IA Organizer Jim Goodman Response To Dave Rand

IATSE Organizer/Lawyer Jimmy Goodman sent a response to Dave Rand’s comments on the IATSE campaign. I’ve posted here with permission. I’ve also added links. Lots of good info here.

Thanks, Dave, for your recent and gentle comments about our campaign.

As an industry veteran, I’m hoping that the relationships I’ve built over the years will lead to the Major Studios agreeing to cover their Visual Effects Artists under the AMPTP/IATSE Basic Agreement.  And, as our message gets disseminated over the visual effects community, I’m also hoping that affected workers will reach out to me for information; which will lead to their signing the requisite authorization cards, which will in turn lead to coverage by those Labor Agreements.

By holding meetings every few days, we are seeking out those individuals who will agree to take on a leadership role; in communicating with their co-workers, building awareness, and eventually achieving majority status.

You asked a number of great questions in your letter to VFX Soldier.  I’ll try to answer as many as possible:

Would it be possible for a health care system that crosses the border?

Frankly, No.  But, if we can get Labor Agreements covering US based workers as well as parallel labor agreements covering workers in Vancouver, Toronto, and Eastern Canada, we can substantially level the playing field making runaway production less financially enticing.  That’s one reason why we are working so closely with Local 891 in Vancouver.

Details of retirement, and healthcare:

As you know, upon working 600 hours in a six month qualifying period, one becomes eligible for coverage in the Industry Health Plan.  Covered workers can choose between The Industry Health Network of the Motion Picture and Television Fund (referred to as “TIHN”), Blue Shield of California, Kaiser, or Health Net.
TIHN and Kaiser provide for no-out-of-pocket-cost medical benefits.  The employee pays no monthly premiums.  The benefits are pretty complex, but a copy of the Summary Plan Description (which runs 195 pages!!!) is available on-line.

After five years, an employee is “vested” in the Industry Pension Plan; with benefits based on hours and dollars contributed.

Each employee is also covered by an Individual Account Plan (referred to as “IAP”), equal to 6% of their earnings and set aside in an account for their sole benefit.

(VFX Soldier: You can view the full details of the retirement plans here.)

Employers also contribute a percentage of wages for unworked holidays, and vacation, so that employees can receive pay for holidays (worked and not worked) and for vacation.

How much will the fees be to join??

ZERO.  The IATSE will waive any initiation fees for people affiliating with our Visual Effects group, or for any other applicable local union which represents Visual Effects Workers.  Dues vary from local to local but generally run between $400 and $1000 per year, depending on the earnings of the worker.

How will we elect our leaders??

In a secret ballot election/democratically.  Each local has local autonomy and governs itself.  We currently anticipate that Visual Effects workers will have their own local.

How do I sign up without fear?

(VFX Soldier: You can print a rep card here. Hat tip to deltadave for setting it up.)

I keep all e mail addresses in a locked drawer in my office.  No one else has access.  I communicate with employees via a “blind cc” so their name and address don’t show up on an outgoing email.  The email comes from my gmail account, so no one receives an email from the iatse.

Authorization cards are also kept in a locked drawer.  At such time as we have a majority of employees at a company or facility we will seek recognition, but WE WILL NEVER SHOW THE CARDS TO THE EMPLOYER!!  We would allow a neutral observer such as a Priest, Minister, or Rabbi to verify and validate the cards and cross-check them against the company’s list of eligible employees.  If necessary, we would petition the National Labor Relations Board for a secret ballot election.  The NLRB does not show the cards to the employer, and the employer does not know how any invidividual votes.

If intimidation (including threats of layoff or discharge) occurs, the NLRB investigates those charges.  If they find them true, they issue complaint, go to trial and can eventually get a Federal Court of Appeals to enforce the order.  If the employer still doesn’t comply, they can be held in Contempt of Court.

If we ever did go on strike, how would we pay our bills?

The IATSE has a pretty impressive track record and has not had to strike the Major Studios in over fifty years!!!  We’ve come close a few times, but have always worked out a satisfactory deal without having to resort to a labor stoppage.  We have, of course, had to resort to work stoppages when individual productions such as “The Biggest Loser” refused to recognize the union even when nearly 100% of the work-force signed authorization cards and requested a union agreement. That strike lasted a few weeks.  Often the work stoppage is only one or two days.  And the IATSE maintains a defense fund to assist members in the event of an industry-wide strike.

