Could A Labor Organization Save VFX Facilities?

Residuals paid to the IATSE health and retirement fund over the years.

When I was working at a facility that had a bargaining agreement with IATSE local 839, The Animation Guild, I found the benefits to be in abundance:

  • Individual Account Plan – A retirement account completely employer funded.
  • Defined Benefit Plan – A traditional pension plan that was also employer funded.
  • 401k – No vesting periods, funded by employee.
  • PPO health insurance – No deductibles , no co-pays.

As I explained in previous posts, I was able to keep my health insurance almost 2 years after voluntarily leaving for a non-guild facility. Benefits were also portable if you go to another guild facility and there are no extra costs to include family members. When I explain to my fellow co-workers that I paid about $400 a year in dues for such great benefits their response is the same:

It must be too good to be true.

For a while my sentiments were the same and that my employer was probably paying through the roof for my guild negotiated benefits. However, after doing some research in how those benefits are funded, a strong case could be made that organization of VFX Facilities could actually save them money. If anything, it would probably be wash since the health and retirement benefits the guild provides would replace employer-provided benefits.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the national average employers pay for benefits on top of employees’ salaries is about 30%. According to industry sources, that’s about in line with what VFX facilities pay on top of artist salaries. One commenter on my blog claims it to be 50%!

So how much would organization actually cost? Well according to sources in the IATSE, the national labor organization that The Animation Guild is a part of, a guild employer would have to pay the following for each worker:

  • about $4 per hour worked plus about a 6% contribution into the IAP (Individual Account Plan).

I estimate the IAP contribution to be about $6000 a year. If you want to see how that number is calculated go here but lets make an assumption and calculate the amount based on an artist’s salary.

  • Assume an artist works 40 hours per week for a total of 2080 hours a year.
  • Assume that artist makes $48 an hour for a nice even salary total of about $100,000 per year.

The total amount an employer would probably have to pay to the guild would calculate to be about $14,500 per year. (*Correction – this amount isn’t paid to the guild, it is paid into the health and pension benefits. The only money paid to the guild are the dues paid by workers.) That’s far less than the national average of 30% employers pay to administer benefits.

How is it possible for the guild to provide better benefits at a more competitive price? The answer is in residuals and the economics of scale.

Residuals

This is the biggest discovery that many of us fail to make. Members of the IATSE earn residuals from the big 6 studios that directly fund the health, retirement, and pension benefits they recieve. Everytime a theater ticket, DVD, or re-run of a movie or television show is sold, a percentage of that money goes to fund benefits for IATSE members.

You are probably thinking that would amount to a lot of money and it is.

In 2008, residual income for benefits amounted to $378 million dollars! For 2009 that number is projected to be $365 million. This is why the IATSE is able to provide such great benefits at a low cost to employers and members. 55-60% of the costs for those benefits are paid for by the big 6 studios with residuals earned from sales of movies and television shows worldwide.

Economics of Scale

If you were to purchase health insurance individually, you’ll find that it’s really expensive. Part of the reason why is that it’s costly to adminster a plan just for you. Also, as an individual you have very little bargaining power with large insurance companies. However, if you join a group of people that need health insurance, you would have more bargaining power and the costs can be spread across the group making it cheaper. Like many employers, some VFX houses are able to get health insurance for their workers at a less expensive price because they can employ 200-1000 workers and bargain a bit.

The same can be said for the IATSE on a much larger scale. They sign collective bargaining agreements with hundreds of employers in the US and Canada which employ almost 120,000 members. When you combine the shear scale of the number of members and the residuals that pay into those benefits, you begin to realize how such good benefits are provided at a good price.

It’s important to note that the costs of healthcare have been rising throughout the world. The same can be said of the guild benefits. However, they have the organization to keep costs down and make sure that the rise in health care costs are slower than the national and worldwide average. They are able to accomplish this by offering their own set of clinics members can choose to visit at a lower cost and they recently increased the number of qualifying hours per year from 400 to 450.

I believe as more VFX artists become educated about organization, the more likely it will happen. We need portable benefits as we move from facility to facility, project to project. The guild has already been providing that for almost the last 50 years to thousands of workers. The question is whether we will choose to organize sooner or 40-50 years later down the line.

