I was stung by the comment by Dave Rand that the IATSE has left a void in the drive to represent visual effects artists, and of our "planned failure". I gather that Dave is making reference to our inadequate performance in the social media. On that subject, I meekly and humbly agree. You're right Dave! We still don't have a website. We're building one but it has been a slow and painful construction project. Maybe my blog isn't all that it should be. So, yes, we aren't clicking on all eight cyclinders there. But, that doesn't mean we aren't the answer to the VES Bill of Rights; which asks for protection for workers' rights without any concrete suggestions for how to obtain those goals.
What Dave and others are overlooking is our strong track record in representing workers in the entertainment industry.
Here's what we do best.
When a contract comes up for negotiation, here's what we do:
First, we survey the industry. Who are the employers? What do they make? To whom do they sell? If public companies, what is their stock price? EBITDA? Net profits? Gross revenues? You get the idea.
Second, we survey our members. How much do you make? How many weeks per year do you work? How long is your average downtime and how is the union doing at finding you work? How many hours per week do you work? Can you, do you turn down overtime? Are you married? Children? When do you plan on retiring? Have you utilized the Health Plan? How much were your out of pocket costs? Do you work for one, or several employers? These survesys are done in person, via snail mail, and via email. We hold meetings so that our members can ask questions, get answers, and even ask follow-up questions.
Third, we draft proposals. Wish lists. Some are probably unrealistic. Some a reach. Some downright critical to achieve. We make priorities. What would we trade for what? What if?? We hold yet more member meetings where we distribute the tentative proposals, discuss our expectations and fears. Eventually we finalize our proposals.
Fourth, we meet with the employer. Sometimes one employer. Sometimes an entire industry in a multi-employer setting. It makes a big difference. We present our proposals, explaining them in detail, and why the employer's actions have necessitated the proposal. The employer makes proposals to us. (For years, several studios proposed doing away with meal periods and meal penalties. Seriously. You don't need to eat. And you certainly don't deserve to be paid a penalty if the employer forces you to work twelve hours straight without a meal. They said that. Really, they did.)
Fifth: those meetings continue on a daily basis for weeks, sometimes months. Some of the negotiating is done in big rooms with lots of people. Some is done in one-on-one "sidebars", where leaders speak off-the-record and candidly about priorities, realities, and compromises. It often comes down to a late-night session on the night an agreement expires. With a strike-threat looming. I've stayed up all night many a time. And I've seen strikes by SAG, WGA, Teamsters, and Office Workers. The DGA came close one year, but we settled at about 3 AM. (But the DGA forgot to call their New York office and picketing occurred for a few minutes until the DGA called New York and explained that we had averted a strike a few hours back!)
Inevitably, we reach agreement.
We call yet another union meeting and distribute the agreement. We note the successes and the failures. The things we got, and the things we couldn't get. We explain concessions we made to the employer to encourage them to be more competitive. There are no secret handshakes. We hold a debate. Ultimately, we have a ratification vote. Only if the members approve the contract is the process complete. If the members reject the deal, we go back to the table and explain why our members feel it's not a fair deal. We fight to get that last crumb.
Check with the cinematographers, editors, production designers, grips, and electricians. Ask them about their medical insurance. Their anticipated pension. How much vacation and holiday pay they received last year.
They'll tell. We did good. We did well.
It's what we do best. I've been doing this for 39 years. Maybe my blog isn't all it could be. My website should be here by now. But it's not. It will be up soon.
But one thing I can unequivocally guarantee. We'll fight for you. Individually and collectively.
'Cause that's what we do best.
Take a look at the VES' Bill of Rights. Every single item on the wish list is covered by the IATSE Basic Agreement. And every other agreement we negotiate. And we'll incorporate those issues in a visual effects agreement. And, so long as there continue to be movies, and prima donna directors, and Hollywood studios, there will be LA-based visual effects companies with whom we will do business. We already have contracts with some of them. We'll get more.
It's what we do best.