Let’s pause here.  I’ll send more info later.  By the way, we’ve engaged the services of a consultant to put together a plan for a presence on the web; we hope to have a site up and running soon.  In the interim, feel free to share this with the soldier, or anyone else you feel would be interested.  I’ll discuss immigration and work permit issues next time we talk.

Best regards,

Jimmy Goodman

28 Responses to IA Organizer Jim Goodman Response To Dave Rand

  1. Dave Rand says:

    Thanks Jimmy! Thanks Soldier boy!

  2. iatse891vfx says:

    This is excellent information for Californian facility artists, however please note that this information is specific to the Los Angeles/US VFX organizing drive and different labour laws, benefit plan rules, agreements etc. exist in Vancouver, BC. Vancouver artists please visit http://vfx.iatse.com/ for Local 891 Vancouver information.

  3. s says:

    I am personally mixed on the idea of a union, but I am more open to the idea lately considering that vfx shops don’t want to give us benefits or any long term employment and everyone seems to want to pay you less for more work.

    I do have big concerns about the costs involved in being a part of the union.

    As a vfx artist who was staff at some of the large facilities until recently when it seemed like the idea of staff vaporized and everyone has become a project worker, my weekly paycheck has turned into a save for unemployment and reduced expenses paycheck. I live more paycheck to paycheck now more than ever before. Saving is very hard and what I do save gets me through to the next job. I understand the need to support the union and to pays fees to it, but considering I expect to be unemployed 2-4 months out of the year these days, $1000 can go far in paying my bills and/or feeding and housing my family while unemployed. I have a hard time justifying adding another expense to go with the instability it seems in the workplace.

    How can the union help me justify the need for that expense? Are you still required to pay these dues while unemployed? Does being unemployed screw with your “vesting” or is that irrelevant as long as you pay your dues? I am personally trying to alleviate a lot of expenses these days. Now I am being asked to add a pretty hefty amount. $1000 may sound trivial when you are employed, but it’s a lot when you are not.

    Also I would love to know how this supposed union would deal with all the vfx shops out there. Are we looking to organize as a whole with the major studios or each individual shop? The latter I think would be next to impossible. The former, how would that work with the vfx shops? Would the studios mandate that if a shop wants the work, they have to hire union vfx artists?

    I also keep hearing about this panel of vfx veterans that are trying to put this together, yet not a single person can tell me a name of who is on this advisory board. Knowing some names and backgrounds of those people would help a lot of us know that they are being advised by knowledgeable people in our industry. The last thing I want is a union being formed and the union leaders really have no clue as to what goes on in the “real world”.

    Sincerely concerned yet interested,

    S

    • VFX Soldier says:

      *How can the union help me justify the need for that expense? *

      I paid $400 a year when I was part of the Animation Guild. That’s the most anyone can pay in that local. It will probably be up to the members to decide how much the dues will be.

      I understand the concern about how much dues are. You are probably already paying Health insurance premiums and deductibles if your current employer offers health insurance.

      I’ve found premiums for just a single person to be around $700-$800 a year. Way more to cover spouse and families. With the union health insurance there are NO premiums or deductibles.

      Secondly, the contribution into your IAP is vested after basically 450 hours of work. If you click the link in the article I actually posted my statement and estimate I was getting around $6500 a year put into there. I didn’t put in a dime. So when you do the math, I would say you get more in return than what your dues cost.

      *Are you still required to pay these dues while unemployed? *No. I was on honorable withdrawal when I left the guild. I didn’t pay any dues and in fact I was able to keep the health insurance for 18 months after and used it as negotiating leverage against my next employer to pay me a higher rate since I didnt need their health insurance. * Does being unemployed screw with your “vesting” or is that irrelevant as long as you pay your dues?* That’s tricky I think Steve Kaplan or Jim Goodman would know the answer to that. It depends on which retirement account you talk about. The IAP vests just after 450 hours of work. The Defined Benefit Plan is vested after 5 qualified years where a qualified year is 450 hours a year. I would check those pension books above and do the research. It’s all open for you to measure.

