Well surprise surprise, on the exact day of my one year anniversary post, the Visual Effects Society has announced it’s intention to take a stand on the adverse issues affecting VFX artists.
For those who have long denied there were any problems at all, this announcement puts the naysayers to rest. There are legitimate problems in our industry and they need to be solved.
Now I’ve been pretty critical of the VES and so have members such as Joe Harkins and former blogger VFX Law. I’ve mocked them for being “Visual Effects Switzerland” due to their reluctance to take a stand for the welfare of vfx artists.
So many artists question the very idea of joining a union yet never bother to do the same when joining the VES. They charge you a couple hundred bucks and have an honorary awards ceremony each year. I’ve said if I wanted to give someone 200 bucks for a pat on the back I’d go see a masseuse.
However with all joking aside a huge debt of gratitude has to be given to Jeff Okun, Eric Roth, and the VES members. They could have easily continued supporting the status quo but chose to finally do something about it.
The VES listened to vocal members and extended a hand, the last thing I want to do is give them the back hand. In fact, the open letter they presented yesterday is eerily similar to my initial post one year ago. So I’m on board and look forward to doing my part.
For the IATSE leadership, this latest event is another example of how badly they missed the opportunity. They didn’t fail in the substance of what they offered, they failed in the delivery of the information by avoiding the media or creating any official website to get that information out. That turned off their most passionate advocates like former members such as myself and garnered the suspicions of those on the fence.
In one day the VES was able to make an announcement through twitter and their website, have a townhall chat with Variety’s David S. Cohen, an interview with Jeff Heusser, and also garner media coverage in Variety, Deadline, and the LA Times. They basically accomplished more in one day than the IATSE in one year! Boy, I hope IA members have a short term memory or else it won’t be pretty for their leadership come election time.
However, there are some HUGE bumps in the road for the VES. The VES has re-iterated that it is not a union or a trade organization and will not create a collective bargaining agreement.
Given those circumstances, how will they garner any leverage for change? This issue is further compounded by the fact that the vast majority of their board members are executives, producers, managers, and facility owners.
How will the VES convince certain facilities to pay for overtime and avoid illegally misclassifying artists as independent contractors? How will they stop collusion?
How will they leverage of the economics of scale to garner affordable and portable health insurance with relatively small membership compared to the IATSE’s 100,000 plus membership? How will they negotiate for residuals? Much of this has already been settled with existing entertainment unions.
These issues aren’t just limited to artists. I passionately argue that VFX facilities in California are being injured by international tax subsidies for US studio producers. Many trade law experts argue that those subsidies are a clear violation of WTO international trade law. How would the VES rectify the issue when many of their members are facilities that depend on these subsidies?
I look forward to seeing what they propose. For VFX artists who question the very idea of collective bargaining, I suspect you’ll understand it’s importance if and when these proposals are ignored by the facilities and studios.
UPDATE: Joe Harkins posted his reaction which I agree with. See it here.