Eventually we will look back on this time and history will ask this question: In the midst of one of our industry’s darkest hours, did we stand up to answer the call? Perhaps the answer is right here.

Soldier On.

43 Responses to Could A Labor Organization Save VFX Facilities?

  1. Excellent points! Not only could there be financial benefits to organization, but the vfx studios would reap the intangible benefits of employing a workforce that has the peace of mind of health coverage and a pension plan that is portable and completely funded by the industry that they give so much to.

    There is one statement you made that I’d like to correct:

    The total amount an employer would probably have to pay to the guild would calculate to be about $14,500 per year.

    The Guild never receives pension or health payments. All payments that are made for Guild health and pension benefit contributions are made directly to Motion Picture Pension and Health.

  2. Scott Squires tweets of his re-post of your post, which I retweeted. Did I say that right?

    @scott_squires: vfxsoldier post- Could unionization save #vfx facilities? Link on my blog. http://tinyurl.com/2b3n9wq

  3. Scott Holmes says:

    I am curious as to why the guild needs to unionize an entire facility as opposed to allowing individuals to becomes union members and have non-union studios deal with the guild and paying guild costs on an individual basis. Also, has the Guild reached out to SAG, WGA, and DGA to see if they would support requiring their unionized productions to use union post production facilities?

    • vfxsoldier says:

      Hi Scott,

      I suspect the problem with removing the mandate that all members at a facility be a part of a guild is that facilities could basically choose to hire non-guild members only.

      I don’t know if the IATSE has “reached out” to SAG, WGA, DGA. Unless we are members of a guild we are basically on our own individually negotiating our deals. With a guild there are strength in numbers.

    • skaplan839 says:

      Hello Scott!

      Organizing an entire facility has multiple reasons. Most of our organization is rooted in the labor force asking that we represent them in bargaining for their work contract. If we attempted to organize a small selection of the organization, say the modelers or texture artists, the facility could petition the NLRB and state that the group we are asking to organize doesn’t represent the labor force and redefine the size to encompass the group as a whole. They would do this to sway an election in their favor assuming we don’t have a consensus for representation from the whole group.

      Also, due to the nature of the residual structure, we can not offer membership to individuals. Facilities that do the work that fall under our jurisdiction are able to fund the pension and health plans through said work.

  4. Thinker says:

    Money doesn’t come from no where. The only potential benefit is the economy of scale… and even that is somewhat negligible.

    You can’t calculate $14,500 and then ignore the residuals. Where do you think that money comes from? And you 30% calculation is based on an avg salary of $100,000 a year? hahaha.

    Lets think a bit before posting an argument based on a completely false premise and made up numbers.

    • vfxsoldier says:

      The studios pay the 55-60% of the health and benefits for IA members, the rest is paid for by the employers which I calculated above.

      You seem to imply you have better knowledge on these number. Well be my guest and provide us with your numbers. I’ve shown you mine and sited my sources.

      • Thinker says:

        uhhh….

        “…One commenter on my blog claims it to be 50%!”

        “Assume that artist makes $48 an hour for a nice even salary total of about $100,000 per year.”

        Great sources…. who needs wikipedia when we have random blog posts.

  5. vfxsoldier says:

    @Thinker

    How about you state your numbers?

    You won’t. Why? Because you probably don’t work in the industry. If you are going to come here to troll I’m going to have to ask you go back to hiding under your bridge.

    • Thinker says:

      What do you mean my numbers? I don’t have numbers… I haven’t done the research just as you haven’t!🙂

      I think the examples I gave are good enough. A blog commentator saying 50% doesn’t make it true. If that was the case then I carry as much legitimacy as he does. Also, how many of the animators reading this post make $100,000 a year as part of a studio? I think we all know the answer to that.

      I don’t know how I got roped into a blog post debate, but it was fun. thanks!

      • vfxsoldier says:

        I’m dedicating my next post just for you.

