Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hey, Tommy Short.

I don't think you're a bad guy.

I think you have your own set of priorities. And, as always, one person's priorities is another person's hurdles.

But I will say: I wish you were kinder, and had more solidarity, with your brothers in the WGA. Because you have a powerful, sizeable union that could do much to help.

Me? I'm an animation writer and a live action writer, and I am torn. I will honor both of my contracts.

Me? I wish my union fought a little more stronger for our brothers in the other union. Like the Teamers.

Yeah, I get the fact that SAG and the TEAMERS support is both wonderful and conditional. But it's support.

A few days ago, writers that work under your banner decided to pitch in and buy lunch for people that AREN'T.

Writers supporting writers.

C'mon Tommy. I know, deep down, you probably have heart, ethics, fire and resolve. TAG in (pun intended) with this fight. Because you can help.

I don't know you.

But I believe in you.

You can do this. How can we help?

- Steve Marmel


steve hulett said...

Welll ...

The Business Rep of TAG has picketed with the WGA strikers ...

TAG has put favorable stuff up about the WGA picketing (most recently photos of the NBC/Edwards thing) ...

There are lots of IA members who've shown up on the picket lines.

IA President Short is going to take his positions, and some will agree with them and others not. (I disagree with some.)

But here's some constructive criticism for the WGAw: it's fine to talk about union solidarity during a strike. It's even more fine to be part of the AFL-CIO, the LA County Federation of Labor, little solidarity things like that.

Which the WGAw isn't.

It's always good to walk the solidarity walk while you're, you know, talking the talk.

Anonymous said...

Steve M., I think it's totally fair for you to call Tom Short on what you see as his lack of labor solidarity (by the way, whenever anyone sees Tom Short referred to as "Tommy," we all know we're probably going to read a slanted piece, so you might lay off that little tic in the future).

Anyway, let's all show that we're big kids here and that we're not willing to buy into BS from either side. For example, here's a quote from David Young a few days ago:

Be forewarned, The AMPTP has a large advertising budget, and we can expect them to issue many more misleading statements. We know, however, that the truth will prevail.

Yep, they surely do make misleading statements, and misleading statements are bad. Got to watch those misleading statements.

And here's a quote from David Young's piece in the LA Times four days ago:

Writers also are seeking fairness in jurisdiction. Reality TV, animation and made-for-Internet programs are all evolving genres in which workers have found themselves underpaid and excluded from union representation. Writers in these areas only want what all workers in the entertainment industry need: fair pay, a pension plan and health insurance.

Animation writers don't have union representation? They need the WGA for health insurance? Pension plans? Salary minimums? Why, that stinky ol' IA local has been pretending to provide those things for years, and now we know they were lying, right?

Seriously, I've repeatedly read quotes by both Patric and David Young for several years that make this claim, that animation writers get no benefits. It really gets tiring, and it's hard to feel solidarity when you're constantly being lied about. I said this to Patric personally at a lunch we had over a year ago, but it doesn't seem to have made any difference.

Like Tom Short, the WGA is just saying what they feel like they need to say to best serve the interests of their union. And when pronouncements come from on high from the AMPTP, or the WGA, or the IA, I take 'em all with a big grain of salt.

(And by the way, someone needs to let David Young know that animation ain't a genre, and that, whatever it is, it ain't newly evolving. He sounds like someone from the garment industry when he babbles like that.)

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry, that last post was mine.

Kevin Koch

Marty said...

Kevin/Steve H.,

Your points are well taken. Although, as we all know, there's plenty of animation writing going on out there that is covered by NEITHER union, so David Young's statement isn't entirely innacurate.

As for the WGA not joining the AFL-CIO and the LA County Federation of Labor, could you elaborate on this a bit? I wasn't aware that this was a bone of contention with TAG/IATSE and I'm curious to know:

1. From TAG/IATSE's perspective, why SHOULD the WGA join the AFL-CIO and the LA County Federation of Labor?

2. Have SAG and the DGA joined?

3. (This one obviously requires some conjecture on your part, but:) Why hasn't the WGA joined?

