A Line In The Sand

It’s been a pretty busy news cycle this month. Middle East dictators dropping like flies and union employees protesting in droves in Wisconsin.

I’m compelled to write how in each event a line in the sand was crossed to the point where people finally just said “enough.”

For the Middle East it was a young street vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire after years of harassment and humiliation from police.

For the citizens of Wisconsin, it was after the governor ordered collective bargaining rights stripped even after the unions agreed to the huge concessions he asked for. This is in spite of the fact that the most expensive unions, the ones that represent police and firefighters, were exempt from such orders after being the only labor groups to support the governor’s election campaign.

Where’s Our Line In The Sand?

My nerves get rattled over drastic events in the VFX industry. Each time I wonder: Is this going to be enough? Was it going to be Stranhan’s article? Was it going to be the numerous facility closures? Or would it be specific events? Would it be the firing of a woman at LucasFilm because of her pregnancy? What about the collusion between Pixar and ILM?

In the end nothing. The slog just continued.

Look, the truth is I know when VFX workers will have had enough: When the freight train is seconds away from hitting them.

It’s human nature. We procrastinate and put problems off until they grow so large that it’s unavoidable to deal with. I’m not at all comparing the plight of Middle East citizens to our plight but it wasn’t like things turned on them overnight. It was a slow progression of decades and decades of concessions being made.

Oh you’re okay with being misclassified as an independent contractor and paying our company’s share of payroll taxes? Perfect, then you would probably enjoy paying for payroll services too with an MBO!

Oh you’re okay with working unpaid OT? Perfect, we’ll standardize that.

Oh you don’t put money into that 401k we match? Perfect, we’ll get rid of it.

Oh you don’t need health insurance? Perfect, we’ll make sure to remember that when you start asking for it when you have a family.

The Line In The Sand Is Being Crossed All The Time

Scott Squires is back to blogging again and his post on unionization is a good one:

You think you’re paid well but try paying $12-24,000 after taxes to just cover health insurance?  What happens if the unexpected happens?  You’re hosed. A percentage of those people who had their home foreclosed or living on the street? Bankruptcy due to illness and medical.

Here’s a 3 time oscar-nominated VFX Supervisor who writes a bit about the huge costs of health insurance. You’d think he’s so rich and successful that he can afford to buy his own right? You’d be surprised to hear that he’s not alone.

I’ve heard and seen other former oscar nominees and winners who have been in attendance at some of the IATSE meetings. You think you’ve got a better plan than these artists? These are people who made it to the top. Even they need health insurance for their families. By the way, even CEOs are having trouble getting health insurance on their own!

TAG Business Rep Steve Hulett has a post on what is becoming the failure of US experiment in retirement privatization. He points out what the union has been able to do to help VFX artists who have been a members for around 20 years:

* Our TAG vet is getting $1500 per month in MPIPHP monthly pension.

* Our TAG vet has stashed $100K in the 401(k) Plan and has $95K in the IAP (MPIPHP’s Individual Account Plan.)

So What’s The Line In The Sand For You?

What would it finally take for you to do something? Not just complain, but actually do something to fix this problem. So many of us are used to solving problems on our own and feel paralyzed by the obvious solution: Relying on each other.

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?

Soldier On.

13 Responses to A Line In The Sand

  1. T says:

    I would like to know more about the role of unions and benefits towards woman specifically including pregnancy. I understand having health care that follows you around is very important but how else does it affect woman. With most work being contract work do woman get pregnancy leave like they would if they were in a full time position?

    • VFX Soldier says:

      As far as I know I’m not aware of provisions for maternity leave. What I point to about the Lucasfilm pregnancy lawsuit is that a woman was fired because she revealed that she was pregnant. That’s against the law.

      However, the union benefits should not be glanced over for what it can provide women: Yes portable health benefits, but also the ability to cover children at no extra costs. As vfx workers choose to have families, one of the biggest costs is family health insurance.

      • T says:

        I know, he LucasFilm situation was ridiculous and illegal. I was just curious if the union had any protection for woman that were pregnant.

