IATSE Launches a Web Site!

Ladies and gentlemen, may I have a drumroll, please.

IATSE International has formally launched a website for the Visual Effects community!

Please take a moment to visit, and forward to everyone who has questions about organizing.


This is great news. One of the major issues that VFX artists have taken with the union is the lack of a web presence. As a community, we really need an online reference that we can consult from time to time when questions need to be answered. In addition, the online presence gives artists the security and anonymity inherent with anything online.

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.

Healthcare for US Visual Effects Workers

As discussed in the first introductory post and several tweets, this blog was established for the betterment of visual effects artists world-wide. We aim to do this through education and organization, where appropriate.

We feel that organizing with a union is key to success. Together we stand in solidarity with one another.

First, we should state that we are in no way affiliated with either IATSE, IBEW, or any other organized labor group. With that said, this post will be the first in a series of pieces on the benefits of organizing, along with debunking some of the more common misconceptions about membership in a union.

The first issue that we are going to discuss is Health Care. We are aware that those of you at work in the UK and Canada have government systems to rely on, so this is primarily a concern for those working in the United States.

Freelance artists that work in the United States have three options for paying for their healthcare. The first is to pay cash in the event of a medical emergency. The second is to buy private insurance, and the third is to be provided coverage through your employer. If you are 22 years old, you can take a calculated risk. The assumption is that it is unlikely that you will get sick or become injured, so you can probably get away with not having insurance. If you are older, and if you have a family, that option becomes less and less appealing. The costs of medical care in the United States can be staggering. To deliver a child by C-section can cost upwards of US $70,000.00. A stay overnight in the emergency room typically costs $10,000 per day, and the most common cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. is unpaid medical bills.

Purchasing health insurance as individuals can be difficult at best. If you are older or have a pre-existing condition (pregnant woman are counted among those), coverage will cost ridiculous amounts of money, in some cases more than US $1,000 per month. Even if you are young, healthy, and without cares in the world, the coverage that you get is going to be minimal and it will be expensive.

If you have secured a staff position or you are fortunate enough to work for one of the studios that actually provides health care benefits to their employees, then you know that you are sitting pretty. Employers are required to provide coverage to you regardless of a pre-existing condition. Employers often subsidize the cost of the health plan, and the benefits often cover quite a bit. The only problem? If you lose your job, you have two options. You can either a) continue to pay the cost of your health plan without employer subsidies, or b) you can buy coverage as an individual. Continuing on your employer’s coverage without their contributions is called paying for COBRA. While cheaper than purchasing insurance on your own, COBRA can be extremely expensive. For further information, here is a link to an article that was written in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the high costs of COBRA.

This is where a labor union comes in. I’m going to focus on benefits provided by The Animation Guild, or IATSE local 839. When you become a new member, participation in the Health Plan typically starts after six months of employment. This gets you health coverage for the next six months. However, health care isn’t guaranteed for life once you become eligible. For every qualifying period of six months, you must work at least 400 hours (10 weeks or 2.5 months) at a union signatory facility. The health care they provide is through the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan. More information on the benefits they provide is available here.

The best part of these benefits? Provided you work the minimum number of hours at union signatory facilities, they are portable, even if you end up working for a non-union shop on occasion. This gives United States artists the security of health care coverage for themselves and their families.

TAG has a very informative page on qualifying for health plans, the Bank of Hours, and more for those who wish to continue reading.