Not necessarily trying to stir the pot here. Just curious about the issue.

Steve Hulett said...

The reason the WGAw hasn't joined the AFL-CIO is because it's members don't want to.

They voted the idea down the last time it was proposed.

The WGAe IS a member of the AFL-CIO. Why one and not the other? You'd have to ask somebody with more information than I possess.

But whatever the reason, it sort of undercuts the "solidarity" meme. Which is my ongoing point here.

Steve Hulett said...

Have SAG and the DGA joined?

Most entertainment guilds and unions are in the AFL-CIO. SAG, DGA, IATSE. WGAe.

The Teamsters, I believe, are in a rival organization that started a couple of years ago. (Prior to that, they were also in the AFL-CIO).

The WGAw is the guild that goes it alone...

Steve Hulett said...

From TAG/IATSE's perspective, why SHOULD the WGA join the AFL-CIO and the LA County Federation of Labor?

For the reasons that Mr. Young and Mr. Verrone are now talking about.


Example. The County Federation of Labor hasn't sanctioned the WGA's strike because it doesn't belong to the County Fed.

Matt Wayne said...

Although the LA County Fed's website leads with a statement by AFL-CIO president John Sweeney in support of the strike.


What's the difference between official sanction and official support?

Matt Wayne said...

Oh, and another question just occurred to me (sorry, doing laundry before we have company tomorrow and it puts me in a ruminating mood):

If our brothers and sisters in the AFL-CIO and the County Fed are issuing statements in support of the WGA strike, why isn't it a matter of solidarity for IATSE Local 839, as members of the AFL-CIO and the County Federation of Labor, to also issue statements of support? Or at least not issue statements that contradict the AFL-CIO's take on the issue?

Steve Hulett said...

Lots of IA members (me included) have voiced support for the strike.

I pretty much thought when I walked the WGA's picket line, that was demonstrating support. Same with supportive blog posts.

I've never said what the AFL-CIO's take on the issue was. Haven't researched it, so don't know.

What I wrote here was, the WGAw isn't part of the L.A. County Labor Federation, and the Fed hasn't sanctioned the strike. (Different from individuals in the organization voicing support.)

All I've said about the AFL-CIO is that the WGAw, unlike the WGAe, the DGA, SAG, and the IATSE isn't affiliated with it.

But it's great that John Sweeney is voicing support.

Steve Hulett said...

While we're on the subject of support and union vs. non-union, I talked to an LA TIMES reporter this morning and said the following:

I've got no problem with the WGA prohibiting its members from working on WGA animation work. That's what a union does during a strike.

And I don't have a position on what the WGA tells its members to do regarding non-union animation work. That's up to the WGA.

But I take strong exception to the WGA prohibiting its members from writing under another union's jurisdiction.

That's none of their business. It's like the Animation Guild prohibiting animation writers from writing live action during a TAG strike. I doubt that the WGA would accept that.

I added that the WGA had backed off their earlier position of preventing WGA members from working under another union's jurisdiction, and I was glad about that.

Matt Wayne said...

I don't understand. Sweeney's statement is under a County Fed banner, on their website. He explicitly says the AFL-CIO supports the WGA strike, not just him personally. The LA County Labor Federation is the county-level coordinating body of the AFL-CIO, right?

How does not sanctioning the strike mesh with the notice on their website in support of the strike? And why can't I find anything on their website about their not sanctioning the strike?

I'm really not trying to make waves here, but I can't parse this. Are you sure this non-sanction is a public position?

Steve Hulett said...

Okay, I've looked at the County Fed's website. Here's my take:

The NATIONAL AFL-CIO supports the Writers Guild of America strike because the Writers Guild of America east -- a party to the strike -- is an AFL-CIO affiliate, so OF COURSE the AFL-CIO is going to offer support.

And that gets posted on the County Fed's website, because the County Fed is also affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

But the Fed isn't sanctioning the strike (you'll note they have a press release for a sanction -- "LA Unions Approve Strike Sanction Request by Largerst Number of African-American Workers in Decades to Organize a Union." -- on the home page.)