      Are we looking to organize as a whole with the major studios or each individual shop? Both. There are VFX workers who are direct employees of studios and then workers of the vendors. If enough people sign rep cards and vote it can happen.

      *Would the studios mandate that if a shop wants the work, they have to hire union vfx artists?* You are only in the union if you work at a union signatory facility. So if you are working at Disney you are in the union vesting hours and getting those benefits. If you leave and go to Rhythm or Imageworks, you are not in the union anymore unless everyone votes to have that facility go union. Could a studio mandate that only union facilities get that work? Depends on the leverage.

    • skaplan839 says:

      Thanks for replying Soldier. I’d like to add to it with some addendums and corrections.

      * Honorable Withdrawal is a constitutionally-written function of the 839 revenue stream (a copy of the 839 constitution is available at the bottom of this page). If the VFX local would be offering it, it would depend on the by-laws of the local once its been established. It has been of great importance to our members. I have no doubt it would be included in the special department rules and the VFX Local’s constitution once drafted.

      * Vesting only refers to the Pension accounts. One can not be vested into the health plan. In Southern California, we are covered under the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan. There are two parts to the pension contributions: Defined Benefit (DB) and Individual Account Plan (IAP). Each plan defines a qualifying year as having worked 400 hours in a signatory facility (A studio who has signed a contract). The DB vests after 5 qualifying years. The IAP vests after one qualifying year.

      There are other particulars with the MPI Pension Plan that are answered on the TAG page that Soldier referenced. Please email me or post any more questions and I’ll be glad to answer them.

      * Organizing Strategy is best left to be answered by Jim Goodman. I can say that if a group of artists in a vfx studio bands together and signs cards, the IATSE will work to represent those artists. There will be no group ignored that has taken the steps to ask for representation.

      Steven Kaplan
      Labor Organizer
      The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE
      skaplan@animationguild.org

      • s says:

        I appreciate some of the answers to my questions. I have been following this issue for some time, just listening and reading and pretty much staying quiet. Just so people understand where I am coming from, I am a vfx veteran now with 14 years in the industry, working at mostly large prominent vfx studios and a few small studios.

        I still have concerns over the success of a vfx union if the attempt is to unionize the vfx shops one at a time. I personally don’t like the idea of only a select few shops being unionized. That is the problem we have right now with TAG being in charge at Disney and Dreamworks. There is no portability of benefits once you leave those facilities. If I am not mistaken if you are not with one of those places for a certain period of time, you have to start over when you return. We need something more akin to SAG (I am not a part of SAG, so I don’t exactly know how it runs, just as its perceived to run). SAG deals with the studios correct, not each individual film production company? If we dealt with the big studios, we would have greater leverage with the vfx shops and then each shop wouldn’t have to collectively bargain with the union because it would be mandated from the studios.

        I have a hard time believing that the small shops will take the time to collectively bargain with a union. They start and disappear too quickly. And it is the small shops that seem to hurt us as artists the most. I am most talking about film vfx shops since that is where I mostly work. How would a union cover the commercial artists when the studios are not even involved that is a whole other situation I would think. There are a lot of us that jump to and from commercials to film.

        Personally, I would like to be a part of vfx union that allows me to work at any shop and still be able to accrue hours towards pension and health. I don’t think that is a crazy request, but it may be with my lack of union knowledge. Otherwise I feel that I am in the exact same situation now. Where when I leave one facility and go to another, I may or may not get benefits or I have to pay for it on my own. I don’t want and I can’t due to the economy be limited to only working at a couple places. It’s bad enough that I have travel around the globe to stay consistently employed throughout the year.

        The vfx shops are the middle man in this dilemma. I believe the Soldier had a post last year regarding this. Do the stage IATSE unions have to deal with a middle man like we do? Where we are subcontractors (artists) to a contractor (vfx shops) on a film (the studio/production company).

        S.

      • vfxPeon says:

        i am not 100% sure, but i believe that most if not all of the major commercial houses are union signatories, meaning they have to use union crews for everything except super low budget shoots (i.e. music videos).

        i would assume that this means they would also have to hire union vfx guys if they existed under iatse.

        that is a great question, though, and it would be great for someone for iatse to answer, since many of us work in commercials…sometimes exclusively.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        @S and vfxPeon

        The IATSE and the trade organization that represents commercial producers (AICP) have has an agreement since 1996:

        http://www.locationscout.com/union/ia-cont.html

        This is why many makeup artists and editors are covered by the IA when they work on commercials I assume.

        to S’s other comment about the way organization happens I can understand the problem. However, it’s the decision and the right of the worker to choose.

