Yesterday (2nd Dec. 2015), MPC responded to this, and called the entire comp department (over 130 people) into a short meeting. They announced that the company had received a petition from BECTU for recognition of the union for the comp department. They announced that they will begin negotiations with BECTU, and that they intend to fight this bid for union recognition. They took no questions, and made no attempt to justify the excessive unpaid overtime in the VFX industry, or other issues that have made this recognition bid necessary.
What does this mean? It means IT’S ON! Yes – this is really happening!
So, what does this really mean? Some of you may even be wondering what exactly a union is.
What is a Union:
When you start working at a studio, you sign a contract that defines the working relationship. How many hours, what you're responsible for, etc... This is done individually and you negotiate these terms with the company. Often it's not really a negotiation, many artists will just sign whatever paper is in front of them.
But imagine if you and your co-workers at the studio went in together to negotiate the terms of your employment. If all of you said that you refused to work more than 12 hours a day. Or if all of you said that salaries would be standardized based on how long you were at the company. By banding together, workers have more leverage in negotiations. That is the core of what a Union is.
So what does this have to do with Visual Effects?
Visual Effects is the one of the few parts of the movie making process that isn't unionized. Actors, Directors, Cinematographers, Editors, they all belong to unions that have negotiated terms of their employment. Without a union, artists have little power if they have a disagreement with their boss. Often artists either have to take what the studio says or find a new studio to work at.
This is a particular problem in the UK where the majority of studios don't pay overtime to their artists. There's a good FAQ about their efforts to unionize on their site.
So MPC is unionized?
No, not yet. First of all it's only the London branch of MPC, and it's only the compositing department that is unionizing. The process is just starting, there are a few steps to start an official Union that have to be taken and MPC is trying to fight it.
Won't this make VFX work at MPC more expensive and the work will go somewhere else?
Maybe. Maybe not. There are only so many large studios that can handle the AAA level of work that MPC does on a regular basis. It's doubtful that they could just shift the work to their other locations like Vancouver and Montreal as those are already at capacity. It could even be argued that a well rested workforce would perform better and more efficiently. But yes, there is a chance that work could be shifted to other locations. From the stories I've heard about the massive amount of hours their artists regularly work, perhaps they felt as though they had no choice, that they had to do this or they would burn out anyway. It's not as if MPC has the greatest reputation (check the comments in this article).
I would like to commend the artists at MPC London for taking this big, scary step. Good luck, artists (and no doubt other studio heads) all around the world are watching this.
Love seeing Toronto companies get press.