Much ink (and many more digital bits) have been spilled over the matter of financial core, or more correctly dues-paying non-member, relations with the unions that cover our work at voice actors: AFTRA and SAG.
This is an excellent topic for these times…well done.
I don’t agree with every word Ed has written below. But then, he doesn’t agree with every word I write here. And yes, it’s going to take you a good bit of time to read all of this. But, after you’re done, I hope you’ll agree that it’s well worth your time.
I am not and have never been a union supporter – most any union. I do understand why unions were formed and the importance they played in gaining a fair playing field for those who provided the labor against those who exploited the workers for their own personal, greedy fulfillment. However, my experiences with unions have never been positive – as a scrawny 16 year old kid working in a supermarket I was, literally, intimidated (I won’t explain what I mean by that, figure it out) by two much larger middle age men (the shop steward and his henchman) while on my lunch break if I didn’t join the union. I would be fired – not by the management (well, technically by the management) but by the union because I wouldn’t, as a part-time high school kid, be able to work there with the rest of the people (union members all). So, for over a month I worked for free (actually for the union) while they deducted my initiation fee and three months of past due dues from my tiny paychecks. I received no benefits from my membership since part-timers were not qualified for benefits. At about 20 years of age, I was again intimidated by electrical workers in the IBEW – which I joined, cost me sizable bucks, again, as a summer worker/college student – and the rat b****ds stole my personal electronic test equipment from me while I was on union jobs – no grievances and no benefits again – I was temporary. As the 30 year old president of a small production company in Washington, DC, the local AFTRA chapter tried the same strong arm tactics with me and intimidated me with the “Black List” if I didn’t sign the codes and lock out non-union people (including myself and my partners) from using our studio – I couldn’t do my own voice-over work in my own studio that I was in debt for construction loans, SBA loans, etc. Yet, across the Potomac River in VA, my competitors could hire anyone they wanted. So, I told AFTRA to “stick it” – and they, indeed, black listed me, and all the AFTRA guys and gals who we worked with at our studio thought they lost our business, but alas, within a week, I formed a new production company in Annapolis, MD that operated out of a PO Box – and we just went on as before – just paying AFTRA from an account in Annapolis. I figured in three or four more years they’d figure it out again and we’d just do the same thing somewhere else. I also was not enamored by the teaching unions that I had some run ins with – which is why I joined the Air Force during the Vietnam era rather then taking a 50% PAY CUT to join the union at a community college in Syracuse, NY where I had been hired as a technical consultant for special skills I offered. But, that has been my experience. I only make my judgments on my experience.
The facts of life are – the ONLY thing we can count on is CHANGE! The reason unions have been losing ground in this country is that they haven’t been willing to face reality, change and basic economics 101 – and because, as someone said, it’s very expensive to run a union. You know, all those union execs with their mansions and limos living among the Wall Street bandits, etc. (I know, a broad generalization). But economics are really pretty simple. We all want to make good money – or as we’ve called it, “fair” money for what we do. That’s a reasonable consideration and concept. However, there are consequences for every action. With union contracts it’s simple. Keep raising the costs to the clients or employers, they then have to raise their prices to their customers to cover the increased costs of the union labor (including benefits), so the customers have to raise the prices for their products or services to cover the increased costs to them, so then the union comes back to the original business and demands increases in wages and benefits and benefit costs continue to increase because it costs them more to operate. Then their customers have to raise their prices and the cycle goes around and around until one day – some foreign countries say, hey, we can produce cars or whatever it is for less then the Americans – so they initiate improvements in production procedures with new technology (we’d still be doing things the way we did back in the 30’s & 40’s if it weren’t for the Japanese and Koreans and if the UAW had their way). They developed methods like Quality Circles (which was an American concept but rejected by American companies) and proven in Japanese companies, “just in time” inventory, etc., utilize less human labor with robotics, pay human workers fair wages based on the economy of the area they live in, put their plants in underdeveloped parts of the U.S. and improve the economy and lifestyle in those areas – and viola – they can produce a high quality product at a lower cost then the U.S. companies can. (Now, there are some other mitigating circumstances, like those mental midgets in Washington, DC that we elect to represent us and have been giving our country away piece by piece right before our eyes and we keep re-electing them, duh). So, now our cars (or whatever) are of lower quality, morale is down, the union still wants more money, every time they get more money, more plants are closed, more workers laid off, more production moved overseas to meet the demands of the consuming public for lower prices – which can’t happen with constantly increasing production costs. Americans don’t want to pay more for American products so they’ll complain about job losses and outsourcing while they consume all the foreign products that come their way. And the result is? We’re living through it AGAIN! You’d think we’d have learned by now – but greed, corruption and power have no boundaries. I think it would be interesting to know how many people in our group, who live in the U.S.m drive American (the big three – getting littler everyday) cars and how many drive cars manufactured by foreign companies, even if the plants are in the U.S. I drive a Cadillac – a Motor City behemoth. I also have a Ford van – both vehicles from the Little Three.
