Fall 2015

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14 CINEMONTAGE / FALL 2015 press interest in the contractual terms one can read- ily quantify. Folks speak of higher wages, excellent health and retirement benefits, better hours and the like. Less often does anybody mention enfranchise- ment as one of the perks of union employment. But workplace democracy is, in fact, the well- spring from which all the other advantages of union employment flow. The superior conditions secured through union contracts don't originate in employ- ers' largesse, nor can our union negotiators, however skilled, conjure them from nothing. They come from the difference in clout between those employees who can only entreat employers for improvements on the job, and those employees empowered to elect the terms under which they will sell their services. Witness the recent contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Fiat Chrysler, in which the employer substantially im- proved its offer after UAW members voted down a tentative agreement that the employees felt did not go far enough to remedy a despised two-tier wage system. Employers who know their offers must pass the test of a popular vote calculate their employees' worth differently than employers who are free to simply make take-it-or- leave-it offers to individual workers. Winston Churchill famously popularized the apothegm, "Democracy is the worst form of govern- ment, except for all the others that have been tried." And it is true that the ballot box is no panacea. The democratic process is more often ugly than utopian. In the workplace as well as in the civic sphere, the practice of democracy gets muddled in imperfec- tions, affording no guarantees of easy progress. Even enfranchised employees often struggle to convince management to take their concerns seriously. Moreover, majority rule only translates into real bargaining power when coupled with a commitment to solidarity. But nearly 90 percent of employees in the United States now work in jobs without any meaningful mechanisms for democratic participa- tion in decision-making. If democracy's merits are remarkable chiefly in relation to all the other forms of governance that have been tried, it's noteworthy that democracy has only seldom been assayed in the workplace. On the job, dictatorship — sometimes benevolent dictatorship and sometimes not — is the default mode of governance. With the steady decline of union density in this country, fewer and fewer employees are empowered to vote on the terms of their jobs. It's no coincidence that in the past several decades that workplace democracy has been on the wane, our country has experienced wage stagnation and exacerbated inequality. Thankfully, employees are still able to come together and insist upon their right to democratic collective bargaining. Organizing isn't easy, and the campaigns employers wage to discourage it can be both aggressive and effective. But that doesn't mean that groups of workers are unable to success- fully challenge management's dictatorship in the workplace. In both of the union certification elections I have touched upon here — the WGAE's October election at Leftfield and our September election at Deluxe Culver City — employees soundly rejected the suggestion that they be satisfied with a suggestion box. They elected instead to have a voice and a vote on the job. The writers/producers in New York chose WGAE representation with a Union Yes vote of 64% in early October; the post-production professionals in California chose Editors Guild representation with a Union Yes vote of 92% in early September. Each of those groups, like every group of employees who elect union representation through the NLRB's certification process, now faces con- tract negotiations with its employer. The margins of the votes notwithstanding, there's no guarantee that either set of negotiations will be easy or even amicable. Employees have voted themselves a seat at the bargaining table, but there is no assurance that they will come away from that table with everything they seek. What is certain is that they now have a mean- ingful means of participating in decisions that used to be the sole prerogative of their bosses. That's democracy at work. Imperfect, perhaps, but far superior to its lack. If you are working a non-union job in post-pro- duction, and you are interested in having a voice and a vote in your workplace, talk to an Editors Guild organizer. You can call the Guild's organizing hotline at 818-925-6734 or contact an organizer through our organizing website, f Democratic participation in decision-making is perhaps the most fundamental distinction between organized and non-union workplaces.

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