        All they have to do is sign a rep card and if enough workers at a facility do, then that facility can join the group that the IATSE covers.

  4. Vfxartist says:

    Great reply, soldier.  

    “s”, if you excuse me for using your post as an example for current staff artist…

    As you can see, no one is safe.  I’ve seen staff sups, pipeline enginneers, Inferno artist…  Some with families, some with homes, some new homeowners, some with boats, some with pre-existing medical conditions;  none have been immune. They are usually dismissed and rehired as contractors, usually without the profit share, without the health benefits, or reduced benefits, and the inherit underemployment. Its a trend that happened almost all at once, and affected union shops as well as non union.  This coincided by paycuts and new pay ceilings.  Its almost as if facilities “conspired” to do so….

    As to whether the artist lived within their means or lived as if next year meant more opportunity and pay, statistics would say no.  I know current staffers who treat each check as venture capital, thinking they have enough years ahead with 5% increases plus promotions to cover the credit card “vig” as they live today in tomorrow’s money. This often gives the impression that all artist are well paid. When you spend like there is no tomorrow, Its easy to live as a king today.

    I tell them to make even just a two year plan, live frugal, pay the debt off, fast track a nest egg… Just sacrifice two years of rock stardom as insurance against these massively changing tides.  Mind you I’m no financial planner, just an old fart who learned the hard way.  Perhaps that explains my 0% success of convincing anyone.  I guess i’m not quiting my day job hunt any time soon!

    What many don’t figure is the loss of income via underemployment, the cost of health benefits, plus the out of pocket medical cost.  Theres also the cost of training to upkeep skillsets and learn new ones.  Remember, each new “gig” is a new interview with potential pay cut.  Also, your reputation, people capital, in-house software knowledge, support colleagues (assistant TD’s and TD’s), cozy Aeron chair, favorite coffee machine…. Its usually gone.  These were assets that made you more productive.  Such a radical change in environment can affect your “perceived” efficency… suddenly you’re not as “good” as you were.  So the theory of “if you are good, you are employed” becomes “if you know people who know you are good, you are employed.” which can be shortened to “if you know people, you are employed”.

    This is not “being negative”, or “don’t be a downer, dude” fodder… Nor is it a “Secret” to happiness.  Its life.  Its real. Its the mechanics of how it is now.  Hopefully it will be different tomorrow.

    Yet none if this mentions your emotional happiness.  You are confined to looking for emoyment all the time, even from the companies that employed you previously.  You see, they are interviewing your competators. All the time. This is the relationship equivalent of “I need space”, or “lets see other people”.  Its the last two months of a 3 year car lease where they are looking at the newer models at every stop light.  Its a new game where you still can’t blame the playa.

    Your ability to plan ahead in a changing horizon is tough.  Vacations are tough to plan, most banks won’t even look at you without a staff position. Usually holidays you will be the busiest as thats when the staffers go vaca and they need to fill seats. But that means you loose days because you don’t get holiday pay.  You just get a day off… your paycheck.

    If you are younger, you may not have it as bad.  Companies prefer seeking what they call “rising stars”.  Young kids that go from intern to lead artist inside of two years. Absent is any mentor-apprentice relationship, or teambuilding. These are some sharp young talented artist. But imagine an orchestra with no conductor, and everyone thinks they are a sololist. But as a younger artist, you may have less overhead..  Theres student loans, but no mortgage, property tax and upkeep.  Usually no spouse or kid, and usually no medical cost… at all.

    Experienced older artist have It different.  I’ve seen exceptional senior artist, problem solvers who can take ownership of whole sequences; i’ve seen them turned down from smaller shops because the owners think they know too much. Problem is that the owner or sup might be 10-20 years junior to the senior artist, probably because 5 years ago they were an intern…

    (cont’d below)

  5. Vfxartist says:

    (…cont’d)

    …I say all of this to paint a landscape, so one can step back and see the whole picture. It offers a bird’s eye view of life today for many, domestic bound artist. From this perspective, what do you do, how do you plan. Do you just grind away and try to be the best artist you can? Perhaps you can diversify your income stream, either in different diciplines in our field, or a different field entirely. This would allow you to work part time, perhaps even of your own choosing, in vfx.

