VFX Union Meetup – 4/27

April 25, 2012

Friday April 27th.

Culver Hotel

9400 Culver Boulevard  Culver City, California 90232
12-3 pm

IATSE Representatives Vanessa Holtgrewe and Peter Marley along with TAG organizer Steve Kaplan will be back at the Culver Hotel to answer, questions, hand out rep cards, and talk about the next steps necessary to Sony to negotiate a contract for the artists at Imageworks.

This time, the meeting will be held in the dining room of the hotel. Water, iced tea and lemonade will be available along with some finger-foods. A sign will be placed in the lobby pointing the way to the room.

Heard lots of rumors about healthcare, and 401k plans? Not sure how the retirement benefits work? What would you like to see them do for you? Come by and ask them in person! You don’t need to be a Sony employee to attend. All vfx artists are welcome.

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Meeting wrapup

April 23, 2012

Wow, great turn out everyone! We even got people to drive in from other facilities, which is awesome.

Sorry its taken a few days to post this update. LOTS of movement, talking, and planning to review.

Everyone got to see and say hello to everyone else. Lots of press coverage of course. Even better is all the artists commenting on the various articles with their own personal stories and feelings. A good takeaway point is that WE get to decide what is and isn’t in a future union agreement. Once enough rep cards are in, a nomination committee will be selected to hammer out the actual language. So now is the time to express your needs/wants/questions/and concerns.

This was not the only meetup, there will be more. Steve wants to come down here every week to talk to us. Probably on different days and times since everyone’s schedule is all over the place. Mail us or him if there are times you feel will work better than others. (We hear there will be food next time too!)

TAG’s coverage here.

Scott Squires (big time former ILM vfx supe) was there, and has a great post with specific info for vfx artists with questions about unionizing.

Variety posted an article. (Excuse their idea that all of us are “animators”, support is across disciplines and titles)

Cartoon Brew has coverage as well.

We’ve updated the links on the sidebar to keep track of the press coverage. And we added a section where we’ll be keeping all the official responses from the company so far.

If you are at another facility and want some info, mail us. Maybe you’re not comfortable with talking to TAG yet, or want to stay anonymous. That’s cool, we can walk you through the steps you need to get the ball rolling at your facility too.

spiunion at hotmail dot com


April 16, 2012

Friday April 20th.

Culver Hotel

9400 Culver Boulevard  Culver City, California 90232
12-3 pm

Added on 4/19: See parking information under the map below ..

TAG organizer Steve Kaplan and IATSE Representatives Vanessa Holtgrewe and Peter Marley will be there to answer your questions and hand out rep cards (this time with postage paid envelopes!)

Heard lots of rumors about healthcare, and 401k plans? Not sure how the retirement benefits work? What would you like to see them do for you? Come by and ask them in person!

We can complain to each other all day and hope someone, someday, does something. Or, YOU can make a difference.

Besides stopping by, here’s what we need from you:

1. Tell everyone! We’re posting around the internet and talking in the halls to get the word out, and we need your help too. You could print out this post and hang it up in the halls. Help us get the word out.

2. We need volunteers willing to take back cards from Steve and hand them out at work. The discussion is out in the open now. Do not disrupt the workday with card distribution. Finish your work first, then hand out cards.

You don’t need to be a Sony employee to attend. All vfx artists are welcome.


Its best for anyone driving to the meeting to park in the Trader Joe’s lot located just east of the hotel and across the street from Imageworks, or at the Bank of America lot located on the other side of Culver across from the hotel.

Question of the Day – Why aren’t rep cards online?

April 9, 2012

We asked Steve Kaplan :

Is it acceptable to digitally sign the rep card pdf and email it to you?
Or do they need to be printed and snail mailed?

Here is what he responded:

According to NLRB regulations, we have to have physical and signed copies of the cards to present if we are to use them as proof of interest among the group.

It’s something we’ve been petitioning them to change.