      • Jodie Hudson says:

        Hey thinker, I think you might have a few things mixed up, he said one commentator said it was 50% but he didn’t use that number afterwards, he used the 30 percent who’s sources he sited. Also he doesn’t need evidence for the $100,000 figure, because he’s using a percentage of a person’s income for his article. I believe he choose that figure to drive home that even if a visual effects studio had an employee making $100,000, he would only have to pay $14,500, from the link he posts, out of 100,000 dollars if they went union. Or it may be simply because it’s a nice rounded number to make the calculations from the TAG link he posts. It’s also easier to then contrast the result of $14,500 against the national average of 30%. Like I don’t know what 30 percent of 42,845 is, I would need a calculator, which would distract my attention away from the article, but I don’t have to even stop reading to know what 30% of $100,000 is. I think it’s always good to ask questions, and challenge people’s figures and data, but I think it’s important to ask the right kinds of questions and then determine whether somebody is right or wrong. Maybe there are other costs or issues the VFX Soldier is not talking about that non-union studios would incur if they went union because they would hurt his case, I don’t know, but I don’t think the questions you asked will answer any of that. I don’t want to come off as consecending or anything, and feel free to point out or correct any of the assumptions I’ve made in this post, you two. Just reading you guy’s posts, I don’t really like a fundamental battle over each other’s opposing points of view but a slight misunderstanding. Given that both of you guys aren’t using your real names, I dare say you two might be friends or co-workers and not even know it🙂

      • Jodie Hudson says:

        Yeah…sorry, that’s a little long…

      • Thinker says:

        Hey Jodie,

        These are not exactly related, just picking at some glaring examples:

        – My point about the 50% is the implication that is at least 30% or AS MUCH AS 50% … it feels like Geico telling me I could up to 15% or more on car insurance.

        – My point about the $100K figure is that he is making it seem like benefits for TAG are so much lower. So $14,500 out of $100,000 seems really low, 14% – but if you assume an avg salary of $60K which is more accurate, it comes to 25%, which is probably just about in line with employer benefit costs.

    • Jodie Hudson says:

      Hey Thinker,

      I can see merit in your point. I kind of just diregarded the 50 percent when I read it because it’s so high but I don’t think it’s fair to ask readers to glance over figures that seem unreasonably high and still be willing to believe other claim you make, VFX soldier. I don’t know who told you that figure and if he request anomonousity or if he just mentioned it in a casual conversation and would be surprised to see his name on this blog, and I understand the nature of journalism is that sometimes you can’t give up your sources, but I think the more fantastical the claim, the more evidence the journalist should feel he should rightfully give to get his readers(artist and studios) to trust him. So you’re right on that one Thinker, I’m sorry, that’s a pretty good question to ask and get verification for. So is there any way possible you could substantiate the 50%, VFX soldier?

      The second one though, correct me if I’m wrong, while 14,500 is about 25% of 60,000, wouldn’t the figure be lower than 14,500 for a salary of 60,000? That number that employers pay has to change if the salary changes. Part of the cost is based on an exact cost of 30.5 cents and the number of hours which will be about the same for everybody if they work 40 hours a week, but the other part is based on 6 percent of your weekly income for the number of weeks worked. This is correct, right?

      • vfxsoldier says:

        Hi Jodie,

        Thanks for reading my blog, I haven’t had time to get back to your question until tonight. The 30% figure is verified from government statistics and a protected source in the vfx industry. I also casually mentioned a commenter on my blog saying the figure was more like 50%. Will that prevent me from winning the Pulitzer Prize? I guess so, however it doesn’t take away from the fact that health and retirement benefits are huge overheard costs on top of artist salaries.

        For example, the Kaiser Foundation did a study that shows the annual average price of health insurance for an employee is $13,375. It’s no wonder why employers increase the burden of those costs onto the worker.

        Pertaining to your second question, you are on the money: The guild costs to the employer would be lower than the 14,500 figure for a person making 60K. The employer would have to pay about $12,550 a year. When you compare that number to the $13,375 average price for just health insurance you realize how important a discovery this is:

        The $13,375 figure is for a health plan with a $1000 deductible, The guild health plan has no deductibles or co-pays and also includes 3 retirement accounts. It’s more cost effective for the employer, and provides better benefits for the employee. The reason why is mostly because 55-60% of those benefits are paid by studio residuals.

      • Winston Smith says:

        “The reason why is mostly because 55-60% of those benefits are paid by studio residuals.”

