This week the IBEW Union will be holding another informational meeting to continue conversations with artists and technicians about forming a VFX union in the LA area:
Sunday November 7th 1:00pm
The American Legion Hall
5309 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230
If you intend to have a long term career in the VFX industry I suggest you take some time this Sunday to attend and participate in this meeting. There are many questions to be answered.
For example, how much should artists pay to be a member of this organization?
Should they pay more up front and less as they continue membership or vice versa?
Finally, since I always hear this question:
What Does A Union Do For Its Members?
As a former skeptic of a union who became an adamant supporter after working at an Animation Guild signatory facility, I can tell you it does a lot.
Regardless of what organization we choose to represent us, a union will basically provide us with three things:
- Portable health and retirement benefits.
- Paid time off for illness and vacation.
- Establishment of wage minimums and enforcement of labor laws.
Since most of that is straightforward, I’d like to focus on the portable health and retirement benefits.
It’s a health and retirement plan that has become the one stop shop for most union workers in the entertainment industry.
It’s a huge plan that is paid for by employers through hourly contributions and studios through residuals from many of the films you and I work on.
As a former member of the Animation Guild I have personally received benefits that I feel were far superior than many of the non-union facilities.
Why do we need portable benefits?
VFX artists and technical directors are project-to-project workers and bounce around different vfx boutiques, vfx facilities, and animation studios frequently.
Unfortunately each company has it’s own set of health and retirement benefits with various vesting periods.
Some facilities don’t even offer benefits while others have complicated vesting periods that are longer than the length of your employment.
I’ve constantly missed contributions to a 401k because I was on projects that lasted 6-8 months where the eligibility requirements state that I have to be at a facility for over a year.
The potential opportunity in investment growth and tax liabilities can be huge for missing out on those contributions.
The same can be said for health insurance. As one artist put it:
It’s like I have to start my whole life over every time I go to a new facility.
It doesn’t have to be that way. DreamWorks and Disney Animation are signatories to a contract with The Animation Guild which is part of the IATSE.
They provide benefits through MPIPHP so if you get laid off or quit at Disney and get hired at DreamWorks, you can maintain continuing coverage of health and retirement benefits under the same plan.
Health Benefits At A Glance
Here is what I think you should know about the MPIPHP benefits. You can read the details in full here.
You have a choice between PPO, HMO and even get dental and vision coverage: Blue Shield, Kaiser, HealthNet, etc.
Wow, a visual effects artist with vision insurance? What a concept.
Compared to many vfx facilities, the health insurance costs with MPIPHP are much lower. I also contend it’s better than what the Visual Effects Society offers to it’s members. Also, check out this comparision of the plan to Digital Domain.
- There are no deductibles.
- There are no premiums.
- No extra costs to cover your spouse/partner or family.
- The copayments for doctor visitations etc are from $5 to $40.
- The maximum out of pocket expenses you will be responsible for in a year range from $800 to $1,100.
Bank Of Hours
As you work at a union facility, you build up a bank of hours to help you keep your insurance when you are not working or working at a non-union facility.
I’ve mentioned many times of how I worked at a union studio for 2 years, voluntarily quit to go to a non-union facility and found out that I was able to keep my health, dental, and vision insurance for almost 2 extra years.
I used this an negotiating leverage against my next employer to pay me more since I didn’t need their weaker health insurance.
Retirement Benefits At A Glance
Details of the retirement benefits can be viewed here. You basically get two retirement plans that are funded by the studios and employers. There is also a supplemental 401k that is usually administered by the union that is entirely funded by the employee if he/she elects to do so.
The Individual Account Plan
After two years, I was fully vested after 450 hours of work each year in over $14,000 in a retirement account that is conservatively invested.
I did not have to put a dime in that account and even posted a copy of my IAP statement here.
The Defined Benefit Account Plan
This is a traditional pension where you are eligible after 5 years of qualified years and paid a set amount of money every month for the rest of your life when you retire.
A qualified year is any calendar year in which somebody works 450 hours or more at a union studio.
So just to qualify all you have to do is manage to work at a union facility for 9 weeks (50 hours a week) a year for 5 years.
This would get easier as more studios sign contracts with the union.
After 5 years you could see an annuity of $400.
After 15 years it would be $1180.
After 30 years it would be $2358… $2358 paid to you every month after you retire until you die.
Retiree Health Benefits
If you work enough years at various union facilities, you are eligible to receive health insurance for you and your family after you retire and becomes supplemental to Medicare after age 65.
There For You No Matter Where You Go
The money you have in these accounts after you become eligible are there for you when you retire even if you leave the industry or the country.
The Choice Is Yours
Back in the early 2000s Sony Pictures Imageworks had a chance to unionize.
For whatever reasons, it ended with the workers overwhelmingly voting no.
Looking back, many artists regret it.
Regardless, the choice is ultimately yours and whatever choice you make today will echo for the rest of your life.
For some artists who are just happy to work on a cool movie, you probably didn’t even read past the first sentence of this article.
However, if you took the time to read and make it all the way here, you probably have given much thought about your future in this industry.
Why not take a little time on your Sunday and make an effort to make it better.
I’ve been told by many to piss off, that I’m a wanker, and an idiot etc.
Do you think I spend my late nights doing research and writing these articles for me? No.
I’m doing it for the vfx artist who only gets OT after 60 hours.
I’m doing it for the unemployed artist struggling to get health insurance for his family.
I’m doing it for the successful vfx artist who is looking at Plan B options out of the industry because the prospects of longevity in the industry are dim.
That’s what this is all about.