May Day

Tomorrow is May 1st. A massive general strike day being organized by the Occupy Movement. If you’re un-employed  or employed and able take the day (or even longer) off from work please get out there to show your support in the fight against your company that’s slowly chiseling away at your benefits while sending your jobs overseas.

If you’re like much of the middle class just one step away from being lower class and have so little disposable income that you’re simply too scared or just not willing to take off any work, at very least please don’t be a subservient happy consumer and restrain from shopping (an exception would be your small, local business of course) for all of May for crap you don’t need in the first place.

Gerneral strikes have been hugely effective through history for making the corrupt system which only serves the 1% be forced to listen to the people and have made major advances in forcing the regression machine in a progressive direction as more and more people realize they’re being forced to the bottom.

More information here:

Imageworks management responds to organization effort

Imageworks employees are treated to a gathering on a semi-monthly basis, appropriately named monthlies. For those of you who haven’t spent any time there, the format is pretty simple. A handful of executives will get up in front of the theater and speak briefly about their respective departments, and they will talk about corporate direction, future bids, etc. Next, a Visual Effects supervisor or two will address the crowd and do a brief presentation on the shows that they are leading. Finally, sizzle reels for the shows in production are displayed for folks to see what other teams are working on.

It’s a nice way to take a break from work, see other folks face to face, appreciate their work, and have a few beers afterward.

This monthlies, however, had an interesting twist. Imageworks executive Randy Lake addressed the crowd and made everyone aware that management knows about the organization attempt. He said that while he respects the rights of employees to organize, he would encourage those employees to check out some of the benefits that Imageworks already offers employees. He then proceeded to encourage folks to get in contact with P&O (Sony speak for HR) to see what sort of benefits they have available to them.

While we don’t discount the fact that Imageworks offers benefits to freelancers and better benefits to staff members, we should point out the biggest issue with Mr. Lake’s points: most of the employees in that room are going to leave Imageworks at some point in the future, voluntarily or otherwise.

Even if Sony offered its freelancers the best benefits in the world, it wouldn’t change the fact that as soon as they leave, they would no longer be eligible for any of these. That’s where the Union comes in. Health care, pension, and 401(k) are portable with the Union, so not only do you get great benefits, you get to keep them no matter where you work, providing you work a certain number of hours at a union shop per year.


Short term / Long term

While our goals for good jobs for all digital artists and personnel can be found on the about section, it’s worth noting some specifics on how this site tends to operate. In our current broken system, we acknowledge that not only will that not happen anytime soon, but the corporate, underbid & cut costs at all costs mindset is racing us as fast as possible in the other direction which will only continue to eviscerate jobs and untimely create a permanent underclass where workers are constantly push to subsistence level.

It took a long time to get us here and while it doesn’t have to, we know it will take a long time to get us out. Here are short term and long term steps that must be taken to correct. If you are reading this chances are not only do you care but are also a non-passive consumer of information. If you’re far enough along that path that you’ve had the inevitable realization that your industry is disappearing from North America (US first, Canada second) and have figured out its the artists that must rise up and fight for good jobs, here are short term as well as long term steps that must be taken. And by the way, the United States has done all of these things before.

Short term: (you and me)

-Educate those who have allowed themselves to absorb 1% mis-information. An example would be the person sitting two desks over from you who says things like ”If we unionize that will make our jobs go away.”

-Organize vfx artists. You spend your lunch hour reactively bitching about the company you work for. Move past that onto proactively standing together to support the group of those who agree so you can all function as a whole.

-Action. Social networking and blogging is useful in terms or organizing but nothing will really happen without physical action. This is what the Occupy movement is about and where we aim to head if others continue to show interest. Help us build a group of VFX soldiers by letting us know you know.

Long term: (you and me and the people pushing bottom up activism that changes the public knowledge to the point where the political will is there to make these things happen)

-Strong unionization or trade unionism. This create leverage and power. “if you don’t pay all of us overtime, all of us are going to walk out the door until you do.”

-Tariffs. The train has left the station and is not coming back. No matter how organized artists are, organization at the ground level is mainly useful for working conditions and quality of life but doesn’t have a direct correlation with outsourcing to lower paying countries or other regions will worst working conditions. A tarriff says, ”hey company trying to maximize profit at all costs, you’re welcome to send that work to India so you can pay a worker 10 cents when you would otherwise have to pay and American worker a dollar, but if you do, you’ll have to pay a 90 cent tarriff on that.” While we can’t do much about other nations offering extremely cheap labor, what we can do is penalize corporations that choose to exploit that pool of inexpensive labor. At the very least, we should close tax loopholes which allow companies to send jobs overseas and pay little to no corporate income tax.

-Punish bad behavior / Reward good behavior. If the political will is there to support the 99% before the 1%, we would have the opposite of what we have now which is currently providing tax incentives to actually send jobs away. A tent-pole example of this is why most films are not shot in California even though all the studios are based in California, which is because studios are currently rewarded for bad behavior of shooting them out of state or out of country rather than being rewarded for good behavior of shooting them right on their own sound stages in LA. This draws parallels at every level of politics and an extension in another area would be rewarding companies that invest in green energy and punish companies that pollute which is the opposite of what’s happening now. Mainly thanks to lobbyists in Washington for the 1% special intrests.

-Move towards a better system. This is an entirely other subject of course but there’s no reason we can’t have a system with less economic in-equality that puts people and the well being of the planet before profits.

Did we pick the wrong week to go on vacation or what?

Apologies for being silent as of late. Occasionally, we need to spend time with our families for a little R&R after shows deliver.

What an amazing last couple of weeks! VFXSoldier was able to successfully call Digital Domain Media Group CEO John Textor to task, and he has given a one-on-one interview with FXGuide, explaining his position.

SpiUnion has really kicked it into high gear, with the help of The Animation Guild. Today marked the first meeting about organizing a visual effects facility that has occurred since 2003, when the original attempt to organize SPI was made.

Back in 2003, the climate at Imageworks was very different. Many employees had been given staff positions. The company offered profit sharing, and a handsome 401(k) match for staff employees. Staff employees were given paid sick leave and vacation, and even freelancers were given the option to have PPO health insurance. Most importantly, in 2003, Imageworks did not have facilities in Vancouver, Albuquerque, and Mumbai.

Things have changed over time for the worse. The outsourcing threat now looms large before us as artists. For example, Imageworks is attempting to recruit just over 100 people to work on Smurfs 2, and all of these positions are to be filled in Vancouver. While there are some exceptions, gone are the staff positions, and gone are profit sharing and generous 401(k) matching. Imageworks does offer health benefits to freelancers, but currently they are HMO only.

Artists in Culver City (and hopefully in Vancouver, too) are uncertain about their future, and now the option of standing together in the face of adversity looks even more appealing. Judging from the turnout at today’s organizational meeting, and the informed, articulate questions that artists were asking Mr. Kaplan, we have high hopes for a successful organizing drive.

Thanks go to Mr. Kaplan, SpiUnion and VFXSoldier for setting everything up and for getting the word out.