supported?

  2. Anon says:

    In the days before Pixar bought^H^H^H^H^H was bought by Disney, the two companies had a similar agreement. If you wanted to interview at the other company, you had to inform your management first or the other company would refuse to talk to you at all. I’m surprised that hasn’t come out in the story yet, since everybody at both companies knew about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if similar deals were in place with additional companies that weren’t as widely known.

    I have no direct knowledge that anybody who asked for permission was refused an interview, or that anybody who really wanted to switch companies was denied, or that anybody who interviewed but didn’t ultimately take the job was punished. In fact, I saw all three cases work out just fine for employees. But surely the requirement to tell your management intimidated lots of people from even investigating whether there was a place for them, or a higher salary to be had, at the other studio.

    Unionization seems like an unrelated issue. I’m pretty sure that a lot of the Disney employees were union, and that didn’t stop their company from taking part in the agreement, nor did it inspire anybody (or the union itself) to blow the whistle on the whole shady affair.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I read The Animation Guild Blog a lot and very often you’ll see Steve talk about a story of a union member complaining about working unpaid overtime.

      So Steve tells the artist that he can get the wages for that person but he needs them to file a grievance. Then, nothing. They’re too afraid to take a stand.

      The point is we could have the government, lawyers, unions, all the labor protection in the world, but in the end the workers need to initiate something.

      The opposition organizes and in this case colludes against us to get what they feel is fair. All I am saying is we should organize and get what we feel is fair.

  3. Predrag says:

    Not to try sounding apologetic in any way, but I believe none of these guys were doing it in order to drive down wages. Their primary goal for these mutual non-poaching agreement was to prevent any possible disclosure of corporate secrets and IP. While non-disclosure agreements in this industry are common and widespread, it is also known that poached executives and experts usually happily give away their old employer’s strategic details. Everyone is acutely aware how unreliable those NDAs are, and how it takes years, as well as massive amounts of money, to exert one’s ‘pound in flesh’ from the offending party through the legal system. Rather than spending years in court suing Adobe and their new strategic chief (say, former Apple COO) for obviously taking Apple’s ideas and putting them into their products, the two companies make mutual non-poaching agreement and nobody needs to sue anybody.

    I’m not sure if any labour union would possibly be able to prevent these practices, as they would simply continue to exist underground, without any formal paper trail.

    • Predrag says:

      In other words, Disney/Pixar doesn’t want their animator to go to DreamWorks and take with him all the skills, practices, conventions and bags of tricks that he has over the years acquired at Pixar, and that cumulatively represent Pixar’s unmistakable magic and visual style.

  4. tk1099 says:

    Predrang,

    I would like to point out the undeniable move from contracts to ‘run of picture deals’. If retaining talent was a priority, longer contracts would be the norm.

    I would go so far as to say that there is therefore incentive for facilities is to move toward wage standardization and lowered talent competition. They can then quickly retool from project to project, establish predictable labor costs and reduce overhead between shows. The question is really then, how much of this is competitive cooperation and where does collusion start?

    The Disney/Dreamworks talent battles and those resulting wages were a prime example of what happens when there is a pure, no-holds fight over talent. Should that be more the norm?

    VFX wages should be at least double what they currently are.

    I’m finding it extremely hard to care whether our film gods need 800 vfx shots to tell their story. I am truly sorry that you can only afford 400 without us sacrificing our health and personal relationships via 80 hour work weeks and lack of portable benefits.

    That is why we are here, I assume.

    We want some better balance of money/hours, the competitive freedom we would get from portable benefits and a collective voice where artists can negotiate issues with an involved party on the other side of the table. If I am alone here, I would like to hear it.

    VFX Artists need a union. Through it we collectively bargain for portable benefits, wage minimums, end-career benefits and to have that collective voice.

    The facilities better get their asses together and start talking, although reading the above, it appears that Lucasfilm and Pixar apparently did too much. If the artists do have develop a collective voice, I’d point to Scott Ross’ proposed Trade Organization as an entity that better exist quickly.

    That is, of course, if the facilities want a foundational say in the shape of the inevitable negotiating table.

    • vfxguy says:

      “VFX wages should be at least double what they currently are”

      What the heck have you been smoking?

      • tk1099 says:

        Did you actually read the article above? The TINY vfx wage economy has allegedly been illegally corrupted by some of its top level employers. We have no idea what wages in VFX should be.

        Until we see a fundamental change in clients to avoid ‘crunch’ – we’re not charging enough.

      • Eric says:

        What’s the problem with that? For the number of hours that are put in, it would work out to be that much if they had to pay OT.

  5. […] Department’s investigation revealed. Behind our backs they colluded to drive wages down.via Poach-gate Scandal: VFX Idol Steve Jobs Involved « VFX Soldier. This story written by Randall Hand Randall Hand is a visualization scientist working for a federal […]

  6. monkeywithatoolbelt says:

    What if you were unwittingly the victim of this collusion? What recourse does one have, if, say, they were employed at Lucasfilm, applied at Pixar, went through the entire interview, negotiation process, and then was told that the position was no longer open and not given a reason?

    Sure, there’s competition for the job. Sure they take into account numerous factors such as experience, references, salary requirements, availability. But what if all the indicators pointed in a particular direction, the numbers worked out, the schedule was beneficial to both parties, the references were all very strong *internal* references (“I was talking to my supe, he totally wants you in here!”), and yet still…

    There probably isn’t substantive evidence in this anecdote to make a claim that any real damage was done, or that collusion was involved. Employers don’t owe a candidates an explanation for their refusal, necessarily. (However, it is generally the professional course.) The only coincident factors would be time frame and circumstances surrounding the process (the parties involved, qualifications, etc).

    I ask, because I know this must have impacted more than a handful of job applicants. What do they do if this collusion seriously impacted their professional lives?

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Well the case is already ahead of you a bit. The department of justice found against the companies involved. That has paved the way for a class action lawsuit where if you were an employee of one of the companies during the time of the agreement, you may be able to get a cut of the settlement if it happens.

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  8. […] of Justice found VFX powerhouses like Pixar and ILM engaged in collusion and we now learn Steve Jobs was […]

  9. […] Poach-gate Scandal: VFX Idol Steve Jobs Involved […]

  10. […] other news last year one of the big stories in the LucasFilm/Pixar Poach-gate scandal was Apple CEO Steve Job’s personal involvement. It now appears new Apple CEO Tim Cook must take the […]

  11. […] Three years ago I was wrote about an anti-poaching agreement revealed in a Federal investigation between Pixar and ILM. The case later expanded to reveal that not only were big high-tech companies like Google and Apple were involved, but these anti-poaching agreements were designed by CEOs like Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, and Meg Whitman. […]

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