To borrow a phrase from a labor organizer (see image) from way back, there is a spectre haunting American business and it is the spectre of renewed interest in organized labor.
I think it’s probably time for white collar workers in our knowledge-based economy to take a hard look at the situation.
Being nonunion used to have some advantages, like the possibility of advancement, more compensation, etc. But those advantages were always illusory. Companies always managed to find a reason to cut merit increases for nonunion people, (we can’t give anyone more than 3%) or bonuses (we’re cutting bonuses in half this year — even though last year was already cut in half from the previous year)…you get the idea. And oh, by the way, we’re laying you off because you still make too much money, or you’re too old, or whatever, we don’t really need a reason.
The economic changes wrenching many “knowledge-based” industries call for some renewed push for greater equity in the labor-management equation.
Look what’s happening in banking and finance, where mistakes made by highly compensated managers and CEOs are punished how? The people who created the mess get to leave with huge “retirement” packages, and then the company lays off 3,000 or 4,000 working stiffs to balance the messy books the “retired” executives pooped on. And by the way, the people who “retired” were really only doing what they were expected to do, maximize profits by engaging in risky transactions that hopefully wouldn’t blow up before they sold them to the next unsuspecting investor. But once the music stops, someone has to lose, and it’s not going to be the board that authorized the transactions. How is that right?
The entertainment industry has run headlong into this buzz saw by picking two fights that it is doomed to lose, at least in the court of public opinion.
I’m talking about the Writers Guild strike and the Stagehands union in New York.
Write Once, Get Paid Little
Take the Writers Guild. The simple mathematics gets lost when the studios and networks accuse the writers of greed.
The reality is very different. At any given time, nearly half of the WGA’s members are technically unemployed. The WGA has made a very straightforward short video that explains their position, and it’s worth watching.
They are also urging supporters to send pencils to the studio heads as a form of protest and support for the writers. On the WGA’s unofficial blog site, you can click a button to buy a box of pencils for $1 using PayPal. You can even tell the studio “moguls” which show’s writers you are supporting. I think this is a good idea, and I’ve ponied up my dollar. I hope you will also.
At the DeadlineHollywoodDaily Blog, a press release announces that some high profile actors have joined the WGA’s strike efforts.
Let’s have a hand for the stagehands, too
Meanwhile, if you haven’t been following the stagehands’ strike in Broadway theaters, here’s an NPR update on that. The gist of it seems to be that the producers and theaters want the stagehands of various crafts (electricians, carpenters, etc.) to be on call at the theater, but not actually go on the clock until it’s physically their turn to screw in a light or hammer in a nail. Excuse me, but if you have to be at the place of employment ready to work, you ought to get paid. As one stagehand union official pointed out, no one ever suggested that actors should just be paid for the time they are on stage. More information at the IATSE website.
As a sometimes creative professional, I have to support these folks. Their contract demands are not unreasonable. They are very important to the entertainment industry, and unless you want to watch reality-drivel shows for the next decade, let’s ratchet up the pressure on the theaters, the producers, the networks and the movie studios to settle this fairly.