No, this isn't about the union.
However, in the whole arena of "why do writers seem to get more respect" than animators (I put the word seem in there, pointing out that again, from my perspective, there is respect), I think the above question is valid.
Most writers have agents. Most animators don't.
When those of us with representation walk into a studio, by the time we've gotten there, we've had somebody besides us hammering the studio for the best deal, a clear delineation of our duties, our pay, our end dates... all the important stuff. In my mind, this gives us a few legs up at the start of our term of employment:
* At no point did we, personally, have to compromise with anyone for our jobs. We stayed out of it. We walk in knowing we got the best deal we could get, and weren't taken advantage of by past relationships.
* Our agents deal with the studio (or production company) - not the line producer. Which means you're not negotiating with the person that you're going to end up working for. It takes the "what if I push too hard" out of the equation.
* Having a lawyer that works in entertainment in conjunction with an animation agent, or an agent that does more than just animation, means you have somebody negotiating for you that treats the deal like a "television deal," not a "cartoon deal." That person isn't going to care about minimums, they're going to fight for what they believe you deserve. They're not going to settle for "the raise everybody else gets," they're going to push for what you want.
All of that, I think, adds up to that person walking into their first day of the job with momentum, respect and boundaries.
My point isn't that people who take jobs without an agent get screwed - only the person with the job can answer that. My point is, with representation, you're walking into a negotiation the same way a writer, a director, a producer or an executive producer, walks into that job.
Yes, an agent costs 10%. A lawyer costs 5% or, perhaps, an hourly fee. The question then becomes... is it worth it?
Again, I want to stress - this is not a slam at the union. Unions represent everyone (ideally), but they have to do so with minimums, and broad ones at that. I believe that you need someone in your corner that goes for the most you can get, not the least that's allowed.
But I also believe that person cannot be you.
Those are my thoughts. Yours?