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Union operator question


Justin Hayward
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Not illegal in any jurisdiction that I know of to hire crew as independent contractors.  If a crane operator comes in for a day, he's a salaried employee now? No, he's a freelance contractor.

In my experience, non union crew much prefer to be hired as free lance contractors so they don't have payroll taxes taken out of their cheques.  Most of them are living off grid when it comes to the tax man, and they simply don't file or pay taxes, or if they do they dramatically under report their income.  It's the little secret of the film world, a large number of crew are shafting the tax man, and the problem is rampant every where in the US and Canada.

Then there's all the crew that attempt to over bill the production, in violation of their signed deal memo.  I see this on every shoot as well.

Of course these stories always focus on the evil producer, no one wants to talk about the illegal stuff (not paying taxes) that film crew are getting away with.

R,

 

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43 minutes ago, Richard Boddington said:

 First off, the amount of money people get paid to travel to work in the "real" world is zero dollars.  Your employer gives you this thing called a salary and you are expected to use it to finance your way to work, go figure, crazy I know.  Then you want lunch, your employer expects you to *gasp* *cough* pay for it yourself, once again from this thing called...salary.

I've never been paid for travel, unless the distance to location is greater than what could reasonably be called 'commuting'. As for the catered lunch, that originally was provided by production as a way of ensuring that the crew didn't disappear off set in 20 different directions every lunchtime.

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38 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

It's illegal in California.

As I suspected, it isn't, it depends on the classification of the individual:

One exception to this would be if the crew member had his or her own “loan-out corporation” in which case, that individual is an employee of the loan-out corporation. Typically, the only crew members who usually do this are UPM’s, Line Producers, Directors of Photography and other high paid individuals.

For your reference:

https://abspayroll.com/hiring-independent-contractors/

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49 minutes ago, Stuart Brereton said:

And how many people in the non union world have loan out corporations, do you think Richard? That article quite clearly illustrates that for the vast majority of crew it is illegal to be hired as an independent contractor.

If they had any intelligence at all...they all would.  Costs nothing to incorp a company in the USA, you can do it on-line in five minutes.  Heck I own one!!!

R,

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1 hour ago, Gregory Irwin said:

I love ya Richard but you’re comments  continuously prove the case for having a union. 
 

G

What? I find that threatening the crew with a good whipping keeps them well motivated. 😁

R,

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9 hours ago, Richard Boddington said:

People always bring up working conditions of 100 years ago to defend unionization in 2020.

No one wants to talk about the obvious connections between the mafia and unions, Jimmy Hoffa started the Teamsters and we all know the mafia was heavily involved with Hoffa and the Teamsters.   The Teamsters still operate in the film industry today, can all Teamsters say with 100% certainty that in 2020 their union has zero connection to the mafia?

R,

You can say that about every business .. Banks come to mind !!.. every construction company .. etc.. sure there is corruption .. but people keep on bringing up Hoffa from 50 years ago..  as reason to not have unions.. taken historically ,internationally, surely no one can say that unions have been a bad idea for the general working population.. and it applies in 2020 more than ever .. 

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34 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

The old joke: "Management says the whippings will continue until morale improves."

Yes, before the internet and memes, that used to hang as a sign in many offices.

R,

 

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26 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:


It does address the mob control of IATSE during this time.

 

The mob ran IATSE as well as the Teamsters?  Wow, those guys get around.

Coincidentally producers always paid what they owed the unions during this period, hmmmmm. 🙂

R,

 

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It worked both ways, producers like Harry Cohn were getting suitcases of money from the mob. There were a lot of competing unions in Hollywood at the time and the mob often worked with the studios to bring in goons to beat up strikers.

There was a lot of grey area at the time -- it wasn't black and white. Some unions were more left-wing than others, the mob-run ones tended to be conservative and racist, which is why despite Los Angeles having a healthy population of African Americans at the time, hardly any of them worked in Hollywood. The studios in turn played groups off against each other, a divide and conquer strategy that is still done today.  They formed their own studio-run unions for writers, directors, and actors (but they all failed.) They tried to play cinematographers against camera crews by telling them that they were management, not workers, and should sign deals separately.  Basically the studios felt that if they controlled and owned all the key creative members (writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, etc.) they could hire and fire crew more easily. 

By the 1940's, the Chicago mob got greedy, thought they could take over Hollywood completely through their control of IATSE and the threat of mass strikes, and the leaders (Bioff and Brown) ended up in jail in 1943 and Frank Nitti committed suicide. Bioff later was killed by a car bomb in 1955.

 

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Hi Richard,

As imperfect as most unions are, what would your propose in their place?

Not having them would make life "easier" for some producers but then who is looking out to protect workers? I'm sure in your case your a good employer who treats your employees well. In that situation you'd probably not see the point of unions...e.g "I'm a good guy, so unions please get off my case"

Unfortunately, historically many employers aren't good and in many industries its a complete race to the bottom. If governments don't enforce workers rights properly and people still need a job, what do they do? Accept the poor status quo or unionise?