No announcement for approval of sanction for the Writers Strike.

Why? Because at last week's meeting of the Fed, the Fed declined to approve a sanction.

I know this because Jeff Massie, my assistant, is a delegate to the Fed and was there to witness it.

Is this a huge, monster deal? No. Many unions and individual union members are supporting the WGA strike. But the L.A. County Fed isn't sanctioning the strike. That's all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

I have a few observations about this. One, here it is Nov. 20 and only now does Sweeney make a statement? I did a couple of searches, and couldn't find anything from before that. That doesn't sound like ringing support, especially since the mention of WGAw in his statement seems a touch half-hearted, like he was obligated to mention them because the WGAE is in the AFL-CIO and the WGAE is connected with the WGAw.

Also, why would he make this announcement the day before Thanksgiving, when no one will notice it? Why wasn't he flown to the Hollywood Blvd. rally Tuesday, or at least having his statement read to the crowd there by Verrone?

Along the same lines, I can't find any reference to the WGA strike on the AFL-CIO website, and only a single mention of it on their official blog over the last month (that's one entry, and not an endorsement, out of the last hundred or so blog entries). I only spend a couple of minutes looking over the AFL-CIO site and blog, so maybe I missed some stuff, but it doesn't look like the AFL-CIO is exactly getting behind the WGA strike.

All in all, the AFL-CIO "support" apprears pretty pro forma to me, but maybe you're seeing things I've missed.

Kevin Koch

Matt Wayne said...

You were saying it to show that the Fed wasn't in solidarity with the WGA, though. If I call the Fed and ask whether they're in solidarity with the WGA, will they say yes, no or decline to answer?

Also, if you're right and the LA Fed has a different position than its parent Labor organization, might 839 then take a different position on the WGA strike than the Fed, or even IATSE? Can we on the board pass a resolution in proud support of the strike, similar to the AFL-CIO statement, ending in the word "solidarity?"

Having never been to a board meeting yet, I may be getting in over my head here, but the question occurred to me.

Matt Wayne said...

Whoops, I didn't see your comment Kevin.

If that's weak support on the AFL-CIO's part, let's show them 839 can do better!

Can we put a statement on our website besides "Any individual member who chooses to honor any picket line is subject to permanent replacement?" We can put it up two days before a long weekend if you like.

Anne D. Bernstein said...

"Animation writers don't have union representation? They need the WGA for health insurance? Pension plans? Salary minimums? Why, that stinky ol' IA local has been pretending to provide those things for years, and now we know they were lying, right?"

This TRUE on the East Coast. What do you suggest WE do? We are so stuck in the middle. We are not represented by WGAe OR IATSE!!!

Andy said...

Steve H. I'll bet my next residual I'll never see that if TAG took a vote of all the script writers (not story artists) it represents and gave them a choice which guild they'd rather have as their union rep at least 90% would choose WGA. That's the real issue here. Please. Just let us choose.

Steve Hulett said...

...if TAG took a vote of all the script writers (not story artists) it represents and gave them a choice which guild they'd rather have as their union rep at least 90% would choose WGA.

This comes up every few years. I have the same position now that I had in 2000...2003...2005.

If the script writers had the power to sever, I would say "Fine. go ahead." Because I know this isn't about truth, justice and the American Way.

It's about money.

But the script writers don't have the power. And neither do I. That leverage rests with the IATSE President. And beyond that, the AMPTP.

And neither of them are going to push IA-TAG writers into the WGA's jurisdiction.

So if you want to work under the WGA contract with WGA residuals and all the trimmings, you have to work on a WGA show or feature.

Just be sure the project has the residuals you seek, because at present, WGA animation contracts in daytime don't.

Steve Hulett said...

Can we on the board pass a resolution in proud support of the strike, similar to the AFL-CIO statement, ending in the word "solidarity?"

Board members can bring up whatever proposals they want. They'll be discussed, voted on, passed or not passed.

Anonymous said...

I made a quick post yesterday in response to both Anne and Matt, but apparently it didn't go through.