Steve Kaplan
Labor Organizer
The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE
(818) 845-7500

AIM: Kapanmtr
Google IM: kaplanvfx
ICQ: 83945576
Skype: steve.kaplan.tag839


Question of the Day – Leads and Supes

April 6, 2012

We asked Steve Kaplan:

How is union membership handled for leads and supervisors? Traditionally these positions are exempt from overtime, are they eligible for union membership?


The only “management” positions that wouldn’t be eligible would be those with hiring and firing abilities. In a typical vfx shop setting, that’s few to none of the leads and supes.



Steve Kaplan
Labor Organizer
The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE
(818) 845-7500

AIM: Kapanmtr
Google IM: kaplanvfx
ICQ: 83945576
Skype: steve.kaplan.tag839

Question of the Day – Tax deductible fees?

April 5, 2012

We asked Steve Kaplan:

We know quarterly dues are tax deductible, but are initiation fees?


All monies payable to the union are tax deductible.  Initiation fees and dues are both tax deductible.



Steve Kaplan
Labor Organizer
The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE
(818) 845-7500

AIM: Kapanmtr
Google IM: kaplanvfx
ICQ: 83945576
Skype: steve.kaplan.tag839

Myths of Organizing

April 4, 2012

There are many good points and discussions to be had during a union organization drive.  However, one of the things to avoid are the arguments based out of fear and misinformation. Below are some false statements that seem to persist over the years, let’s address those now:

“You have to pay the initiation fee everytime you rejoin a studio”

False. The initiation fee is payed once upon joining, and is good for your lifetime. The fee is typically waived if you are employed at a studio when it first signs a union contract. Artists are encouraged to ask the company to pay the initiation fee as a signing bonus when starting work at a union company for the first time. If you fall outside of these options, the union has payment plans available to spread the cost over several months.

“You aren’t allowed to work for non union studios”

False. You can work anywhere you want to. If you get laid off from a union company, you are free to work wherever you please. The advantage is that you keep your benefits for months afterward. You can work on a quick 5 week commercial somewhere else while maintaining your health benefits with no interruption in coverage. Note that the hours you work non-union will not be counted towards your union health or pension benefits.

“You can’t switch job categories”

False. This seems to persist from live-action sets where someone heard a story about moving a prop, and they got fined from a union. You are free to work in whatever CG discipline you like.

“The union defines your maximum salary”

False. The union defines your MINIMUM salary, not the maximum. You are encouraged to negotiate higher rates into your own personal contract. The minimums are very useful if you are a new artist starting your career. If you are currently making less than these rates, sign a rep card now!

“It’s too expensive”

TAG Union dues are $420 a year, payed quarterly. So about $105 every 3 months. And they are tax deductible. Consider what your current Health Care withholdings at SPI are.  Union dues are far less than you are paying for health insurance under any SPI plan. And you get to contribute to a 401k plan, AND have contributions made to a pension that will pay you monthly when you retire.

We also posed some common responses we’ve overheard to Steve Kaplan. Here are his responses:

“If the company goes union, all of our salaries will be lowered.”

A direct quote from page 7 of the TAG Contract addresses this concern:

The rates of pay now being received by any employee shall not be decreased by reason of the execution of this Agreement

Most agreements between the IA Locals and employers will carry this language to prevent the employer from automatically resetting wages to contractually agreed minimums once the contract goes into effect.

“If the company goes union, all of our jobs will be shipped to Vancouver.”

If the company could, the company would. Its as simple as that. There are several hundred artists in SPI:CC because the company needs the talent that the Culver City office provides. Vancouver costs the company more than unionization does. SPI opened it because the production studios demand it.

“Imageworks can not compete with higher rate union labor in global vfx market.”

Imageworks is one of few facilities able to achieve the level of vfx needed for the “tent-pole” features that hit theaters today. Assuming an artist can tell me what the current going rate for Imageworks work is (per project, per sequence, per shot .. it doesn’t matter), plus what the current cost of Imageworks health care is, then factor in the cost savings unionization would provide (as our health care is bound to cost less because we offer it to more people), then I’ll discuss the costs between a unionized Imageworks artist and a non-union Imageworks artist.

