Enter SpiUnion

Imageworks’ formerly proposed New Mexico facility.

Cartoon Brew posts:

A group of artists at Sony Pictures Imageworks is leading a push for change at their studio that could have big ramifications for the rest of the vfx industry in Los Angeles. Their goal is to unionize Imageworks, and they are promoting their cause publicly through the SpiUnion blog, as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Animation Guild reaction here.

The most common argument against a union at Sony is that “if we go union, they’ll just go away.”

My reaction? Isn’t that what they’ve been trying to do forever?

In 2007, it was all supposed to go to India where labor costs are the lowest. Then it was all supposed to go to New Mexico where the cost of living was low and the government offered a 25% film subsidy.

Half a decade later where are we now?

Imageworks New Mexico has unfortunately closed down. Were still waiting on  our jobs to all go to India while the new execs focus on trying to move talent to Vancouver instead of New Mexico.

Meanwhile staff positions are gone and many former Imageworkers have moved to union facilities like Disney and DreamWorks. Now The Animation Guild’s membership is the highest it’s been in 25 years.

I know I pound the portable benefits and other union goodies a lot but there’s something else I’m looking for: Solidarity.

If we want to get involved and start changing this industry together we have to do it with a union and it has to get a foothold somewhere. I get criticized for being “US focused” but hey, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I’ve been one of the first to get word out about unionization efforts in the UK, and Vancouver.

If that foothold is established, my hope is it will gradually spread and indirectly get the facilities to jointly negotiate: Voila, instant trade organization.

Soldier On.


28 Responses to Enter SpiUnion

  1. Pssst says:

    Doesn’t the lack of response from the unionized USA employees of the publicly floated Dreamworks to Katzenberg selling them out by starting a a state run technology transfer and training studio in a country infamous for flaunting WTO trade regulations and international human rights speak for itself?
    The American 1% pro-globalization Keynesian capitalists who dominate many global industries are more powerful than government and will get their way because Wall St requires growth at the expense of working people and their fading Social Contract. The ultimate aim of an unregulated free market is an endless supply of cheap labor – where ever it resides.

    Are Chinese Business Partnerships a Good Deal for U.S. Companies?

    • Ryan says:

      Nice PBS Segment, but the truth of the matter is that this can’t go on forever, the world is a finite place and we all cling to one another in some way, rich & poor alike. Soon all the Chinese, Indian, Mexican, South Korean, Australian & Canadian folk, etc [I’m being overly pedantic about location here to help try & make a point] will become, & I think most already are, becoming pretty sick of the ultra crummy hours & conditions and disproportional pay & benefits relative to what their labour & final product commands in the market & bring in as income for the executive tier, & rightly so. While ‘they’ use globalisation in an attempt to chase cheap labour & exploit new markets and a naive & grateful new work force, the interconnectivity of the world will itself cause a realisation & equilibrium to occur over time. But I guess from that point of view one can also see SOPA & PIPPA or any government internet restriction policies for that matter as being all about information blackouts & global connection disruption [i.e.: limit & control] as much as it is about Media & Software Piracy.

      The scariest thing about the age we live in is that today the wealthiest among us extend their mountains of currency simply by moving it around investing, buying & selling or betting on companies that don’t even have any real world assets or value & are essentially “nothing” so to speak. It’s all digital-world & connectivity related web technologies that they’re all trying to horde, patient & monopolise on like crazy. It’s like the bullshit way Apple patented the side scroll design function of the iphone & ipad [their competitors can only scroll vertically], or how some crazy food & medical corporations patient genomes of crops or living animals so that they have the intellectual property rights & monopoly on any future genetic research and the developments springing from those intrinsic genetic sequences. The world is a Free Market in the fact that with enough money you seem to be able to buy & exploit anything, it’s more like a Mad Market. They’re all trying to position themselves on the front end of some speculative future growth in technology, science & industry. If everyone weren’t turning atheist I bet we’d no sooner be sell our souls as blue-chip. In a phrase, it’s all nucking futs & defeatist to the momentum human kind should be experiencing with some 7 billion minds living at one time on one planet. Forget oil & commodities, food is gonna be a big problem to solve for over 7 billion. It’s not living conditions that cause unrest, it’s disparity of access & disparity of a standard of living & the derision that comes from that. No one likes to be looked down upon.