    So how does a union fix all of this?  Magically?

    It won’t.

    However, it gives you tools to plan your life.

    Basing on the 839 contract, which could parallel ours:

    A union can:

    …Help raise the minimums that the younger artist earn, helping the artificial gap in salaries that devalues the artist and business

    …Offer a continuity of retirement benefits and planning, under the umbrella coverage of Motion Picture. So that every year you work at a union vfx shop, you increase your pension eligibility from Motion Picture.

    …Offer a continuity of health benefits while you work at a union vfx shop, and if you have enough banked hours, while you work at a non union shop. This is also from the umbrella Motion Picture coverage that is far less likely to deny coverage, and had deductables in the tens of dollars, if I recall.

    … Offer subsidized classes for in-dicipline  as well as cross dicipline training

    …Offer a collective way to bargain for contract changes and improvements.  I was there back in 2005 I think, when they negotiated for more sick days and got it.

    ….Offer a means of arbitration over disputes

    …Offer a forum for employee and labor issues, be it future planning, unemployment, etc…

    Point is you aren’t alone.  No need to be.  Plus most, if not all you are going through, others have before.  

    These aren’t “handouts” or “business profit bleeding socialist tactics”. Its collective bargaining, its group purchasing power, its power in numbers to help balance out the wealth transfer from the working class.

    You had no problem signing away your future prosperity in a staff employment contract, for a company that lost money, and now seeks profit in employee turnover, GM style.  Why not trust an organization who’s only product is employee prosperity.  Thats what I’m “selling”.  Who’s buying?

  6. Dave Rand says:

    Soon we’ll have all the details in one location so people who know very little about this effort (most actually) won’t have to read a patch work of posts for union organizers and anonymous bloggers, or find a meeting just to get the details needed to make a decision. These are analytical thinkers by nature.

    I’m going to propose that people begin to use their real names, I believe it helps disperse the fear and adds some trust. Especially for union members. I’ve been doing it for years and have not seen one black helicopter yet.

  7. anon says:

    You honestly think unionisation will save you from people like Bill Gates?
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=bill+gates+microdsort+r%26D+china
    Face it – American’s are now overpaid and overvalued
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/13/opinion/13friedman.html
    富不过三代 (fu bu guo san dai)
    Literally: Wealth does not pass three generations.
    Meaning: It’s rare that the wealth of a family can last for three generations (the 2nd may see the value of hard work, but the 3rd forgets it).
    Explanation: In business, the first generation works extremely hard, so that the second generation reaps the benefits. By the time the third generation arrives, the wealth is squandered.

    • Dave Rand says:

      duh…so that’s why it’s called march to the botton! 🙂

    • vfxPeon says:

      your argument is stupid. i don’t know anyone who is a third generation vfx artist. i don’t even know anyone who got into vfx because that’s what their dad did.

      most of the people i know who work in vfx come from places where people don’t even know what vfx is. i know i did. they started from the bottom and worked their way to where they are in the industry. most of the people i know who work in vfx know that they could have made more money and worked less in some other industry but chose vfx instead because they are following their passion in life.

      just because people in other countries are so desperate for work that they are OK with being treated like animals for the privilege doesn’t mean americans have to.

      • anon says:

        http://xcomputerman.com/pages/archives/2007/09/07/outsourcing/
        Their Dad was probably too busy working to pay for their children’s $US100K art education. They worked their way up to where exactly? A skype cubical where they conduct dailies with an outsourced VFX army? The only way to make money from VFX is to industrialize artistic processes. Unfortunately it’s hard to protect IP from employees that are constantly being sacked and re-hired. You’re right, Americans don’t have to, the smart ones are getting out and into work that can’t be outsourced like selling hamburgers because they see their bosses training as many Foxconn VFX hamsters as fast as they can. Passion = exploitation. You can’t pay for a first world cost of living with passion. Rock on America.
        http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/22/opinion/22friedman.html

