Haven’t we done this before? The failed 2003 vote

Tim Sarnoff sarnoff@imageworks.com

to spi
The votes have been counted. 401 people voted.

The results are:
373 No
24 Yes

Imageworks will remain non-union. More to follow in tomorrow’s monthlies.


And that is how it ended 9 years ago.

This is an effort to inform all the new hires about the past, and not to open old wounds. Since there is no history book, we’re left with what the veteran artists say as a document for what happened.

(and what a comment it is on our business that 9 years at the same place is seen as being an old timer.)

Check out these posts from Steve Hullett, the TAG Business Representative, from 2009 about the Union’s side of what happened (the comments are informative as well):



A veteran of the vote has submitted the following story to us:

“I don’t remember if the formation of SPA triggered the vote or not, but it all seemed to happen at about the same time. In the era of Spidey2, and Polar Express I think.

Most communication was done via an email alias we would use to discuss things with each other, and it would sometimes turn into petty arguments. A lot of people didn’t want to deal with it, and just kind of tuned out and wanted the whole thing to go away.

A lot of pressure came from long-time senior artists to keep the union out, and that pressure would trickle down to the new production hires. I never heard anyone say “don’t vote union or else”, but there was a mood in the air that that was what you were supposed to do to fit in and keep everyone happy. You know, the old “don’t rock the boat” story.

The feeling was that that TAG was very stand-offish, and had a take it or leave it sort of an attitude. If we joined, great. If we didn’t then whatever, it was our loss.

There was also the overwhelming opinion that the benefits we enjoyed would always be there, because why wouldn’t they? I don’t think anyone could have fathomed at the time how the company would slash our benefits to the bone, and leave us in worse conditions had we voted for the union in the first place. Practically the only thing we have left are expensive PPO insurance options, some sick days, and a small matching 401k.

I remember Tim saying at monthlies after the vote that one of the lingering issues was the difference in benefits between staff and production hires. We forget production/show hires had NO (ed: HMO only) benefits before the union vote happened. Tim delivered on his promise and gave some benefits to production hires. My understanding is that new production hires get HMO only, no sick days, no vacation days, no 401k.

If we had voted for the union back then we would be vested with a pension paying us a monthly benefit when we retire until we die. Now we are 9 years behind qualifying for lifetime health benefits at retirement”

What’s different now:

The SPI management shakeup of 2009 has given us an all new administration, and removed many old timers.

TAG is taking an active roll in helping us out, and being there to answer any and all questions.

We have Twitter / Facebook/ and the SpiUnion site to communicate with each other. We can join the discussion via our phones at any time. There was rampant mis-information at the time. A site like this with TAG answering our questions is a far healthier discussion.

The company, industry, and the world are very different places than they were in 2003. How many employees from 2003 have been layed off and shown the door since then? What happened to all the great benefits that kept staff employees from considering unionization? Lots of things have changed, but the union is still there. The SPA contract is still there and the Health and Pension plans they participate in are still there too.

The law (National Labor Relations Act Section 9(3)) says that a year has to pass before another representation election can be held at the same facility. That year has long passed. Why let a bad decision from almost 9 years ago affect us for the rest of our careers?


Edit 4/22/2011 :

One of the nice things about this site is all the people mailing us in info. It’s been brought to our attention that prod hires at the time did receive HMO benefits. We’ve verified it with several people, and  have amended the above statement.


7 Responses to Haven’t we done this before? The failed 2003 vote

  1. […] of which there’s a new blogger called SpiUnion out there campaigning for unionization of Sony Pictures Imageworks. There is a post about […]

  2. skaplan839 says:

    Hello all .. Steve Kaplan here. I asked Steve Hulett, our Business Rep, for some clarification about the 2003 representation vote and organization drive. Here’s what he wrote to me:

    The run up to the Imageworks vote in 2003 saw a series of meetings in the SPI theatre. The IA took the lead in this, as it was an IA contract being voted on, not a TAG contract.

    The health plan and pension were explained to the crew. The first meeting was fairly contentious. The permanent staff was hostile; the production hires receptive. A few production hires spoke well of the pension and health package, but soon stopped talking because the permanents weren’t receptive.

    At subsequent meetings, the group that showed up for presentations were mainly negative. The head of the MPIPHP (Motion Picture Industry Health and Pension Plan) got into a shouting match with two or three Imageworks employees during a meeting. (Not good.)

    Afterwards, the President of TAG and I met with people outside the theatre. The consensus was that Imageworks benefits were great, why would they want to switch to MPIPHP and the TAG 401k Plan? We said that the company could always take the corporate benefits away. Nobody thought that was likely to happen.

    There has been some buyers’ remorse from some ex SPI employees since then, but the 2003 vote was what it was.

  3. […] Reporter: History is complicated though: a failed 2003 attempt by the Animation Guild to organize SPI casts a shadow over the current effort. […]

  4. Erica says:

    I lived through the last time the union was at SPI too. I would just like to point out that the artist quoted above is mistaken about one thing: prod hires did get HMO coverage BEFORE the vote- I was production for a year, and I had it. Of course there wasn’t 401k, matching, bonuses… All that stuff. But there were benefits, with which I was quite happy at the time.

    Just for clarification. Thanks!

  5. Erica says:

    Actually- Steve’s post is very surprising to me. I was permanent staff at the time, but never felt like staff was saying vote no or else. I do remember the shouting match over the health plan- I was in it. The guy kept telling us their health plan was better than ours. I researched it and compared programs apples for apples and there were several instances where in fact the union plan fell short. I brought this up in the next meeting, and was told that he wouldn’t discuss the details with us. “So how can you say it’s better?”. “Because it is.” the end.

    That’s just my point of view of course- but I have to say, when someone treats you like that, why would you want them representing you as well?

    It’s a completely different world now though!

  6. skaplan839 says:

    I’ve heard a lot of stories about the last unionization attempt. The one thing I heard through all of them, is the feeling that the union wasn’t properly representing themselves.

    That’s one thing we’re not doing again.

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