Anne, it's really up to you and your fellow East Coast writers if you're represented, and who represents you. What I suggest you do is start talking with your peers, start signing rep cards with the union of your choice, and start the organizing process. You should call both the TAG office (talk to Steve Hulett) and the WGA and get advice and info.

And Mr. Hulett said pretty much what I was going to say regarding TAG making an official statement. Such statements either come from a motion made and passed at a general membership meeting, or an executive board meeting. And I don't think it's fair to suggest that the only thing that's been put up on the TAG Blog is the statement that people can and will be fired and disciplined for honoring the picket line (which is exactly the same statement made to their members by both SAG and the DGA) -- Steve has posted his support for the writers, and picketed with them.

Finally, Andy, what Steve H. wrote above is a point too many animation writers choose to ignore, or to even deny when told point blank (and I know, from the time I was a guest of the Animation Writers Caucus, how strong that denial can be). Three things would have to happen for all animation writers to get those fantastic residual-laden WGA contracts: (1) the IA would have to give up the jurisdiction AND (2) the AMPTP would have to accept the change of jurisdiction to the WGA. Then, you'd have (3) the WGA bargaining for those sweet contracts with the AMPTP.

ALL three of those things need to happen. What some also choose to ignore is that the WGA has a track record on number (3) -- they've already negotiated some non-primetime animation contracts, and they haven't been for the big bucks/residual-laden goodie bags that many writers covet.

Anonymous said...

Damn, I hate that I don't have my automatic blogger identity anymore. That last post was mine.

Kevin Koch

Andy said...

Kevin and Steve. Thanks for explaining the process of how us writers can peel off from the IA. I'm not being snarky. I really do appeciate it. So it sounds like it all starts with Mr. Short then. And since he refuses to listen to a segment of his members (script writers) you can understand the frustration we (and by extention the WGA) feel towards him. It's like he's holding us hostage to a cotract none of us want to be in. And quite frankly none of us would wish to sign. It's forced on us when we sign a contract for a daytime animation script. We are given zero choice in the matter. Unless deciding to not work in a field we love (and feeds our family) is a choice. Now the second part of Kevin's equation -- convincing the AMPTP to sign us up is something I believe is quite possible. (It's been done sucessfully with Primetime and it's currently being done on the feature front.) And it's something the WGA would have liked to have on the table with these current negotiations. But we can't even attempt to ask for it because of Mr. Short.

Kevin Koch said...

Actually, Andy, I don't think it starts with Tom Short. I think the AMPTP and the IA would have to act at the same time.

And I think your assumption that the AMPTP would be open to the idea is, well, not supported by their bargaining pattern. It's in their power to grant the WGA jurisdiction in feature animation at all the studios that aren't under an 839 contract. Same for TV work that isn't under an 839 contract. Have they done that? Is that something they've appeared to be open to in the current negotiations?

And the AMPTP didn't put the Fox animation writers on the Simpsons and subsequent Fox prime-time series under a WGA contract -- Fox did. In that particular case, Fox wanted those writers, and those writers demanded it be done under a WGA contract, and they got it. From Fox. Not the AMPTP. And it's not like even Fox is going to sign WGA contracts for animation writers if they aren't forced to by the writers they want -- witness Blue Sky, an extremely successful animation division of Fox, where the writers and story artists aren't protected by ANY union contract.

One last thought on Tom Short's role. Imagine that he could unilaterally jettison all animation writers from TAG's jurisdiction. And that he did that. In this real world, where TV animation budgets have been shrinking for years, and where feature producers have been increasingly tight fisted towards everyone except big-name voice talent, what would happen to those suddenly non-union writers?

Would the producers happily sign WGA contracts so those writers could get health and pension benefits again? Would they sign contacts with the WGA so salaries for those writers would skyrocket? Would they sign WGA contracts that would pay those writers millions in residuals? Would they sign WGA contracts that would make them vulnerable to the frequent WGA strikes and strike threats? And if they didn't sign those WGA contracts, would the 12 or 13 thousand WGA members who have nothing to do with animation go on strike so those 200 or so animation writers could get union benefits and residuals?