      • vfxPeon says:

        wow! some old ass dilbert strip, a picture of vanilla ice, and a hilarious example of communist propaganda pumped through some shitty state-run tv network. way to make a compelling argument!

        none of my friends here in the u.s. are struggling for work. we make pretty good money. we spend our time working on shots, not supervising work done in third world countries over skype. i can’t pay for first world living on passion?! i live in LA and my friends and i are all doing exactly that! sorry, you’re jealous that you can’t be here. are you stuck in that “Foxconn”-style factory you mentioned?

        who are you exactly? what is your point in posting these inane comments? most of the people who visit this site are interested in making vfx an industry where one can make a decent career for themselves and also have a life. you sound like someone stuck in a thirld world country and all bitter about it.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        I usually ignore that commenter. I get a ton of incoherent posts from that person usually saying the same thing with weird things.

      • Dave Rand says:

        “Please don’t encourage him”

      • anon says:

        Don’t kid yourself. VFX Soldier is about hollywood. Unfortunately hollywood has found an even more lucrative way to take advantage of labour – go to cheaper countries.
        Ricky Gervais hosting the 2010 Golden Globes

        Shame on me for bringing American culture into a debate about the future of hollywood, it’s totally inane but that’s America. Thank goodness Los Angelenos think that cesspit is paradise. They can leave the rest of us in peace Logorama http://vimeo.com/10149605
        Hopefully they’all rocket off to another planet like in Wall-e some day.

      • vfxPeon says:

        dude, you are such a little crybaby/hater. you can’t even respond coherently to anything i’ve said…you just link to pages that don’t even reference what you are talking about.

        as long as our competition consists of pseudo-intellectual dumb-asses like you, i’m pretty confident we’ll do alright.🙂

  8. Dave Rand says:

    Here’s a cleaned up version of the letter with out it being addressed to me and soldier as it’s really should be addressed to all of us.

    Was waiting for Jimmy’s approval but in the letter to me he wrote “In the interim, feel free to share this with the soldier, or anyone else you feel would be interested. I’ll discuss immigration and work permit issues next time we talk.”

    Here’s the temp link:
    http://www.proflashsites.com/iatse

  9. Tom says:

    I am all for the unionization of the VFX industry. I was in the T.A.G. for sometime. And I have posted this before. I am covered for my health insurance till January 2012 (from October 2010).

    Now, the company I am at is about $1500/ year for health insurance for a single person. My union health insurance was about $400 per year (union dues). And I can have as many dependents I want on the health insurance.

    The bottom line is, with larger numbers (e.g. the entire vfx artist body) the cost of health insurance and other benefits drops dramatically.

    If anyone has been paying attention; its a matter of time before every is required to have health insurance. Some states (Massachusetts being one of them) require you have health insurance and you must provide proof on your taxes. Otherwise you will be fined.

    If anything, every small shop should be wanting a VFX union. It not only lowers the cost per employee, it also saves lots of time and pain in providing health benefits that they would otherwise probably ignore. And in the next few years, it wont matter what company you are you probably will be required to provide health insurance over a certain number of employees.

    I personally think the unionization is a “necessity” for this industry. Especially as other countries rise to the challenge of creating great effects. Its a question of how long will it take before smaller less known vfx studios outside the U.S. are providing better vfx for 1/4 the cost of U.S. or Canada?

    • Vfxartist says:

      Good post, Tom.

      In talking to various artist, I hear many more diverse reasons against unions versus for unions. Bad unions don’t make all unions bad any more than Enron making all corporations bad.  (however, the truth that many business say thay can’t be ethical and be profitable is very concerning, and points to a culture problem, not business problem).  But if you look at history, and current events, and see where we are heading, you can see a role for guilds and unions that can make the US compete better in the world market.

      All my cars previous were american made in US states, for no better reason than being practical.  No real problems with the vehicles, and they were cheap to maintain.  Recently I got a foreign car that was designed in germany, but built in portugal.  The fit and finish was excellent, as were the materials, for the price.  Where current american cars use cheap plastics with large seams, their european equivalent used cloth, soft vinyl, and quality plastics with tighter tolerances.  

      Theres many reasons for these differences, one being how much the cost of each american car goes toward a union worker health and pension.  Its also a cultural thing stateside where the culture of the profit now being the product, instead of the product itself, leading to a disconnect between the business owner vs the customer.

