Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Unions, VFX working hours and environments

If you have a safe working environment today then you likely have a union to thank for it.

100 Years ago was the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

This info graphic shows some of the safety improvements after the  International Ladies Garment Workers Union pushed for improvements.

Now I know many people are wondering how this relates to VFX.

The first point being that many companies do not put welfare and safety of their workers high on the list.  This includes not only some developing nations but the U.S. as well. Watch the Triangle video through for examples.  The reason why there are now laws and why companies are being pushed into doing this is because workers organized.   And now companies are pushing back and lobbying state and federal politicians to reduce worker welfare, increase hours children can work and reducing water quality regulations among other things.  You as an individual have little say in how a company will operate unless you own the company or unless you are part of a group that can push for change.

The second point being that in VFX it is not unusual to work a lot of long hour days.

A few years ago, Brent Hershman, a camera assistant, died by falling asleep while driving home after yet another 19 hour day. That resulted in Academy Award winning Cinematographer Haskell Wexler making the film Who Needs Sleep.

(Please watch this trailer.  I think you'll see some overlap)
It also resulted in a push to cap hours to 14 hours maximum.

[Update 1/11/2014 Full film available online: Who Needs Sleep ]
Video:  TRIANGLE'S ECHOES: The Unfinished Struggle for Worker Protection, Safety and Health

What the Triangle Shirtwaist fire means for workers now


  1. The Triangle Fire was a wakeup call for the United States, and this documentary is a reminder that we need to tighten up workplace safety protections, we need to support unions, and we need to prevent another Triangle Fire.

  2. some quotes from Democracy Now relevant to this topic. The whole show was devoted to the Triangle Fire...

    From Democracy Now, Friday, March25


    It’s—right now, we’re calling for legislation that would say to the U.S. companies, because we can only deal here with the United States, that you can make your products anywhere in the world—we believe in fair trade—but if that product is made by a child or if it’s made by a young woman forced to work 15 hours a day, seven days a week, who’s stripped of their rights and paid pennies an hour and doesn’t have the right to organize, that product will not be able to enter the United States, and that product won’t be sold in the United States, and that product won’t be exported from the United States. And so, we’ve introduced some legislation in the Congress—in the 110th Congress we introduced it. We ended up getting 175 co-sponsors in the House and 26 in the Senate, including at that time Senator Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. And then it just ran out of steam. The companies saw what we were doing and moved in, and the thing was shut down. But if we don’t take some control over the global economy, we’re all going to be working for $3.18 an hour, without a doubt, with no benefits. I mean, we’re going downhill so fast, it’s remarkable.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Steve, I know I mentioned this earlier, but I’d like to focus on this, because often it’s not fully understood that—what collective bargaining represents, because I’ve worked in both union and non-union places. And in a non-union place, it’s basically you, and whatever the boss says, that’s what happens. You have no rights—


    JUAN GONZALEZ:—in the normal workplace, other than the basic federal rights that are guaranteed by Congress. But you basically have no right to bargain about how your labor is going to be used, what kind of conditions you’re going to work under, you know, what kind of increases you’re going to have, whether you’re even going to have your job, and—so that collective bargaining, in my mind, really represents a form of democracy in the workplace.

    STEVE FRASER: Yes, you have industrial autocracy. You have what you had back at the time of the fire, where there’s—where you’re employed at will, and the sanctity of private property allows the employer to treat you in any way he chooses to, whether that’s about firing and hiring, whether it’s about the rate at which you work, the amount at which you work, what he pays you, the hours of work. And it means you have no voice, no voice in all of those circumstances that determine your fate. So it’s a fundamental democratic right and human right. Collective bargaining has been understood that way through a good part of the 20th century because of the Triangle fire and what followed it. And we can’t lose it. It’s too precious.

    CHARLES KERNAGHAN: Well, you know, the American people have to understand that this economy also belongs to the American people and not just the corporations. So, right now the corporations have all the laws they need to protect their products. They have intellectual property rights and copyright laws, so if you make a knockoff of Barbie Doll or something like that or Microsoft, you’re going to go to jail. You’re never going to work again. You’ll go to prison. They’ll shut you down. But when we said to the companies, we said, “Look, you have laws to protect, you know, your products,” they said, “Yes, we need a level playing field on the global economy.” So we said, “OK, can’t we have similar laws to protect the rights of the human beings, the 16-year-old woman in Indonesia who make Barbie Doll? Can’t we protect her rights, as well?” They said, “No, that would be an impediment to free trade.” So the American people allow corporations to have laws to protect their trademarks and their products, but we can’t have laws to protect the rights of human beings. Until that changes, until there’s legislation, we’re going to just be in this race to the bottom.


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