I'm also not being snarky here. Those are real questions, and they're questions I've never had an animation writer be willing to answer. What I always hear is, let the writers out of 839 and we'll take care of the rest. And then I ask, why hasn't the WGA "taken care of" all the nonunion feature and TV animation work already, since the IA isn't stopping any of that?

I think, based on the clear pattern of the studios and the AMPTP, that if animation writers suddenly lost their TAG 839 affiliation, that a tiny handful might get WGA contracts that would be better, and that the vast majority would be left out in the cold, with crappy or no benefits, absolutely no residuals (not even the kind that support health and pension plans), and payment rates that are about the same or slightly lower than what they're getting now.

What I'm saying is be careful what you wish for, because being outside of TAG 839 may not be as heavenly as you imagine.

Kevin Koch said...

By the way, I'd also be interested in hearing how the WGA is making headway in organizing feature animation. To my knowledge, there have been 2 WGA written animated features. There's The Simpsons Movie, which used the same writers and same crew as the TV series, so was of course done under the same union contracts as the series. And I believe there's Happy Feet, which from my understanding was done WGA because George Miller, producer/director/writer, wanted it that way (as, I believe, did a couple of co-producers/directors/writers on the project).

Those seem like special cases to me, and aren't indicative of the WGA making headway in feature animation with the AMPTP. But I'd be happy to learn if there are other WGA animated featues I've missed.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, though the residuals issue is a large part of why the writers in 839 would rather be in the WGA, there is another reason. Most of us feel that writers understand the concerns of other writers.

Can you imagine what it would be like if all the artists in TV and feature animation were represented by the WGA or SAG?

It’s not just about money.

Kevin Koch said...

I understand that sentiment. To that, all I can say is that I've had feature animators say that character designers and animators should be in SAG, not in 839, because those foks create the character performances, and that the rest of the union doesn't understand there issues (and their desire for SAG-style residuals). I've also heard a few artists say they wish they weren't in a union where most of the other members weren't non-artists, which is in fact the case in 839.

Some animation writers are fond of making the point that only 7 or 8% of the TAG membership are writers, and that they can never be understood by the rest of a supposedly monolithic membership. Truth is, there is no one animation job title that dominates 839. My job title, animator, is probably no larger a percentage of the membership than is the case for writers. My issues aren't necessarily the same as those of feature story artists, which aren't the same as the issues for TV storyboard artists. So it goes for directors, color stylists, checkers, layout artists, modelers, sluggers, shader writers, prop designers, background painters, riggers, lighters, clean-up artists, ink & paint, and on, and on.

So the oft-cited divide between "artists" or "animators" or "cartoonists" on one side and "writers" on the other is really a straw man argument.

Finally, I'm not so convinced that the WGA membership would be any more sensitive or supportive of the particular needs of daytime TV animation writers than 839 is. Maybe I'm wrong, but I've seen a lot of discussions on WGA blogs, and I wouldn't be surprised if the feeling of "being at the kiddie table" didn't entirely go away even once you were in the WGA.

Kevin Koch said...

That's "folks" and "their" in the second sentence.

Anonymous said...

You make a good point, as always. However…

I know there are many different types of artists in animation. I also know there are many different types of writers within the WGA, i.e., sit-com writers, feature writers, soap opera writers, etc. But isn’t it possible for a prop designer to be storyboard artist, a clean-up artist to be a background painter, a prop designer to be a character designer, and on, and on? They are all different, but they also share a fundamental understanding. The writer, however, doesn’t really fit into that equation. The writer in TAG is the true outsider.

So again, imagine if you were in a union where you were the outsider. Or better yet, imagine if a minority of artists found themselves in the WGA, but most were in TAG. Don’t you think those artists in the WGA would be saying to themselves – why aren’t we in TAG?

Honestly, I’m not being snippy here, I’m just saying…

Kevin Koch said...

But isn’t it possible for a prop designer to be storyboard artist, a clean-up artist to be a background painter, a prop designer to be a character designer, and on, and on?