So, what does this all mean? Simple! Change is forever. Change occurs whether we want it to or not. This world is not the same, our country is not the same, our professions are not the same as they were 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. BUT, most people tend to resist change. Everyone finds a “comfort zone” and they just want everything to stay nice and warm and fuzzy in that comfort zone. Can’t happen. Greed! Power Mongers! Corruption! They are always there and there is a consequence. 9/11 didn’t have to happen – but it did because of decisions made by people we can’t relate to in Washington, DC. The consequence of their actions have resulted in our involvement in two wars our country started, the collapse of our economy (and the world’s), the out of control health care costs and I could make a long list here, but I won’t (thankfully for you).
Back to uni
on or non-union or ficore. This is no longer and never will be again, the same world or the same profession it was in the early days of radio (and later TV) which is why AFTRA was established – not for voice-acting. This is no longer the day of independent studios hiring talent (though there certainly still are some). We all have our own studios to do that job. That one aspect of our business, powered by technology, has put an untold number of studios out of business and recording engineers, producers and editors out of jobs. The world has changed. So, while I have my own personal opinions and prejudices against certain aspects of unions (while still understanding the original principle behind them and what they purport to do for their members), unions are becoming dinosaurs. As Connie noted, she is in one of the largest markets in the country and there are no longer any AFTRA sigs there. It’s not the only place. And the unions will never open their books – because their executives will all end up in prison. They are no different then the greedy Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, Adelphia, Bernie Madoff’s, Wall Street robbers AIG execs (retention bonuses indeed – how stupid do they think we are) and other greedy corrupt people in powerful places.
Radio is a dinosaur powered by a number of huge, greedy corporations – and they can pull the plug on stations at will – and the small indie stations are having problems staying alive, too – stations are going dark all the time. The TV networks (the big THREE) used to draw audiences of 30 million to their hit shows, today, a hit show is lucky to draw 7 to 8 million viewers (all recent stats in the trades) – you can’t get the advertising bucks when you are delivering less then 30% of the audience you once drew. They have to depend on things like the once a year Super Bowl and a few other special events to stay alive. Satellite radio and the mental midgets who ran them into the ground, (and I have a lot of respect for Mel), agreed to pay absolutely ridiculous sums of money to buy personalities like Martha, Oprah, Howard, etc. without having the ability to pay for that. So, even combined, they are in a huge hole and I doubt they will ever dig out of it. They are now more then 40% owned by one private equity investment firm (whom I’m sure has other designs in their board room for the use of the satellite facilities when they take them over) and Sirius/XM is paying 15% interest on a $530 million loan when prime rate is only about 4% or less. Times change. Newspapers are beginning to drop like flies. The book publishing industry, that I am way too familiar with, unfortunately, is facing the same kind of struggles. Publish more books and get less sales per book and lose money on more books then ever before. Audio books, a great place for us to work, but are only a tiny segment of an industry that is in the same kind of economic turmoil (still operating an archaic business model).