 Nobody unionises because they want to unionise. We'd rather we didn't have too because we trusted our employers had our best interests at heart. Joining a union in most industries is about self preservation and getting some protections we wouldn't have as an individual. 

Look at the way the job market is going, with strong clamping down on unions and an increasingly casualised workforce. You see examples of workers being exploited more and more by organisations that could afford to treat their staff better. In those situations workers can either quit or unionise and quittings not going to pay the bills. 

In the UK we don't really have any unions with any clout in the film and television industry and the race to the bottom on pay and conditions makes careers less sustainable. Me personally, I'd like to be in the DGA - I think I'd benefit, if I make the move to the US at some point. 

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Well I have never been in a union, I was just an "employee" when I worked for others.  In the advanced industrialized societies there are labour laws that protect workers whether they are union or not.  Laws that prevent people like me from whipping the workers. 🙂

In any case, unions do have a lot of corruption in them, it's part of their DNA from the time they were started and this corruption will never be fully rooted out.

R,

 

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20 minutes ago, Richard Boddington said:

Well I have never been in a union, I was just an "employee" when I worked for others.  In the advanced industrialized societies there are labour laws that protect workers whether they are union or not.  Laws that prevent people like me from whipping the workers. 🙂

In any case, unions do have a lot of corruption in them, it's part of their DNA from the time they were started and this corruption will never be fully rooted out.

R,

 

Sure I agree unions shouldn't be needed, but laws preventing "not whipping the workers" is a pretty low bar. Labour laws can also become eroded (look at Uber they have skirted minimum wage law in many countries) gutted by lobbyists etc... The UK is being dragged into a Brexit nightmare right now, in part to divert from EU labour laws. 

I stayed away from unions for most of my career.  I felt they didn't apply to me, I could always move on, get a better job etc...

But in my current role in Academia it's become increasingly precarious and I'm older have more responsibilities/dependants that would make it harder to jump ship quickly in the event of disaster. So at this point, it felt safer to join the union and get "some" protections however minor. Its judgement you have to make at any particular time, based on personal circumstances. Right now working is a sector that's going to be damaged by Brexit etc... I can see some messy battles on the horizon and unions might help advocate for workers rights. I'd trust them to do that more than the UK government at the mo.

Corruption seems to be a human condition, sure unions can be corrupt, governments can be pretty corrupt as well - so you have to try and choose who's working in your best interests. Of course not all unions are equal and some have problems. But I would on balance support them because they are working to improve workers rights and opportunities. There is a lot of anti union propaganda spread by the  ruling class/right wing press - because they have a vested interest in crushing unions and preserving profits. 

Film and media is skewed because of a large over supply of labour for the quantity work available, so you either have the UK situation of completely powerless unions or overly protectionistic US unions. But I don't know what the alternative solution would be, and on some level if unions can improve things for workers on any level that's a "good thing". Also in the US you have the added complexity of private healthcare etc.. don't unions pay a role in administering that?  Sustaining a freelance career in the US and dealing with healthcare outside a union sounds scary. 

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At the end of the day Phil everyone ultimately has the same option....employer treating you badly, QUIT the damn job and get a new one!!!

Unless you are a slave, and some people are, no one is forcing you to work anywhere.  In fact many people do get fed up with their employment and they find a new and better option.  I've done it many times.  Got so fed up with idiot employers I became my own employer, and now I have signed the pay cheques for literally hundreds of people!

Bottom line is this, and the sooner people accept it the better off they'll be...an employer owes you nothing.  They don't owe you job security, praise, or a happy life, etc.  Drives me nuts all the people that sign up for a film shoot, they review and sign a deal memo which clearly states the rate of financial compensation, then they spend the next four weeks complaining about how little they are paid.  If that's the case, why did you sign onto the project in the first place???????????

As for healthcare that's a mess that has been on-going in the USA for decades, every other industrialized country has a national health-care system.  No idea how to solve the US mess?  Fact is though, most non-union working Americans do have health insurance via their employers, so a union isn't a 100%  necessity when it comes to obtaining health insurance.

R,

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32 minutes ago, Richard Boddington said:

At the end of the day Phil everyone ultimately has the same option....employer treating you badly, QUIT the damn job and get a new one!!!

In principle if your able to do that you should do that and that would force employers to improve standards otherwise they won't be able to attract employees. Thats been my attitude for the majority of my working life, don't like it leave.

I also don't like the attitude that some employees have about "whats owed to them" etc... It's not helpful. And I agree if you don't like the pay don't take the job.

But in areas with high unemployment, the quitting thing and finding something better perhaps isn't always available. Being in an a union is about making the best of a situation that for whatever reason you can't leave. Granted this is more applicable to other industries then film, but it's just another way for workers to negotiate benefits beyond  the hiring and firing process.