        The Motion Picture Industry Pension & Health Plans benefits are indeed quite generous considering the low cost to each individual artist. To each artist, this almost may seem like a getting something for nothing (or very little) deal. Which, most rational people would agree, is not really what’s going on here. The money for those great benefits has to come from some where. As vfxsoldier states, most of it comes from studio residuals. This is of course a great deal for artists, as long as the studio residuals keep pumping-out the money. But, just how “secure” is this source of funding?

        According to IATSE:

        “By 2012, the combination of rising healthcare costs and the need to fund the pension will produce a deficit in your MPI Health Plan of more than $580 million.”

        http://www.iatse-intl.org/publications/IATSE_Organizer_Apr10_WEB.pdf

        From the same IATSE newsletter:

        “One question many Plan members have voiced is: How can your MPI Health Plans be under such intense economic duress when Hollywood-made films like Avatar are breaking global records and 2009’s overall domestic box office gross was $10.594 billion? How could a banner year for Hollywood studios result in lowered employer contributions into both the Health and Pensions Plans of 73 million total hours, six million hours less than in 2007? The answer is you need to look at the whole picture. The primary source of income flowing into your MPI Health Plans comes from supplemental markets, i.e.. DVD sales, foreign markets and sales into network television, etc., not from box office revenues.”

        In other words, residuals alone are not nearly enough to make up any funding shortfall.

        Other actions taken by IATSE are also not enough to make-up the shortfall:

        “While the IATSE has gone the extra mile in protecting your MPI Health Plan (through preparations noted above like spending down reserves, and increasing employer contributions at the bargaining table) the storm is just too intense to weather by such methods alone.”

        Bottom line. Artist should expect to pay more of their share of their health care costs AND expect more limited services.

      • Jodie Hudson says:

        Hey VFX soldier,

        You should probably rethink the pulitzer prize thing. I hear it looks good on your resume🙂 But seriously I wasn’t trying to say your article was unreadable or filled with speculation and unverified facts, I was just saying I could understand where the Thinker would have a problem with the 50 percent figure thown out there casually. You did have sources for the 30 percent, and I don’t think we need names of the people for that figure or anything because I think we all trust you on that figure.

        I got a question. From what I understand, The Animation Guild only has studios in California under them. Is this true and is there like a practical or logical reason they are not in other states?

        Anyways keep up the good work, your blog is very informative!

  6. vfxsoldier says:

    @winston

    Health care costs have been skyrocketing not only for the guild, but for the nation and the rest of the world.

    The IATSE has negotiated deals to bend the curve as much as possible but they are still on the rise.

    The question is Winston, what is your solution?

    At non-union facilities artists are having their health insurance replaced with incredible high deductible plans. The TAG blog did a comparison of the guild plan with Digital Domains… DD didnt even come close to the guild’s superior plan:

    http://animationguildblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/battling-health-plans.html

    Anyone can stand on the sideline an nitpick about how things are generally bad in the world. Hell that would make my job easy.

    The question remains. What’s YOUR solution?

    • vfxsoldier says:

      This post is revelant:
      http://animationguildblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/health-care-choices-and-socialism.html

      Health Care Inflation — 2008 (est.)
      China 19.6%
      Hong Kong 9.1%
      Philippines 11.5%
      Russia 15.7%
      Saudi Arabia 16.3%
      Singapore 7.5%
      South Africa 12.6%

      France 7.3%
      Italy 11.3%
      Netherlands 6.0%
      Switzerland 6.0%
      United Kingdom 8.0%
      Brazil 7.2%
      Canada 12.0%
      Chile 7.1%
      Mexico 12.6%
      United States 11.0%
      Venezuela 25.0%

      The guild health plan? It’s rising 9.5% Rather than gutting sick people from the plan they are trying to bend the cost curve. While the costs are going up, they are doing it better than most countries.

    • Winston Smith says:

      Pointing-out a projected MPI health plan deficit of OVER A HALF-BILLION DOLLAZ is hardly nit-picking – it’s more like slapping the arse of the elephant standing in the middle of the room. My point is that the generous health benefits offered by IATSE are most likely unsustainable. As both you and IATSE acknowledge, studio residuals and “bending the cost curve down” will still result in an estimated $580 million shortfall by 2012.

