Sunday, July 03, 2005

Time Property

Question: Who "owns" the weekend for an individual? The employee or the employer?

This is a serious question in our line of work, where significant overtime (more often than not unpaid) is a harsh reality.

I'm in various conversations with some folks about this. This is at the heart of a lot of contention in the CG and entertainment medium industry as it matures. The highly publicized squabbles between EA and it's employees (along with the resulting fallout) and the IDGA's recent focus on quality of life within the gaming industry are starting to draw this friction to a point. To get to the bottom of it I've settled on this notion of "time property".

Each human being has an alloted number of hours in life. Who's time is it to use? Who has the right to decide how and when and how much of it to use in what manner? Namely, who is the rightful owner of your minutes, hours, days, weeks, years? You? Or your employer? Both? Let's say you state that the employer owns a certain percentage of your time because they are "buying" it with your salary. OK, fair enough. Then who decides how much is included in the purchase? The buyer or the seller?
If the weekends (and evenings) are considered the "property" of the employee, then the employer cannot demand use of it without permission. (using anybody else's property by force without permission is called robbery- stealing.) But if it is the employers' property then the employer can rightfully demand to use any time they wish of the employee and the employee cannot rightfully complain about that at all. I have no personal right to dictate how another man uses his property.

It's an interesting conversation with deep, deep implications- not only for our industry but for all of American society. Am I being too broad? Read this and you decide.


Tanja said...

Hmm...sorry, I think I wrote a book.

As a former internet consultant and having worked on various software projects, I can't say that I'm surprised that any CG industry (games, animation,etc.) may also be getting impacted by the question of work hours whether because of out-sourcing or competition with other similar companies.

For several years, I worked as a contractor thru an agency so I received additional pay and had the agency to negotiate for me when extra hours and travel were required by my employer. But my benefits sucked and I didn't have seniority or "job security". As a salaried employee, my benefits were much better, and my annual salary increased but my work hours were at times 80+ hours a week, and that did not include travel time. I was now a "valued" employee.

Until my development teams got together and discussed these issues and came up with various solutions that we then discussed with our managers, our hours were our employers, not our own. And then we all left anyways for other jobs.

When you love your job, learn something new everyday, and don't have much of a life outside of work, then long hours don't seem so bad. It's very different when you have a family or a social life. So I've heard. At my current job, I work with a few Chinese employees as well as the far away factory workers over in Asia who manufacture our products. In China, the job competition and their commitment to improving the quality of their families' future means that they work 14-16 hour days or more...sleep at their desks for lunch and dinner when the buzzer goes off...and they do this 6 days a week, all year. Until they get replaced by someone fresher and faster. There are few labor laws that protect them in China from what I understand.

Regarding the Wal-mart article... that I would say is one of the reasons why employees form unions. My sister, a senior employee with UPS, is actually part of a Union that is employed by UPS...although she was offered a salaried role with UPS that would give her a "desk job" and maybe more regular hours, she would lose Union benefits and no longer have the representation and impact that being part of that Union offers.

But, then there's always the lovely 1 month vacations and 38 hour work weeks I hear from former co-workers and family that work over in Europe...

I think that unless there is a solid group effort, whether from the U.S. Labor board or from Wal-mart's employees themselves, that this potential new trend of being available for whatever shift during operating hours will continue and will possibly even be held as the new standard for retail employment as more of them go to open longer hours or 24/7. There's always someone desperate for that kind of low-income employment because they don't have the training or skills for something better, there's too much competition for other better jobs, or their age is against them. I've been there for all of that at one time or another, so I know.

I worry, too.

Anonymous said...

Looks like we are not alone here. I worked in the new media industry for about 6 years, and it is the same issue. When deadlines are tight, we worked long hours till early morning. On some occasion we were blessed because we have senior supervisors who spoke on our behalf and noted extra time put into projects were rewarded by taking days off from work. This only happens when they were big projects and it was clear that the clients wanted the work done within a tide deadline. Additional time put into smaller jobs were less recognised, even though they ended up as rush deadline projects. We recognised that at times we put in extra hours ourselves with the extra hours to improve the work, or as tygriffin puts it, learning new stuff, or experimenting with stuff. But yes, when you have a family, or commited to other social activities, it was hard to do consistent long hours.

What Tygriffin noted about the working condition in China was what Japan had gone through the the late 90s and still going through the same thing. Places like Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have the same working culture.

I don't know what's solution, but, all I know, we can only trust God's provision in Christ, in terms of balance of work vocation and family vocation.

Perhaps, animators, cg artists, and new media designers need to form strong body association in providing guidelines, in terms of salary package, working hours policies, and other important employment issues.

The other issue is that, where I am, there is no industry guideline for new media designer's salary pay (new media being web and multimedia design, motion graphics), where as graphic designer's pay level is noted. I suspect this could be the same for cg-designer/artist and animators.

Ethan said...

The Wal-Mart thing pisses me off. I can't believe that they'd pull that crap, and I love the way they candy coat it saying "It's for the customers." It's true that Animation is not a 9-5 job, I'm usually thinking of my shot on my free time as much as I do at my desk, and I'm guilty of giving free work and staying late to finish a shot to make it look just right. But I did that of my own free will. Because I wanted my work to look it's best. Now if a company demanded that of me I would complain and probably leave. If they want me to stay late they better be willing to compensate. I understand that smaller companys can't do this, but usually you "work for free" because your trying to get the company off the ground and will have a big reward if you succeed.

One problem I've seen happen with studios is there's usually a few animators who are willing to work 24-7 without over time. These are the people who usually don't have familys. Then the company biases their production on their output (time vs money) then they hire people, usually with familys and expect the same results. They're shocked to find that their projections go down the tube and the budget gets into trouble and they blame the guys with familys who can't work 24-7 for free. Really its unfair to your fellow employees to work overtime and not charge for it. But it the entertainment industry and people are always looking for an edge. Whatareyougoingtodo?