Monday, July 27, 2009

Organizing Pixar

Coming out of a IA meeting tonight, I was buttonholed by two San Francisco union reps who wanted to know what I know about Pixar, and what I thought the odds were of getting the studio under a union contract. I told them:

John Lasseter and Ed Catmull have less than zero interest in seeing Pixar become a union studio. They ... A) have more flexibility without a labor contract and B) neither of them particularly like unions.

There is no way to stand out in front of the studio and leaflet; people drive in, they don't walk. There is no widespread employee discontent that an organizing drive could build on. My take has always been: any studio can stay non-union by treating its employees decently. And Pixar -- as far as I can tell -- treats its employees decently (at least, decently enough.)

All of this could change if the Writers Guild of America (west) makes a concerted effort to organize Pixar writers and board artists and appears to be making progress, the Disney Co. will probably beat a path to the IATSE's door to get Pixar under a union contract.

I am, you see, a classical cynic. I could have stood there and told the Bay Area reps some encouraging, optimistic twaddle, but why bother? Better to lay out the way it is.

29 comments:

Palmer said...

"Better to lay out the way it is."

And that's why I keep coming back, Steve.

Anonymous said...

Why get paid decent salaries in one of the most expensive places on earth to live? After all, you are working at PIXAR! Where people are living the dream! [/sarcasm]

Anonymous said...

Just curious, but how much less are Pixar folk getting paid than others like Dreamworks or Blue Sky anyway?

I know it's supposed to be a great place to work and all, but are talented artists really sticking around there just for the ambiance? Seems like it would be human nature to go after the money, regardless of how great the tennis courts look.

Anonymous said...

if pixar goes wga and covers and fights for compensation for idea creators who draw, that's a game-changer.

Steve Hulett said...

You'd have to ask folks that work there what the pay rates are. I've got anecdotal evidence that wages are lower than union rates in many instances.

Anonymous said...

I've heard (hearsay) about 15-20 k a year less, depending on skill and experience, of course.

Anonymous said...

My u7nderstanding is the story artists get paid similiar to their Guild counterparts (sometimes better), but the animators (and those further down the pipeline) get reamed. That is one of the main reasons you'll never see any of the animators used for publicity or singled out by the Johns...keeps them anonymous, dispensible and replaceable.

Why don't they leave? How? There's not a lot of choices up north unless someone is going to help you make the move and since none of them are 'stars' who would bother?

Anonymous said...

Because they are truly happy working there. They are well taken care of, make the best movies in the world, work with the smartest and best, and have a fantastic community of artists in the Bay Area.

I think thats worth 20k to most of them

Anonymous said...

That is one of the main reasons you'll never see any of the animators used for publicity or singled out by the Johns...keeps them anonymous, dispensible and replaceable.

How about the animators that get to do the shorts like Doug Sweetland? Seems like he'd be a good candidate to leave for greener pastures to somewhere that actually pays.

Why don't they leave? How? There's not a lot of choices up north unless someone is going to help you make the move and since none of them are 'stars' who would bother?

Doesn't Dreamworks have a studio up there?

Sounds like the good career strategy would be to start off at Pixar, then after getting some experience, jump to a studio that actually pays. 20k less is not cool.

And if Disney is actually under the Union, why don't Pixar folk just try and work for Disney and get that money?

Anonymous said...

Pixar artists love where they work, the community they are a part of, and are treated with respect by the company. I have yet to meet an artist there who wasn't happy. Sure, people may wish to make more money but to them that is not enough of a reason to leave a great job with fun people in a nice area. Those who are unhappy due to the lower pay rates are free to leave and work elsewhere (and coming from Pixar they could easily find a job at another studio) and probably do.

There is more to a job than making more money, and whatever that extra ingredient is many of the people have found it at Pixar. Just because they aren't unionized doesn't mean its not a great place to work and be happy.

Also, some people just don't want to live in LA.

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I worked for a Television Studio that you spent so many years trying to organize.

The biggest misperception about becoming Union (expressed to me by both Veteran and newer employees,) was that those who were making more than the going Union rates ,at the time of organizing, would then have to take a "Pay-Cut"to be more in line with The Guild.

If you can hammer away on this point alone, in my opinion,you will be able to organize a lot quicker.

Good Luck.

Steve Hulett said...

To Anon. 5:18 --

Every entertainment guild ... EVERY one ... negotiates floors only. And every union stipulates in first contracts that no employee's wages will be reduced because of a union contract.

I've said this over and over. And say it again here.

Anonymous said...

"Seems like it would be human nature to go after the money"

Why? It's certainly NOT "human nature." Doing what you love, working on good projects, and being paid well are fine things. Quality of Life is NOT always about money, although under the bush economic debacle, it's harder.

Steve Hulett said...

I have yet to meet an artist there who wasn't happy.

I've me a number who weren't. I think it's true that Pixar is a fine place to work. For many.

But it's also a place that has-- particularly before it was annexed by Disney -- paid less than other animation studios. But here's my take on every animation studio I've been in or known about over the past thirty years:

EVERY studio has three groups of employees -- the unhappy and disgruntled; the somewhat content; the very content.