      How will that deficit be dealt with? My guess is that benefits will be reduced or eliminated. Out-of-pocket expenses for artist will be increased. Perhaps TAG may be forced to switch to a high-deductible plan (like DD) in order to keep premiums affordable. I guess you can say these are my short term “solutions”. Not very satisfactory, I know, if you are happy with your current generous but inexpensive union health benefits, but there you go. I don’t think that there are any easy/painless ways to make-up a $580 million deficit.

      IATSE most likely will have to try to get more studio residuals in order to help fill the health plan deficit hole. I would hope that IATSE and other union heads are thinking about this collectively when they negotiate their next round of CBA’s. Do they have the pull do be able to get residuals from domestic theatrical release? Hmmm. Best to let Steve Hulett and Steven Kaplan address that issue.

      Then there’s this. By 2018, under PPACA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patient_Protection_and_Affordable_Care_Act) a 40% excise tax will be levied on high cost “Cadillac” health insurance plans (the tax is on the cost of coverage in excess of $27,500 (family coverage) and $10,200 (individual coverage)). Will the currently generous union health benefits be subject to this 40% excise tax? I don’t know. Again, that’s a question for TAG & IATSE. When this excise tax was originally proposed, IATSE was pretty pissed-off:

      http://www.iatse-intl.org/news/pr_01192010.html

      Last minute lobbying resulted in the union health care plans being exempted from this tax for now, kicking the problem down the road to 2018.

      My long term solution (not that I like this solution, but it seems to be the only inevitable option): each artist buys individual health insurance coverage on the Federal government’s health insurance exchanges, with government subsidized insurance premiums indexed to incomes. If you believe in hope and change, then this solution is going to workout just fine for all of us, right?

      • vfxsoldier says:

        @winston

        I had a funny feeling about you withholding some information.

        I looked at the first article you point to and the IA is honest in saying that because of the rise in health costs, they will have a $580 million shortfall.

        What you conveniently glanced over was how the IA was going to address that shortfall which would lead to savings of $584 million.

        In fact they explicitly state that there STILL will be no premiums or co-pays which is quite dishonest of you state the opposite.

  7. Winston Smith says:

    I had funny feeling that YOU would accuse me of something or another.

    Obviously, I added the link to the IATSE memo so that you and readers could check the source reference for yourselves. Hardly the sign of someone trying to “withhold” information n’est-ce pas?

    I didn’t “glance over” anything. I specifically quoted the following IATSE statement:

    “While the IATSE has gone the extra mile in protecting your MPI Health Plan (through preparations noted above like spending down reserves, and increasing employer contributions at the bargaining table) the storm is just too intense to weather by such methods alone.”

    These methods are what you are referring to when you say that IATSE has “saved” $584 million in order to address the estimated $580 million shortfall in 2012.

    But you have read the memo incorrectly. Those methods were/are being used to address funding problems in the CURRENT “single Contract cycle” (2009 to 2012). The PROJECTED deficit in 2012 is IN SPITE OF the aforementioned methods (and “savings”) used to date:

    “By 2012, the combination of rising healthcare costs and the need to fund the pension will produce a deficit in your MPI Health Plan of more than $580 million. In fact, the economics that the IATSE has had to reckon in making preparations to protect your Health Plan for just a single Contract cycle (new employer contributions of roughly $164 million, and an additional $35 million when additional 15 cents ($.15) per hour is triggered, spending down reserves in excess of $187 million, and negotiated Health Plan design changes of more than $233 million) reveal a staggering figure of nearly $600 million just to keep pace with the “perfect storm” described above.”

    The memo does NOT state that there will be no premiums or co-pays in the FUTURE, 2012 and beyond. It says:

    “…MPI Plans remain alone in the film and television industry for having no participant premium co-pays…”

    The memo clearly is referring to NOW, under the current CBA.

    In regards your previous statement:

    “The guild health plan? It’s rising 9.5% Rather than gutting sick people from the plan they are trying to bend the cost curve.”

    From the memo:

    “For so many of you, the rise in eligibility hours from 300 to 400 (which does not commence until August 2011) remains a large and threatening number; but even after such changes, MPI eligibility requirements will still remain the lowest in the industry. MPI Actives working a little more than 5 days per month will retain coverage; and the increase in eligibility hours in the 2009 Basic Agreement will impact less than 10 percent of Plan Participants.”

    While it’s not exactly “gutting sick people from the plan”, it is in fact an admission that up to 10% of current Plan Participants may not retain their coverage come August 2011, correct?

