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The Animation Guild and their Silent Majority

Share your views on the state of the Animation Industry.

The Animation Guild and their Silent Majority

Postby Charles » Mon Sep 10, 2012 9:22 am

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Our industry's union, The Animation Guild, has developed a unique culture within entertainment.

Widely regarded as the weakest union within IATSE (the mothership organization for all the unions within motion pictures and TV in Hollywood and other places probably), the anachronism being that animation is by far the biggest money making sector of entertainment.

So what's the unique culture that is the signature of the Guild's membership based community?

The complete apathy of the vast majority of those members.

Case in point, the recent voting on the Guild's contract with the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) which covers the next three years. The results were published this past August 31 on the Guild's blog here.

Although the contract was overwhelmingly ratified by 87% of the votes cast, only 549 eligible ballots were received from a membership pool of 2600.

That equates to a mere 21% voter turnout on an issue that is of the highest importance for any union.

If you include the number of ineligible ballots they received (an additional 47 for a total of 596) that weren't counted, the total comes to a 22.77% response.

These numbers are consistent for animation union member turnouts on major issues. From their elections to their annual wage survey, hardly more than 20% of the members of The Animation Guild bother to respond to anything that's happening involving their union and in the case of their next contract, even matters that are crucial to their own employment.

Why?

That's what I'll be exploring in days ahead as I build this topic with commentary, conjecture, opinion and viewpoints based upon my experience with this organization and with my years of working in animation. Your comments and observations are welcome as well of course. Feel free to contribute to the subject of...

The Animation Guild and their Silent Majority.
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Re: The Animation Guild and their Silent Majority

Postby Charles » Tue Sep 11, 2012 9:04 am

Subjects concerning the union are not often discussed among the many animation artists and students I know. When it does come up, and for example the results of the voter turnout for the Guild's contract is mentioned, reactions are predictable. They range from shock, perplexity and even evoke a good laugh now and then.

The question invariably arises... Why?

Why don't animation artists in the union care? Even artists in the union I talk to ask that question.

When it's asked it's not posed as something rhetorical. They really want to know, why the vast majority of artists in the Guild, nearly 4 out of every five, don't care enough to vote on their own contract. And the question comes to me as if I have the answer.

I do my best to help figure it out. I begin by explaining that there isn't a solitary reason for the incredible apathy in the Guild's membership. There's no single excuse for it, but many factors that contribute and have contributed to this poor atmosphere that exists within the Guild.

First off, there's the Guild itself. An organizing representing the animation labor force of artists, technicians and writers working at union studios in Los Angeles County. Decades of sub-par leadership within the Guild has alienated many of their members. They feel there's not much the union can do for them in areas that really matter. The Guild's leadership, spearheaded by Steve Hulett, their business representative since 1989, has been extraordinarily ineffective in motivating their membership over these many years. The feeling is prevalent among union members that there's not much they can expect from the Guild's leadership, and leadership's tactics over the many years has effectively disenfranchised the great majority of their members on an emotional level.

They feel no bond with their union and have gotten to the point where they simply do not care. No matter what the issue. Even when it comes to ratifying their own contract.

The Guild has made big mistakes with their members over the years but because of their setup with the studios, they experience no repercussions in areas that would affect them to the point of making changes for improving relations with their own membership.

They have no outreach program to speak of. They don't go out on a regular basis to the local animation and art schools who are training the future workforce of the studios and engage them.

They have a very weak outreach program for their own membership. Steve Hulett's regular trips to the studios are routine and by and large ineffective. Guild members are not inspired by him nor are they inspired by anyone involved in the Guild's leadership structure. Simply put, there is nobody in the Guild's executive branch who can inspire their membership. The vast Silent Majority within the Guild does not respond.

Worsening the situation is the Guild's method of addressing their membership whenever their leaders are questioned. Members are scolded, belittled, ridiculed, and treated so bad and with such disdain that they are discouraged from involving themselves with the Guild unless it's in support of the Guild's leadership in a way that does not challenge them nor the decisions they make.

All of this can be traced to the Guild's leadership. Their methods or lack thereof, of effectively and genuinely involving and engaging Guild members are so bad, that their membership doesn't bother to try. This can also be seen in the consistently low turnout of Guild members at their bi-monthly meetings. It's the norm for so few members to show up that they're outnumbered by the Guild's executive board.

Guild members have resigned themselves to not putting in any extra effort. They do their jobs at work in their respective studios and go on with their lives.

To be continued...
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Nurtured Apathy

Postby Charles » Wed Sep 12, 2012 9:21 am

Continuing with my analysis of The Animation Guild and their Silent Majority.

Members have complained about their union since I can remember. Much of their dissatisfaction stemming all the way back to the disastrous strike of 1982. That was a watershed year for the union as it quite literally had its ass handed to them on a plate by the industry studios. Thinking they could replicate the success of their strike from three years before in 1979, the studios were prepared this time around and the union was not. It has remained weak ever since.

Although the Guild has prospered in that time, that prosperity comes from a the growth in the popularity of animation in general and the advances in production efficiency and quality thanks to the great surge in technology. The studio boom and the desire of many artists to work for the majors has led to an increase in union revenue. It's not because of the union itself. Very few artists are motivated to get into animation because of the union. They see union membership as a required consequence of union studio employment. Even if an artist is compelled not to join, they must still pay their union dues. So no matter what the Guild does, good or bad, they won't go out of business as long as the studios are signed with them. On the contrary, the more the studios grow, the more artists they hire, the more money the union gets. Normal business related market factors do not apply to the Guild. Costumers don't have a choice. Like taxes, they must pay no matter what if they want to keep their job.

This climate breeds animosity and indifference. Proof of it can be seen in the member turnout to vote on ratification of their contract with only a 21% return of eligible ballots.

Things would be different if there was a reason for union members to care to get involved. The union has done such a poor job over the years of supporting members who really needed help, of convincing their members how necessary participation is for a healthy organization, and of inspiring both new and established members to become pro-active, they have creating and actually nurtured a an environment of apathy.

You would think that the union would be making a major issue of this. Aggressively working towards getting more of their members involved. Not just when things are desperate and their backs are against the wall during contract negotiations, but in all matters requiring widespread member participation. Such as their election of officers, which incidentally gets about the same turnout as the contract ratification vote, or encouraging members to run for office.

This atmosphere of apathy works to the advantage of the current union leadership, especially Steve Hulett, the Guild's business rep, who's enjoyed a renewed three year contract since the elections of 1989 and who's remained fully employed in all that time thanks in large part to a lack of competition for his position.

The vast Silent Majority of the Guild sees this and understands it, yet they continue distance themselves from involvement. Like the citizens of a country whose government is corrupt and who feel their participation makes no difference, they passive aggressively rebel by not voting and not getting involved. They in effect give up.

Next, we'll explore the botched opportunity that The Animation Guild had to change things for the better over the course of the past decade, which further distanced their membership and further eroded the bonds of loyalty and support.

To be continued...
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