      Imagine Apple if Steve Jobs didn’t use his own products.  People say apple is expensive, but they make a physically superior product (fit and finish, materials) than many of their competitors while serving a smaller market.  They have higher margins than their competitors: a $600 iphone cost less than $200 in materials and labor. So the product remains the product, with profit from higher margins. Yet many costomers get a lot of value from the product, so they feel like they got their money’s worth, even with the higher price tag.  Key word is value. (of course the problems start when its no longer a niche product, like the iPad, and workers suffer trying to meet a demand that was never imagined.)

      Getting back to the cost vs quality of US cars because of the cost of the union…. What I noticed about foreign cars is that they were produced in socialist countries… like portugal.  The employee’s taxes paid for their health insurance.  

      The US, historically since wwII, had people working the same job for decades, which paid for medical and retirement, coinciding with a mortgage that synced to a retirement with a paid-for home.  Now companies throw your retirement into the wallstreet jackpot while turning the professional into a contract worker who is “leased”, effectively.  I recall people with rental or leased cars tend to treat them like crap, not servicing them, red-lining them, not cleaning them… because in the end, they are effectively discarding it.  They don’t value it.  Same with contract workers.  Now high tech workers can be called the friday-before-the-monday because they are all interchangeable.

      In this environment, the worker is thrown to the wolves as far as health and benefits with skyrocketing costs. Yet, the companies show record profits, the medical biz also show record profits.  I know familes who run themselves as a corporation so that they can get a coroporate health plan for their “employees” (you know, wifey and the kids), as opposed to a family group plan, where they can deny coverage because of prior use if asprin.

      People think the solution is for the US to go “socialist” with a health plan ala Oh’Canada, but we were never designed to do this. In fact our current social programs are a large part of the deficit.  

      Thus gets us back to unions…

      I think in the US there is a strong case for unions and trade organizations in our future, but revamped for the 21st century. A future that will belong more and more to innovative small and medium businesses for local communities, as larger corporations move their manufacturing and factories overseas. (as is the case with vfx)

       Trade organizations can help organize these small and medium companies to help have a voice in washington, and to establish ethics and standards in their trade.  For example, in vfx, a trade organization can establish minimums to prevent underbiding, and foster growth and cash reserves (think Apple’s high margins), trade, group purchase of materials, etc.  And thus compete on innovation, craft and quality, not on who has the biggest monopoly.

      As many have read here, a union can offer similar minimums with collective bargaining.  But what does this have to do with cars built in portugal? Well, if key trades had unions, with locals for each dicipline, then you have an organization with a large purchasing power for health and benefits.  Much larger than the small and medium business who’s employees they represent. This way the business can concentrate on just the business, and leave the welfare of the employees to an organization who’s only business is the welfare of the employees.

      I think the US will serve as the headquaters for large corporations (because of low cap gains) with stateside design and management teams.  These are higly trained, expensively schooled individuals from around the world. Large scale manufacturing for such corporations will ripple around the world, chasing subsidies, local labor exploits, political tides.  I’ve worked for these large companies, and they can literally move at a scale of tectonic plates but in mere years, opening and shuttering divisions around the world with write-offs at hundreds of millions a pop. Working for these giants can be either profitable or devasting, depending which end of the profit/loss bell curve your particular 20,000 employee division finds itself that quater.  You are literally a floating cost that can turn into a profit in a quater for the rotating door CEO de jour that wants to show off his “profitability” until he moves to the next corporation in a few years, or public office as a crony.  It really depends who’s he golfing with these days.

      I think the balance will be small and medium businesses.  The large corporations will serve as inflators for how great this country is, inspiring tears of nostalgia from politicians who grew up in an America of last century.  But it will be the small and medium business that will make the country functional again, from commuity to town to city. It will employ local high skill, high tech and high craft.  It will benefit from high margins because it will be a superior product/service that the local customers see value in. They may know the worker, even owner of the biz.  This is how the county functioned  before globalization, and how it will function after.  This doesn’t mean that small and medium biz won’t utilize globalization; i know of an american company that manufactures in the US that used parts sourced from japan, france and portugal for a small number of products.  I know that because it said so on the product page. Their products are more expensive, but not by much, and higher quality than their cheaper chinese made competitors. I exlusively purchase from them, knowing that it goes to a local business that employs local labor with liveable wages.  