    Dishonest? Did you actually READ the memo?

    • vfxsoldier says:

      The irony in your latest post is in an attempt at accusing me of not reading your source, you basically admit to not reading my article.

      Read my article. I pointed out that health care costs are rising and the plan had been addressing the issue by changing changing the hours for eligibility.

      I never said healthcare issues would be solved by joining a union. I said workers and the facilities would be better off.

      • Winston Smith says:

        Clearly I was being sarcastic when I asked if you READ the memo. What I should really ask, sarcasm off, is did you UNDERSTAND what you read. Seems like you got a little confused by what the IATSE memo actually said.

        Yes, in your original post you did mention that one of the methods used by the Plan to lower its health costs was by increasing hours for eligibility. But in a later reply you made the comment about the Plan “not gutting sick people…” My point is that the Plan, according to IATSE, may drop up to 10% of its current participants by implementing these increasing hours for eligibility. Clearly, the Plan will be turning-away a not insignificant number of artists in order to lower costs.

        The larger purpose of my replies is not to belittle the IATSE health benefits. Clearly, they are a good deal in the absence of comparable company provided benefits. My larger point is that this good deal, according to IATSE, is unsustainable by 2012. Will workers be better off healthcare/insurance-wise by joining a union? Today, probably many would benefit. Tomorrow? I’m not so sure.

        BTW, after RE-reading your article, I noticed this:

        “Everytime a theater ticket, … is sold, a percentage of that money goes to fund benefits for IATSE members.”

        This is incorrect. Per the IATSE memo:

        “The primary source of income flowing into your MPI Health Plans comes from supplemental markets, i.e.. DVD sales, foreign markets and sales into network television, etc., not from box office revenues.”

        Were YOU being dishonest with your claim about “theatre tickets” i.e. box office revenues being a source of residuals? I think you just got that one wrong.

        Also, you gush about the flow of residuals:

        “In 2008, residual income for benefits amounted to $378 million dollars! For 2009 that number is projected to be $365 million.”

        But contrast your positive vibe with that of the IATSE memo:

        “Skyrocketing health care costs are just one part of the problem; residuals from supplemental markets and
        Post 60’s, which have helped to strengthen MPIHP reserves over the last decade, dropped 12 percent industry-wide in 2009, representing a loss of income to the Health Plan of more than $17 million.”

        IATSE is clearly more concerned about a significant DOWNWARD trend in residuals.

        OK – Good Night!

    • Steve Kaplan says:

      Winston –

      Such a change from you, sir! Its hard to recognize you without your Fawkes mask and your customary “More to come ..” tagline. Good to see your union-bashing hasn’t changed.

      Without having specifics, because they haven’t been given to me, and because I haven’t the ability to see into the future (which has been a skill many seem to claim to have as of late), you are correct about the possible and planned changes to the MPI Health Plan. Eligibility hours will increase which will effect the Bank of Hours usage and warnings seem to have been made regarding the funding of the MPI Health Plan. Steve Hulett posted about the MPI plan funding and the possible changes to the Health Plan in a TAG blog post (http://animationguildblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/weak-math.html).

      However, giving Obama’s Health Insurance Exchanges as a viable alternative is a bit alarmist. The advantage to the MPI plans is the afore mentioned Economics of Scale. The plans are as generous as you mention because of the strength of bargaining as a whole that the IA can do. Even with belief in “hope and change”, I personally have trouble swallowing that the cost and benefits of the plans, *because* they are indexed to incomes, will be more beneficial than the MPI’s Health Plans funded by the employers and residual structure.

      Since we’re speculating and starting fires, allow me a turn at the crystal ball. I so very much hate speculation, but since it seems to be all the rage:
      { PRECOG }
      Does that mean that costs to the beneficiaries of the plan will increase? It could. Does it mean that the Health Plans will disappear and/or the mentioned cost increases will break the budgets or even equal the costs of current self-purchased or company provided health plans? I highly doubt it. Will Guild members be without healh coverage? Absolutely not. Will that coverage be more advantageous than what the government will mandate the public be a part of? I’m betting on it.