        I’m definitely for unionization and the ability to have portable benefits and to be able to cover my family when I have one.

        I was just curious if there was more protection on the woman side of things. Maternity leave is an issue, unless you are married to someone not in the industry with good benefits. Woman can pretty much work up til they are due so is there protection against that if they are in a contract gig and they have to leave to have a baby. That’s assuming the company did not discriminate against you to begin with and gave you the job.

        Like I said I’m totally for unions and if I were in any of the areas with meetings I’d be there asking questions.

  2. Keep up the good work Soldier. Overall a great piece. I have a few comments where I think there is room for improvement. Your remark about the freight train is unfortunately, most often true, but not always. The Egyptian struggle is a case in point, also the other uprisings in the Middle East and even the fight back in Wisconsin. Because ‘human nature’ can shift, otherwise there would never be any change, any ‘progress’, Mubarak would still be in power. I think you know this Soldier. I just don’t want to give the cynics out there ammo so they can continue to miseducate others and sit on their behind the false cliche “you can’t fight city hall”.

  3. Jason Macza says:

    Collective bargaining is a human right under Canada’s human right’s act.

    I hope I’m not accused of being “Canada Centric” I just want to point out that it’s possible to think in these terms.

    Soldier on man. You are doing a great job


  4. Mike says:

    Union up and watch the VFX jobs go to India.

    • Vfxartist says:

      Mike, the jobs already left, and som
      e even came back! In fact indian companies are opening up facilities in LA.

      A union here means that the jobs that do stay will be lucrative jobs, by companies with operating capital.

      A union here may discourage individuals from opening sweat shops here that have a business model of youth exploitation, unhealthy long hours, and poor prod uct output. These type of business don’t last long anyway, however their effect of artificially lowering margins for legit vfx vendors does last long.

      A union here means vfx shops in other countries may follow suit and raise their standards when their employees decide to do a walk out or organize themselves. This is because the formation of vfx union in the states will be well publicized, and the internet makes the world oh so tiny! 😉

      But keep up the uninformed glib arguments. They serve as opportunities for posters to explain organizing and unions more.

  5. vfxguy says:

    I’m sorry, what do the problems of an artist on $70k in one of the richest countries in the world have to do with the death of a pauper trying to scratch a living in a military dictatorship?

  6. Dave Rand says:

    For me it was the Meteor Studios unpaid artist situation where 130 artists and support staff were shorted 1.3 million in wages right before Christmas by the family program channel, the Discovery Channel (part of a 7 billion dollar conglomerate Discover Communications) and Evergreen films both owners of Meteor Studios. The project was Journey to the Center of the Earth. Two years later, after a long battle fought on many fronts, including even Brendan Fraser’s help, they traded paying us 70% of our money in return for forever becoming the poster child of the unpaid vfx artists.

    If you ever want to read about it, there are links on my website to all the articles.

    It’s not only refreshing to see real folks names in this thread but I believe it helps get rid of the fear of speaking out for others. Thanks Jason and Gene. I’ve used my real name since my first post regarding Meteor.


  7. misha says:

    I admired the courage and fortitude of the artists who persevered in receiving at least a portion of their pay from Disney on “Journey”. The operative word is courage, which is what’s needed in unionization. Every union has been created through hardship, and I’m sure many of us thought those times had passed and it would be a lot easier to organize now. Let’s remember Dr. King was assassinated during his trip to Memphis to support a union strike. Many of the points brought up for unionization are valid, but we need to create a strong and vibrant movement if we want to organize within this decade. We need web presence, strong and vocal industry allies, pro-union events, a well-prepared and open for suggestions contract accessible to the vfx community for review, strong legal representatives, and a resolution to become active and march if we have to. I might not have as much on the line as some who post here, but I can look at history and see that unionization doesn’t come without a lot of hard work and difficulty. Scott was on the money when he posted vfx is the only branch in film that isn’t unionized. We might have thought we would have been grandfathered in when we were on a film, but it’s not as easy as we hoped. We need to create events that will create momentum and speak clearly to the hardships we may encounter as we unionize…


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