The short answer is, "no." The long answer is, the kinds of crossovers between job titles that you're talking about are extremely rare.

The vast majority of those job titles I listed a couple of posts above have virtually zero overlap in their skillset. Ask the hundreds of character clean up artists, 2D effects artists, ink & paint artists, etc., etc. who were downsized when hand-drawn features went away. Most of them are out of the business. The ones who stayed had to completely retrain, just as if they were completely new to the industry.

Many, many of the 839 job classifications aren't artists at all. Further, there is relatively little crossover between feature and TV, between hand-drawn and CG. Hell, even among storyboard artists, many find themselves pigeonholed as either action-adventure or funny animal or whatever, and can't find work outside the genre they've done most of their work in.

Animation is far more specialized than you realize. So, while there are a tiny handful of people who can do several different jobs, those people are rare.

Matt Wayne said...

I don't see writers as outsiders.

I'm not particularly interested in world in which 839 doesn't represent animation writers, either. But it sure doesn't scare me. Organizing unrepresented writers would be a snap compared to generating the megawattage needed to run the magic wand that lets us leave IATSE.

And once it did happen, we'd either get nonunion work like we've almost all had before, or we'd vote in the WGA and their weakest animation deal, which is pretty much the TAG deal with a better pension, and the hybrid writers who had beeen contributing to two pension plans would be thrilled.

But, as I said, this doesn't really appeal to me. I'd love to make this not a writers vs. everybody issue.

Because the more I look at this and try to be dispassionate, the more I think both writers and artists should be repped by the WGA.

The issue that separates writers is an intellectual property issue. Expressing a thought, in words or pictures, creates a copyright that writers and artists both assign to the employer. A timer may do skilled work, but really doesn't have this issue. But a board artist or designer must sign a contract that swears up and down that they quit all claims to their work forever, in this life, the next, and all permutations of all media.

That's the intellectual property part of the equation, what separates other skilled, admittedly creative work from the kind of authorship that qualifies for royalty payments in comics, illustration, and come to think of it, ASCAP, and that the WGA could organize better in Kevin's "World Without an 839" example.

But, where do we get a magic wand that cool? Better to work with what we have.

Andy said...

Kevin. All your arguments about what would happen if IA jettisoned script writers from the guild sound well thought out in theory. But we all know that if Mr. Short truly did let us go, the WGA would snap us up in a sec. Especially with the current borderline militant WGA leadership. Years back (2001) the WGA leadership wasn't focused on organization. They didn't care. That's why the Nick writers got shafted by the WGA (among many other reasons). But the WGA current leadership (as evidenced by the current strike) have a lot more teeth. They'd be on us like flies on horseshit. And, in my humble opinion, the anmation producers/studios would have to make a deal (albeit one that is much less than most WGA contracts). There'd probably be better mins than IA. Payment to Health and Pension. Probably a pared down residual formula. But one than would pay off if a show was a huge hit. But all of this would have to start with Mr. Short letting us go. And quite frankly most of us would risk going without a guild for a potentially much much better future and a union that understands our needs.

Kevin Koch said...

Andy, we don't have to guess how successful the WGA would be in "snapping up" nonunion writers, nor do we have to guess what those WGA contracts would look like in daytime animation.

Frankly, the WGA has done a piss poor job of organizing nonunion animation. For all the noise that's been made, there's been little to show for it. So why would the WGA suddenly have more success in organizing if they didn't have to compete with 839 anymore?

And we already have an idea about the WGA animation contracts outside of primetime (and guess what, no residuals).

My point is, whether it comes to organizing, or signing fantastic contracts, it's not just about what the WGA wants (or TAG 839, or any other union) -- the studios/producers have a VERY big say in both matters. And a change of union jurisdiction isn't suddenly going to make them go all soft in the knees.

Anonymous said...

Again, if a minority of artists found themselves in the WGA, but most were in TAG, don’t you think those artists in the WGA would be saying to themselves – why aren’t we in TAG?

Anonymous said...

I didn't think there would be a response to the above question.