Then, I’ll point out that SPI:Van is likely to remain as long as the British Columbia province continues to convince its people to give their tax money away. Once you factor that money back into the equation, I’ll ask that person to explain how a unionized Imageworks isn’t more cost effective.

The cost argument is horrendously fallacious. It assumes the arguer has details no artist at SPI would be privy to.

Which myths have you heard that we can clear up?

To the TAG members at Imageworks:

April 3, 2012

Have you worked at Disney, Dreamworks, or ImageMovers in the past? That means you’re an IATSE member already. We know there are a lot of you here.

Your bank of hours for healthcare may already be empty, and your pension benefits haven’t been added to since your union stint. Every hour you work at non-union Sony is one less hour being contributed to your portable health and pension benefits.

Most of you will be here on short-term/production hire status. If you don’t get re-hired at a union company before about October, you won’t have enough time to earn the qualifying hours for 2011 (400 hours), and you will miss another year towards vesting in your pension.

Some of you are still using your health benefits with MPI and chose to waive the poor Sony benefits. Remember how you got those benefits in the first place?

We need your help. Sign the rep card. But the rep card is not enough. You are also on the front lines of educating your co-workers about the benefits you are enjoying.

Imageworks Vancouver, Unions, and portability

April 2, 2012

We asked Steve Kaplan about organizing in Vancouver:

There is some kind of labor union in the Vancouver area isn’t there?
How does that affect the Imageworks people in Vancouver?

There is. IATSE Local 891. The contact is Dusty Kelly.


Office: (604) 664-8921
email: dustyk@iatse.com

Artists in Vancouver interested in organizing should contact Dusty. There will have to be two contracts between Sony and the IA. One for the US and one for Canada. Local 891 will handle Canadian organization and contract negotiations.

What is the difference? Mostly national laws. There are distinct differences between Canadian and United States labor laws, health care concerns, pension contribution abilities and the like. Thus the need for two specific contracts. In both cases, the artists will still benefit from collective bargaining and the establishment of workplace conditions and standards they have a voice in creating.


Steve K

So we asked Dusty, and here is our conversation:

If Sony Imageworks Vancouver were to unionize, does that mean artists’ pensions and bank of hours would transfer over from the US?
What about Canadian union workers going back to the US?

Hi there, the answer to your question depends on a number of variables. In order to receive portable benefits through a union contract the facility that the artist is working at must be unionized, and an agreement to flow benefits in place. If the Los Angeles facility is unionized and the sister Vancouver one is not there would be no portability unless:


1)       the US artist or the Union on behalf of the artist has negotiated to work under the US union agreement while working at the sister facility in Canada


Each province of Canada retains jurisdiction over labour relations (except transportation, communications, marine, etc) unlike the US which has a national labor relations board. That means any facility in Vancouver (would have a British Columbia corporate identity to be eligible for tax credits) must be organized under British Columbia’s Labour Relations Code. The unionization of a sister facility in Los Angeles has no bearing on the facility in Vancouver from a legal stand point.


Another possibility is Sony would voluntary recognize the IATSE as the bargaining representative for the workers at the BC subsidiary, this in my opinion is a long shot. But if that occurred then benefits could be portable.


To summarize, “free flow” requires facilities be unionized under like union banner, coordinating to achieve this is crucial.  I am ready to be of assistance in this matter.

What can we do to make the coordination happen?

You need to find persons on the inside in the Vancouver facility who are on board and get them to contact me.


If LA were to agree to a union contract, but BC didn’t , is it too late at that point?

It is not too late if LA organized first, however successful concurrent campaigns would provide better leverage in negotiations.


If/when Imageworks Vancouver decided to unionize, what do they need to do to insure portability?
Would we need a clause in our CBA to allow for it?

Successful negotiations would include benefit contributions. These contributions are administered through separate trust plans with agreements for sister unions to provide portability or reciprocity, as do all the motion picture and commercial contracts in the US and Canada.

So all you YVR people, get in contact with Dusty!