      “Bottom line. Artist should expect to pay more of their share of their health care costs AND expect more limited services.” A fair statement? It could be. I’d also add, that artists under Guild representation should also sleep well knowing that any extra costs that are introduced are still more beneficial than finding health care individually or by the yet-to-be-introduced Federal Health Insurace Exchanges. I certainly hope that you find yourself working at a union-represented facility so the resistance movement can at least be led by someone in decent health.
      { /PRECOG }

      • Winston Smith says:

        Mr. Kaplan,

        Thank you for your reply.

        In regards to your comment, “Good to see your union-bashing hasn’t changed.” See my comment, “The larger purpose of my replies is not to belittle the IATSE health benefits. Clearly, they are a good deal in the absence of comparable company provided benefits.” Hardly “union-bashing.” I realize that you frequently have to deal with a lot of anti-union rhetoric, but if you fail to accept an even-handed comment like that, then you clearly have have your pro-union blinders on.

        “Without having specifics, because they haven’t been given to me, ”

        Your a union organizer. Why are you waiting for the specifics to be GIVEN to you. Go GET them. Don’t you think that informed prospective union members might ask you about the specifics of this issue? I would. Seems to be a big enough concern to IATSE that they issued a memo about it.

        “and because I haven’t the ability to see into the future (which has been a skill many seem to claim to have as of late)”

        Intelligent, pro-active, responsible people and organizations usually make a good faith attempt, based upon the best available data and expert advice, to speculate about their future financial status in order to PLAN for a bunch of several positive to negative outcomes. They make an educated guess. The alternative to this is to do nothing and hope for the best. Clearly IATSE and the Plan, as evidenced by that memo, are working to their best “ability to see into the future”.

        “you are correct about the possible and planned changes to the MPI Health Plan”

        And Steve Hulett’s comments underscore the point that I was making, that the generous union benefits are facing increasing financial demands from each artist and reduction in benefits: “So, if you’re a health plan participant who’s wondered why medical costs go up and coverage goes down every thirty-six months, now you’ve got your answer. Over the past decade, Plan outgo has exceeded Plan income each and every year, and to close the gap contract negotiators have hammered out changes to lower health coverage costs: medical co-pays have grown larger, out-of-pocket costs for pharmaceutical drugs have gone up, hospital deductibles have risen. Etcetera.” (http://animationguildblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/weak-math.html)

        “The advantage to the MPI plans is the afore mentioned Economics of Scale. The plans are as generous as you mention because of the strength of bargaining as a whole that the IA can do.”

        I agree that the MPI plans have the advantage of the economics of scale. But, in 2018, those generous health benefits may be subject to a 40% excise tax. That’s so onerous that IATSE issued a pretty terse protest memo earlier this year when it was thought that this excise tax on “cadillac” health plans was going to affect union health plans immediately. As I mentioned before, this has been pushed back to 2018 at the earliest.

        “Even with belief in “hope and change”, I personally have trouble swallowing that the cost and benefits of the plans, *because* they are indexed to incomes, will be more beneficial than the MPI’s Health Plans funded by the employers and residual structure.”

        Well, I agree with you on this point. I don’t think that individual health plans bought through a government insurance exchange will be better or cheaper than the current union plan. But given that the PPACA is targeting “cadillac” health insurance plans as a source of funding, I wouldn’t be too confident on the unions to be able to maintain their current high-benefits/low-cost model after 2018.

        “However, giving Obama’s Health Insurance Exchanges as a viable alternative is a bit alarmist.”

        I don’t mean to be alarmist. I’m being realistic. PPACA (health care reform) is the LAW. Unless it is repealed, it will determine the lay of the land for ALL health insurance plans in the US. Come 2018, please correct me if I’m wrong, “cadillac” health plans will be subject to a 40% excise tax. This tax is to be paid by the insurance companies, but I’m pretty sure that they will pass this on to their customers.

        “I’d also add, that artists under Guild representation should also sleep well knowing that any extra costs that are introduced are still more beneficial than finding health care individually or by the yet-to-be-introduced Federal Health Insurace Exchanges.”

        I would say, sleep well, but with one eye open. Don’t assume anything. Artists need to pay attention to these issues and not simply assume that IATSE has it all under control. I recognize that they are doing their best for their membership, but as admitted in the memo, there are larger negative economic forces at work that the union has little to no control over.