Also you have situations for instance "pensions" where employers say they are going todo X and they try to do Y. Unions can hold those people to account in a way that an individual might not be able to do. Sure you could quit, but some people like their jobs and don't want to quit but don't want employers to take the piss.... 

Me personally, I'm in a union because it offers me some protections in my main gig and (I think) makes my position more secure. Although of course I could be made redundant/fired at a later point but maybe the union would make that harder. So in that situation its a no brainer. But overall if I was unhappy about my current pay  - I wouldn't see that as a union issue because that's what I agreed to in the first place. I don't support striking to hold employers hostage for unaffordable pay rises either. 

If I wanted a better situation, I'd leave and get a different job. But if my current conditions got significantly worse then what I signed up for and maybe I wasn't able to find another job (it's not always possible to jump ship quickly) - I'd see if the union could help.  

I don't disagree with you thoughts Richard and someone that's generally tried to be self sufficient and generated a lot of my own work, I have an uneasy relationship with my current position in a teaching union. But I've also seen first hand how union activity has helped people and everyone's different. 

Ultimately you may not like unions, but a large section of the workforce has decided collectively that it works for them. Those people aren't wrong,, just have different circumstances and priorities. 

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On 1/6/2020 at 11:42 AM, Richard Boddington said:

Not illegal in any jurisdiction that I know of to hire crew as independent contractors.  If a crane operator comes in for a day, he's a salaried employee now? No, he's a freelance contractor.

In my experience, non union crew much prefer to be hired as free lance contractors so they don't have payroll taxes taken out of their cheques.  Most of them are living off grid when it comes to the tax man, and they simply don't file or pay taxes, or if they do they dramatically under report their income.  It's the little secret of the film world, a large number of crew are shafting the tax man, and the problem is rampant every where in the US and Canada.

Then there's all the crew that attempt to over bill the production, in violation of their signed deal memo.  I see this on every shoot as well.

Of course these stories always focus on the evil producer, no one wants to talk about the illegal stuff (not paying taxes) that film crew are getting away with.

R,

 

Richard, I believe that it's always been illegal to pay film crew as independent contractors in the US, though there were some work categories that could be paid as contractors.  The practice of paying crew as contractors was accomplished due to a lack of enforcement.

I've always preferred to be paid as an employee.

Firstly, that means that the employer's share of pension taxes are paid.  Independent contractors must pay both the employer's share plus the employee's share.  About a 9% extra tax for working as a contractor.  Also, employees are eligible for unemployment insurance payments, but contractors are not.

Employees are also not liable for events that take place on the set, from work injuries to failure to successfully complete the work.  As a contract camera operator I've been refused payment in the past for out of focus results.  Even when I've had no good view of the focus (video assist monitor as viewfinder).  On my work for foreign productions, they often send me a contract that states explicitly that I will be financially responsible for work screw ups. (like I'm going to pay them $50,000 to reshoot a day!)  I cross out these provisions before agreeing to the job. Either they trust me, or they don't.

And as far as tax cheating being easier for contract workers... I've been audited by the IRS.  And they check every bank deposit and withdrawal and demand a receipt for every expense.  In my case, as I had reported all my employee and contractor income, and had paid my share of pension taxes plus the employer's share, I was not charged additional taxes or penalties.  The only "safe" way of tax cheating is to be paid in cash and stash it in your mattress.  In Los Angeles, when you've reported contractor income (or your "employer" has reported your contractor income) the city of Los Angeles also demands that you pay a city business tax.  And they know about your contractor income as the state reports this to the city.  If you are paid as an employee, no city business tax is due, nor a business tax return necessary.

So, at least in the US, it is to the film crew worker's advantage to be paid as an employee.  And technically, a contractor is required also to provide their own worker's compensation insurance for workplace accidents... and even having liability insurance is probably a good idea.

In general, it's very short sighted for a film crew worker to prefer to be paid as a contractor.

Of course I can't speak to the situation in Canada 🙂

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Bruce, when you shoot the movies in Ukraine or Russia, I forget the exact country.  Does the producer sign an IA contract for you?  And do your payments go through EP with US tax withholdings taken out?

R,

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47 minutes ago, Richard Boddington said:

Bruce, when you shoot the movies in Ukraine or Russia, I forget the exact country.  Does the producer sign an IA contract for you?  And do your payments go through EP with US tax withholdings taken out?

R,

Actually Richard, yes. I’ve worked for the Hollywood studios all over the world and have always been under the IA contract with US based payroll. Numerous times in Canada alone and including Russia. 
 

G

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50 minutes ago, Gregory Irwin said:

Actually Richard, yes. I’ve worked for the Hollywood studios all over the world and have always been under the IA contract with US based payroll. Numerous times in Canada alone and including Russia. 
 

G

Ok thanks, but, I was actually asking Bruce. 🙂  As the projects he works on in Russia or Ukraine are not Hollywood originated projects.

R,

 

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