      I know some producers not only don’t care who work on what, but in the case of one, pridefully boasts of wrecking vfx business as part of their job. This is a cultural thing that has to change.  I remember watching the first survivor realty show back in 2000, I think, and remember thinking “this is the beginning if the end”.  It was the start of a show genre that was all about people plotting, schemeing, lying, tricking, backstabbing to “win”.  Honor, pride, decency, manners, friendship and colaboration, all took a back seat to “winning”, being “number one”, being “the best”. In fact, you immediately started backstabbing the people you were just collaborating with to win the last round!  People used to give me a funny look back then when I said it was the beginning of the end… now they get a sobering look on their face.

      You have to remember, this came just after the tech bubble bust.  I recall seeing people thinking that the tech boom would make them a millionaire before they were thirty. Most didn’t. You have to remember this was back when a million dollars could buy you something in Malibu, and not today when it buys you a mcMansion in the valley where the floor isn’t even level and the windows leak.  People were fueled with the “belief” that any web property was their future golden goose, not a giant goose egg! That became entitlement, and with that “do anything to win” culture fueled with the later booming house market, fueled the entitlement culture.

      Point is, doing anything to “win” entered the public lexicon in the form
      of mass entertainment, which drives culture. This created a populous that would sell their mother to “win”.  Forget about communities, which is a collective process.  So the public was ripe to be divided and conquered.  This coupled with the richman/poorman psycology, is a disaster. Look at the rise of partisan politics, which feeds public infighting where people fight over beliefs that have been politicized, where previously, plural beliefs was the fabric of this country.

      I say all this to make people step back and think about the psycology of how they think and why they believe in what they do, and try to rationalize it. To break things down logically to see if the value of the sum, outside of belief or dogma.

      If you look at vfx, business don’t operate collectively using a trade organization. In fact the only organization they have, VES, operates as a competition for companies and employees over awards that have no business value.  So the studios divide and conquer the vfx vendors as they fight to work on the cool project so that they can win a useless award at VES.

      Same with the employees:  the vfx vendors divide and conquer… Dividing employees that do the same work into staff and contract catagories, wage fixing, wage reduction via benefit reduction, longer hours, lower hourly, and now labor violations.

      Its the psycology behind all this: richman/poorman, get rich quick entitlement via bubble/bust economy, wrapped in the TV culture of do-anything-to-win…. It promotes a false sense of prosperity via individuality, when for hundreds of thousands of years, humanity has survived as a collective/group.  Neanderthals were stronger but they couldn’t adapt. Homeownership, entrepeneuership, etc, such stresses for people to “have it all”, while coveting thy neighbors larger house, boat, pool, remodel, garden gnome… you name it, everything was on the table for one-upmanship. Now its just a sea of foreclosures, at a scale of whole communities.

      Time to show pride in how you live, not just what you have or what you do.  Working 100 hour weeks at a low hourly to afford a house that sits empty for 18 hours a day may not be the best way to live. Globe trotting to work on cool projects with family in tow is perhaps not the best lifestyle choice. Chancing bankruptsy because you can’t afford health insurance questions the value of being a high tech worker in a business who’s job can’t pay health insurance.

  10. Dave Rand says:

    Great article about the power of the internet. Once people get a little organization to their feelings and a few leaders point out a direction, anything is possible…it’s all about leadership and communication.

    http://bit.ly/dV47Qt

  11. misha says:

    Many great pro-union points…including the idea of a union not based on vfx companies, but individuals working on a production. Perhaps we can look at union membership as an individual decision to bring unity into the vfx field. We still need a strong and unified presence in Hollywood, with high-profile support from the rest of the industry, and a contract we can access, reference and modify to the needs of the vfx community. We need union-centric events that will create excitement and support for our future organization. And we need commitment to the struggle ahead.

  12. candida says:

    candida…

    […]IA Organizer Jim Goodman Response To Dave Rand « VFX Soldier[…]…

  13. Distressed Spanish Property…

    […]IA Organizer Jim Goodman Response To Dave Rand « VFX Soldier[…]…

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