        “I certainly hope that you find yourself working at a union-represented facility so the resistance movement can at least be led by someone in decent health.”

        Nah, I’m planning on opening my own non-union sweat shop in some god awful hell-hole third-world country. Already my back hurts, my eyes are bad, my wrist hurts, my hair is turning white and falling-out, my balls ache – can’t see doing this until I’m 70.

        As for the Resistance (please, capital “R”), I’M not the leader. I’m just another anonymous vfx artist/pixel-pusher making cool shots for crappy movies. I think I work down the hall from vfxsoldier. Or at least, I think he might be vfxsoldier. At best, I might be like a person or small group that starts “The Wave” at a football stadium. There is no “leader”. It just IS, until it ISN’T.

        And, just for you Steve – more to come…

  8. Greetings again Winston –

    So, as the level-headed, non-Guild member, voice of the Resistance and Reason,(please note the requested capitals), you wanted to make sure that we are all aware that the Health Plan, albeit the better option to purchasing coverage singly or the soon-to-come Federal Health Insurance Exchange, could undergo a change that could bring added expense to its beneficiaries.

    And your desire was to make sure current, soon to be and hopeful Guild members were aware of these changes since VFX Soldier and I only laud the positives and don’t bring the possible negatives.

    Well, in the spirit of fairness and full disclosure, I tip my hat to your enlightened and informative posts. I have no desire to obfuscate or hide information that is pertinent to discussions regarding the union, its policies or benefits. I am not in the practice of speculation, and as stated before, am not privy to all the facts at hand. When I do have facts, I bring them to bear, regardless of the side of the fence they fall upon.

    There is a District 2 IATSE Business Associates meeting soon that I have been invited to attend. I will be sure to ask these questions as they have been brought to me. If I’m given any response other than a terse look and a brush off, I’ll let you know.

    Finally, I most certainly would *NOT* like to hear that you’ve opened a sweat shop in a hell hole. You certainly sound like you deserve more. I most certainly hope that you currently work with Soldier and become fast friends. Where is it you work? If you don’t want to say, feel free to email me at skaplan@animationguild.org. I wouldn’t mind talking to you about organization. We could certainly offer you some decent medical coverage for all those ailments.
    🙂

    • Winston Smith says:

      Mr. Kaplan,

      Not to be coy, but perhaps you already know me.

      Maybe I’m really vfxsoldier doing an alter ego thing. Or maybe I’m Steve Hulett. Or Michael Bay. Okay, I’m definitely NOT Michael Bay.

      I genuinely respect you for putting yourself out there and weathering all the slings and arrows to fight the good fight.

      But for me, for now, like vfxsoldier – the warm cloak of anonymity fits best.

      I can do more damage this way😉

      Definitely, more to come…

  9. […] Since about 60% of the plan is already paid by studios through residuals, the vfx facilities may actually save a lot of money going this route. I write about that in this article. […]

  10. […] is this possible? Well as I hypothesized in one of my previous posts, 50-60% of fringe benefits are already paid for every year through residuals by the big six […]

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  14. […] that if you can, through all the negative banter of union costs. Signing a union contract could be profitable for vfx studios. We’ll gladly discuss this matter with anyone who can bring us the cost […]

  15. Brent Lowrie says:

    Unionizing can also close a studio. When I worked at the Vancouver studio of Walt disney Animation, many of the artists were unhappy with the inequity of wages between artists in the same department. There was no equity. Artists hired closer to the start of production typically got paid as much as $10k more than their counterparts hired earlier. IATSE reps came up to speak with us about unionizing and soon after Disney announced the studio was closing due to a soft direct-to-video market. That year I believe Disney made a $24 billion profit world-wide. Go figure.

  16. formerMouseEars says:

    Didn’t Disney also close the Toronto and Australia studios around the same time? I seem to remember they wanted to focus on their “core” studios Burbank, Florida, and Paris. Then they closed Florida and Paris soon after.

    • Brent says:

      Ya, TO was actually part of the Canadian studio. The Canadian taxpayers put up 8 million to bring Disney here so it didnt cost the Mouse much in the first place.They had a five year commitment but only one person in an office in TO on the last day of the fifth year. I think the Japan studio was closed after us, then Paris. Australia stayed open long past Florida. It was the last.

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