      Hey,Pssst, can you guess I actually like debating this kinda stuff? You’d probably be really interest in both the renegadeeconomist.com & thersa.org. So join & add to the conversation over there. I think that might be a far better place for the discussion of global financial policies & ruling class power play speculation than on good ol’VFX Soldiers industry related blog. The poor guy shouldn’t have to put up with the likes of us. VFX folks have far more immediate, important, relevant & real stuff to talk & complain about than just the speculative future of world economics…. Like STAFF & CONTRACTOR WAGES, good ergonomics & how to prevent vitamin D deficiency, and soon; why unions are a funny thing to try & run because people don’t really seem to like working with or talking to the variety other people “different” to how they are and with whom they didn’t initially grow up with or close to. You know, current bread at butter stuff. Leave the broad speculation nonsense to lost souls like who should be posting elsewhere rather than leaving it on here clogging up this industry blog. Sorry all.

      We get repeats of PBS over here on our brilliant internationally focused channel SBS, so here, let me share some of our locally produced media with you.
      Foreign Correspondent:
      http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2012/s3430858.htm http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2012/s3425244.htm
      Click Play video hidden up the top of the articles. Hope it works.

  2. Dave Rand says:

    Find out for yourself…

    (818) 845-7500. Animation Guild

    (818) 212 1508. Local IBEW rep Bob Oedy

    Both of these unions rep entertainment employees and have contracts with the AMPTP. Speak with both of them so you know what your saying yes to and no to. Leverage brings change and good old fashioned competition makes folks work harder for you. It has to come from us but if they are going to represent you it only makes sense to see organizational talents and efforts now. So far since they both announced a “drive” almost 18 months ago those efforts have not been worthy of our membership. No one should be getting a free ride. I can personally vouch for the guys at the local 839 their hearts are with yours. I can not however get behind the actions of the few that run the show at the top of the IATSE but that can change or be voted out. The local IBEW crew although not as established have been working hard from the top down on a new package and a modern approach while aligning themselves with some of the other groups that work for the rest of the talent in the credits. There’s strength and weakness on each side.

  3. pragmatik says:

    Studios make labor decisions on a cost-benefit analysis basis. Sony didn’t move forward in NM because the benefit was not great enough. They found other ways to get more bang for their buck.

    If SPI unionizes, expect Sony to gradually reduce the workload until 24-36 months later they will close the facility. They will bid out jobs normally reserved for SPI to non-union shops in town to save money. If they are prohibited from doing this directly by their union contract, they will do it indirectly by using intermediary production companies.

    It’s also likely that a Sony veteran will start a new VFX house that will be non-union, have satellite offices in low-cost areas, and will get plum assignments from Sony. As the workload at SPI decreases, the new VFX house will pick up employees who want to leave the union or go fi-core.

    Soon after SPI is phased out, Sony will exit their contract with the VFX union, because they don’t have a VFX house anymore. Six months after that, they will acquire the VFX house run by their former employee, and keep it as a non-union shop.

    Unionizing will be doomed to failure unless labor provides a financial advantage to management. VFX artists are only looking out for their own needs, not the needs of the studio. If you want the studio to treat you better, increase their profits or decrease their costs.

    • Andreas Jablonka says:

      Knowing how slow sony operates I think this would still take ages and is worth our time me thinks!

      Also: way to paint a dark future;)

    • ChickenFingersRock says:

      Is this the fate that awaits Disney and Dreamworks too? They seem to be doing ok…

    • edwardh says:

      “… a new VFX house”.
      I’m sure that will work… because people just love to work under bad conditions? Why do you think certain companies have a bad reputation and don’t get good artists to stay? If a new house like you mentioned would open up, it would of course see the same consequences as Sony now does – burnt out, dissatisfied artists.