You know the overall quality of the studio by which of the above groups is the largest.

Anonymous said...

Pixar showcases a lot of their artists. More than a lot of studios. They're on all the DVD's, and at Siggraph, and there was even a show at MOMA here in New York.

Disney showcases their top shelf animators like Glen Keane, Mark Henne, ans Eric Goldberg more than they do their directors, although that may be changing.

Anonymous said...

For a studio so extremely successful, with the calibre of talent they have, what possible valid reason is their to provide less compensation than their colleagues at other studios recieve? Do breakfast cereals and swimming pool perks add up to $20k?

Anonymous said...

For a studio so extremely successful, with the calibre of talent they have, what possible valid reason is their to provide less compensation than their colleagues at other studios recieve? Do breakfast cereals and swimming pool perks add up to $20k?.

Because they can. And there is apparently no downside, because they seem to be doing just fine, with very low rates of employee turnover.

Every now and then I hear of a Pixar animator who finally gets fed up with the excuses for low pay, and leaves. There's a long line of eager recent graduates ready to take the spot.

Anonymous said...

"Do breakfast cereals and swimming pool perks add up to $20k?"

Depends on how much cereal you eat...

Anonymous said...

>>Every now and then I hear of a Pixar animator who finally gets fed up with the excuses for low pay, and leaves. There's a long line of eager recent graduates ready to take the spot.

You can say that about every good company on the planet. Let's face it, Pixar doesn't have to do anything it doesn't want to. If you are fortunate to get in, you have an amazing career ahead of you, whether you stay or leave with their name on your resume. No union is going to change that fact. IATSE will likely give about 5-10% a pay bump to those below the curve. For the rest it will remain exactly the same, save for benefits, which would be MPIHPP rather than Pixar. The original group that was lucky enough to participate in the early stock and company incentives will always benefit more because they took on more risk early. No guild contract will ever match that kind of history.

whatevah said...

I've met my fare share of ex pixarians who left, not because of low pay, but because of the very few opportunities to go up the ladder.

Anonymous said...

if you have stock and history in company (early in and now high up) there's zero incentive to leave.

Anonymous said...

"All of this could change if the Writers Guild of America (west) makes a concerted effort to organize Pixar writers and board artists and appears to be making progress, the Disney Co. will probably beat a path to the IATSE's door to get Pixar under a union contract."

And let me guess what will happen then - 839 will jump at the chance to undercut the more than likely better WGA deal. I can hear the IATSE excuses now - "We didn't want to interfere, but Disney came to us. Blah blah blah." Nickelodeon all over again.

Anonymous said...

wouldn't happen if WGA actually gave a shit about ideas that are generated by people who draw instead of type. at least tag gives a crap. can't say iatse does.

Anonymous said...

And let me guess what will happen then - 839 will jump at the chance to undercut the more than likely better WGA deal. I can hear the IATSE excuses now - "We didn't want to interfere, but Disney came to us. Blah blah blah." Nickelodeon all over again.

So you mean the WGA would jump in, rile up all the Pixar writers and board artists, promise the moon, pull a few publicity stunts, issue a few press releases, then walk away? Then Pixar would fire a few ringleaders, and the WGA would do nothing? And a full year after they walk away, 839 walks in? You mean that scenario? Yeah, sounds good.

Anonymous said...

If the WGA makes headway, the rest of Pixar would follow. But I seriously doubt it'd be with the 839.

Anonymous said...

There are people unhappy at Pixar - the low pay, the high cost of living, the crime, and the lack of opportunity can all be crushingly depressing. On the other hand, Pixar cultivates artists and a creative atmosphere in a way no other company does. Artists are allowed to do other projects and often "connected" to special projects, like shorts or books or being on the "extras" of a dvd. Or they are allowed to go to a conference or outreach that is meaningful to them. The food and architecture at Pixar is good. They bring families into the company. And so on. But at the end of the day, as more than one artist has told me, "it's still a job."

In the good ol' days, people were rewarded with special company-awarded housing grants as well as stock options. Those days are gone. What you see is what you get in terms of compensation.

Money, health benefits, etc. all matter at the end of the day. The company is full of artists who are ready to move up - and there aren't enough opportunities for everyone to move up. So of course people are going to leave.

Steve Hulett said...

And let me guess what will happen then - 839 will jump at the chance to undercut the more than likely better WGA deal. I can hear the IATSE excuses now - "We didn't want to interfere, but Disney came to us. Blah blah blah." Nickelodeon all over again.

Any labor organization oganized what it can organize. The WGAw has left plenty of reality employees high and dry.

Re Nick, the WGAw could never close the deal. Their then organizer told me they were walking away, and eight months later, EIGHT months, TAG started colecting cards.

Re Pixar: I call them the way reality IS, no the way I wish that reality was. For instance, I wish that the WGAw had given a helping hand to the artists on "The Simpsons" who were underpaid. It never did, even though it had a contract.

That's the way the world goes. Regrettable, but still the reality.

Anonymous said...

Even janitorial unions have trouble at Pixar. What chance do animators or story writers have?

http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_12947811

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if you see Pixar organized in the not to distant future. There are already meetings happening.

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