Posted above is a statement I received from The Animation Guild. I’m going to tell you two stories and let you be the judge.
Big VFX Facility Retirement Benefits
I was laid off at a visual effects facility after almost 3 years of service. I wasn’t eligible for any benefits until after my first year of work. After luckily keeping my job for a year I got a 401k retirement account where the employer would contribute matching funds (free money) up to 5% of my salary into the account. Most facilities these days don’t even offer a match. The only problem is that you aren’t fully vested in those matched funds unless you have worked there for 4 years. So when I was laid off I basically lost 75% of the thousands of dollars my employer put into my 401k.
Big VFX Facility Healthcare
I also paid for health insurance provided by the employer through an HMO. After I was laid off I had one month to find my own health insurance or pay for the one provided by the employer through a mechanism called COBRA. You realize why it’s named after a venomous snake when you see the price for it.
Guild Organized Facility
Fast forward to another facility this time that was under an Animation Guild contract. I voluntarily leave after 2 years for reasons unrelated to the guild. The guild provides every employee with three retirement plans:
The Individual Account Plan
Nothing comes out of your pocket for this account, it is fully funded by the employer and residuals from films produced by the big 6 studios. After 2 years I have almost $14,000 in the account. I am fully vested in that amount after only 400 hours of work which turned out to be the first 8 weeks each year. If I had continued to stay with a guild facility, I would have expected at least $6000 to be put into that account every year.
The Defined Benefit Plan
Again, no money out of my pocket for this one however this one is a little harder to get but it’s icing on the cake. You need to have 5 qualified years in the guild. So if I manage to get 400 hours at a guild facility every year, after 5 years I would be eligible for monthly pension income when I retire until I die. A guild member of 15 years would get $983 a month.
The 401k Plan
This is one you chose to pay into. Money is taken out of each paycheck you get and put into this retirement account and you essentially get to defer paying taxes on this. If you leave to another guild facility, you don’t have to do anything.
The Guild Healthcare
The residuals also pay for what probably is the best health insurance in the film industry. After I left the guild contracted facility, I found out that I could continue to be fully covered by that plan for another 17 months and not have to pay a dime. That’s right, a year and a half of the best health insurance I ever had for free. I used that as leverage against my next employer to boost my pay since I didn’t need to use their crappy health insurance.
You Be The Judge
Now consider if every vfx facility signed a guild contract. You wouldn’t have to negotiate for retirement or health benefits since they are handled by the guild. The benefits are portable so you can go to another facility with no need to wait on employer vesting periods. If you do go to a non-guild facility, you can maintain your benefits because of the amount of time in a bank you build up with the guild and essentially use that as leverage for higher pay.
The fact that most vfx artists don’t realize this is an amazing win for the studios and facilities. As this trend continues, it will only have to get worse before it can get better. All you have to do is sign a rep card.