    • monkeywithatoolbelt says:

      You are missing the point. The point is NOT to make it financially viable for vfx facilities to continue making self-destructive deals with the studios. The idea is to pressure faculties and studios to make agreements that are sustainable.

      What would this new facility risen from the ashes of the spi dinosaur look like? The Orphanage? Giant Killer Robots? Both of those places were established to be the kind of place “artists wanted to work.” But they had to play by financial rules that wouldn’t allow portable benefits, overtime protections etc.

      Besides, Imageworks is not as disposable as any apocalyptic fantasizer would hope. There are few that can accommodate that production capacity.

    • Dave Rand says:

      The same old tired non-union arguments that have been presented every time labor attempts to match the same organizational skills of their employers. Expect more of this but trying to realize that you are simply emulating the same strategy, smart business practices, and leverage that your employers accomplished to get to where they are and that you are simply trying to enter a business relationship with some balance. On the film Journey to the Center of the Earth every single person in the credits got paid in full except the those that were non-union …the visual effects artist. The same with Redcliff. The same with Pirana 3-D and others.

      It’s never even a discussion to have the artists pay for the employer taxes as well as their own taxes, to work on a day rate that excludes overtime and even shorts their wages. To get paid on a 90 day billing cycle just to get screwed on the last 90 days… this is all happening right here in Los Angeles right now.

      Ask yourself why every other name in the credits is part of the union except you. It’s because we work for the most highly organized and leverage corporations on the planet. The rest of the talent just wised up to this decades ago. Every one of them were told it was too late, that it would never work. They were told that their jobs would disappear.

      Remember that you are talented and that is a gift to both you and your employer. Believe and act like you are in short supply because you are. The world is loaded with mediocre but if you have lasted in this business you are not. Behave like you’re worth it and maybe you’ll be treated as such. Ignore arguments that are equally pointed at people that put bumpers on cars because what you do makes imagination in storytelling design and education limitless.

  4. Steve Hulett says:

    The Animation Guild is working to get visual effects unionized as we speak. The faster there is a more level playing field, the better.

    • Anonymizer says:

      Quite a number of us have been waiting for over a year or two now? Seemed like each time the flame is kindled, only to hear the tumbleweed months later. From the past meetings, it was as if there was almost no strong sense of leadership, nor much information available to dispel misconceptions, nor strong sense of vision to convince us that this is the right thing to do.

      As cynical as I feel about this, I sure do hope this time around things will be different and progress will be made.

  5. sparks says:

    What’s the difference b/t what Bob and IBEW is doing vs the Animation Guild? How do we know who to contact? I definitely don’t want us getting divided over which union to go with. It’s hard enough just getting people interested in joining a union at all.

  6. vfxguy says:

    shouldn’t this cause be driven more towards vfx artist protection globally not just California but the profession itself.
    Is Canada, England etc considered the bad guys in all this.
    This feeling of entitlement is surfacing once again.

    • 839spi says:

      The cause definently should. Change has to start with the artists themselves. No one who is a fellow vfx worker is a bad guy in any way. It should be all of us working together for a better vfx industry. We are just starting the process at the location where we work. We encourage any and all artists to do the same regardless of where they live and work.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      That’s just not true. Contact Dusty Kelly in Vancouver and she’ll tell you how much support I’ve provided for greenshoot union movements in the Canada. I also supported and blogged about the UK vfx union movement. Read my post I provided links.

      You come on my blog frequently and have given the impression that you are in London. Did you ever contact BECTU?

      • William Firschberg says:

        I wouldn’t trust Dusty to keep your jobs safe during an organizing drive – just ask us over at Extras casting how honest and trustworthy she is.

  7. billyshakes1492 says:

    if this happens… congrts… trade association..mean scott ross’ dream come true..

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