I, personally, came to a startling realization only a couple weeks ago as I approached my 64th birthday (and proud to still be standing and healthy). I realized that I was no longer in love with and passionate about a recording industry that I fell in love with when I was 18 years old. I was a VERY different person back then. The recording industry was a VERY different industry back then. 46 years later, I am a VERY different person then I was back then and the recording industry is a VERY different industry then it was back then, too. I’m no longer in love with the recording industry. That passion has long since gone. I’m still doing it because it’s what I’ve always done. I enjoy watching the new technology and playing with it. BUT, frankly, there are newer and more exciting opportunities out in the “Brave New World” that I need to start exploring for myself so I can become passionate about something again since I’ve lost the passion from that long ago love affair with Ampex and Scully recorders, RCA 77DX and Sony C37A mics, etc.
So, my colleagues in the voice-over/acting profession – can we sit here and be that smug or self-assured that because of our total uniqueness – we are not going to have to change? Are we secure that the business model that we’ve worked with for years isn’t going to change? If there are (as projected) between 3800 and 4,000 less car dealerships in existence in the next year or two, is that not going to change our lives? And, since all businesses are tightening their belts and cutting costs anywhere they can – can we, with absolute surety, believe that we will be able to continue operating the way we have in the past? The future IS the Internet – I think we can all pretty much accept that. There is more great radio and, now, TV and movies and journalism and a growing e-book market and music industry on the Internet then there is in any other industry or segment of society. But, I think, in the long run (and probably in the short run) there is no other existing industry that is going to ever have the power and strength of the Internet. But, since the Internet is so much more niche oriented, the audiences are smaller, therefore, production costs have to be low and contained. Originality and creativity seem to score higher points then the absolute best production values, voice talent, etc. CBS News paid $5 million for a video podcast, shot with one camera, a green screen, an Mac with Final Cut Pro and a couple perky, out of work, NYC actresses – and, it’s campy, cute, original, creative and the production isn’t all that bad, either – one camera.
So, it’s going to become harder and harder to demand/command union rate scales with clients who can’t justify that expense – so they’ll hire a few people on staff who’ll do other jobs n the business and/or send them or go out themselves and take voice-over and voice acting courses that some of the esteemed members of this group teach – and they’ll do their voice acting themselves – and it will be acceptable – maybe not as great as if you had done it, but the audience will accept it. Here’s the big question? Do we follow the example of our government with their massive “intelligence community” (that did such a great job of bringing us 9/11) to an economic 9/11 (or has that already happened)? And, the the gov’t and the press acted like 9/11 was a surprise, that we had no warning – obviously forgetting about the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the USS Cole, the embassy bombings in Africa, the Beirut Barracks bombing and numerous other calling cards of things to come. The warnings are everywhere around us, friends. If you’re not reading them, watching them, seeing them, if you don’t know friends, neighbors, family who are losing their jobs, losing their homes, losing their retirements, losing their health insurance – and in some cases, losing everything they spent a lifetime working for (I, personally, do) – then you’re living in a bubble. We are not immune from this. Take the stand that it’s union or nothing – and you may be facing your own version of 9/11.
As someone said, this question of union, ficore or non-union is a personal choice. I couldn’t agree more. And, I certainly don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future with. But, I can predict one thing for certain . . . THINGS WILL CHANGE with or without our permission or acceptance. Just ask the buggy whip makers, the vinyl record pressing plants – the 8 track cartridge and cassette duplicators (not even to mention the reel to reel duplicators – all of which I’ve done), many of the large recording studios (oops, former recording studios), newspaper reporters and editors, book editors, steel workers, former auto workers,
the American Motors, Kaiser-Frazier, Hudson, Packard, Studebaker, Crosley, MG, Austin Healy, etc., etc. etc. owners and employees. I don’t have suggestions for any of you with your personal businesses. I’m only suggesting that if you stand so rigid on the belief that this too will pass and we’ll be right back where we were again in a year or two, you may not be as happy or sure then. It never hurts to have a Plan B and even a Pla
n C to CYA. Those who do – will be ahead of the curve and the pack. Those who don’t, may find themselves joining the friends and neighbors who no longer own their homes, have retirement savings, jobs, etc. This is not meant to promote doom and gloom. What’s left of the news industry does that just fine. I’m simply saying that if you aren’t thinking outside the box (which I wish I had done with my IRA – no thanks to my brokers) you may not be happy with where you are two to five years from now.
The Virginia Sound Man
Thank you for saying your piece, Ed; and for giving me permission to re-publish.