Three years ago I wrote about an anti-poaching agreement revealed in a Federal investigation between Pixar and ILM. The case later expanded to reveal that not only were big high-tech companies like Google and Apple were involved, but these anti-poaching agreements were designed by CEOs like Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, and Meg Whitman.
Now a recent article in Pando reveals that even more companies were involved and one of them is DreamWorks Animation. The court documents show messages from Pixar President Ed Catmull to Disney’s Head of Studio that clearly show the intention was to keep wages down:
Plaintiffs’ evidence also supports Dr. Leamer’s theory that Defendants’ anti-solicitation agreements were intended to avoid “bidding wars” for personal that could drive up wages. See, e.g., Shaver Decl., Ex. 60 (stating in an email that Pixar and Lucasfilm “have agreed that we want to avoid bidding wars”). As summarized by Pixar’s President, Ed Catmull, when writing to the head of Disney Studios:
We have avoided wars up here in Norther[n] California because all of the companies up here — Pixar, ILM (Lucasfilm], Dreamworks, and a couple smaller places — have conscientiously avoided raiding each other.
When the story first broke years ago I really hoped DreamWorks wasn’t involved. For me it was one of my most favorite places to work. VFX professionals in general are very cynical about how we are treated by the business and DreamWorks was sort of the exception and the refuge from all that when I worked there at the time. So when the news was revealed it ruined my day.
Of course some of you might say there was some plausible doubt about DreamWorks Animation’s involvement. I can assure you that it’s true. When I was at Digital Domain we had a huge show that needed to ramp up Character Effects (CFX) talent. Since I once worked in DreamWorks’ CFX department, I expressed that Digital Domain should reach out to the talent there to help us with the show. I was immediately told that the company was not allowed to contact any DreamWorks employees. This angered me as I knew many talented artists at DreamWorks were upset with the contracts being offered by DWA management and that DD would have probably made better offers.
Now before many of you place group blame on recruiters, it’s important to know from the very beginning of this scandal there have been very good recruiters who denounced this practice. Furthermore, I know a few Dreamworks recruiters who were an absolute joy to work with (except one). It’s important because while it’s amazing how acceptable this practice of de-facto wage theft was, what’s even worse are the recent revelations of the pure joy Steve Jobs had in ruining the career of one recruiter who tried to avoid breaking the law.
It’s also important to recognize one of the few companies and CEOs that avoided this illegal deal: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.
Regardless, in the end a part of me wants to disregard everything I learned about “doing it right.” As a friend on Facebook pointed out:
The world is being run by the wrong people. But the reason why is because the right people don’t want to be that evil.