Let’s talk about Cherry Garcia … or Chunky Monkey.
Let’s talk about a scoop of each.
Summer is here and, if you’re like me, you will be enjoying a scoop or two of ice cream. The employees of that old sweet and delicious ice cream label, Ben & Jerry’s, voted to unionize at their Burlington, Vermont flagship location this past spring.
Their reasons for organizing were pretty normal. Like Starbucks, Amazon, and so many others, the workers cited safety concerns, poor working conditions, and low wages as the basis for their interest in unionizing. Ben & Jerry’s is another in a long list of companies whose workers are demanding more from their relationship with their employers. Support for unions and workers’ rights are at a half-century high and stories like this one are becoming more commonplace.
However, according to The New York Times, the tipping point in this particular case was Ben & Jerry’s Free Cone Day. This was an annual tradition that, owing to the pandemic, was put on hiatus, but made its “triumphant” return this year. Though a welcome treat for customers, Free Cone Day proved contentious among the company’s staff, as management demanded that their workers refuse all tips for the day. The goal had been to give customers a truly “free” experience, but this decision disregarded the fact that the workers, most of whom make minimum wage, depend on tips as part of their income.
What stood out to me as I ate my way through a quart of Americone Dream was that the ice cream might be free, but that does not mean that the labor involved in delivering it to customers has changed. So why should they be making less when they are performing the same labor scoop they always have? More importantly, we face a similar issue within our jurisdiction at Local 695.
As the technical local of Hollywood, our work is among the most subject to evolution. As technology develops, the methods of executing our crafts develop with it. The technical advances we’ve seen in the worlds of video, playback, projection, and production sound have all accelerated with the implementation of IT infrastructures and, more recently, artificial intelligence (AI) platforms. Members of Local 695 are expected to not only be aware of upcoming changes, but also to make sure they’re trained on the latest technologies in addition to their existing skill sets—often so they can earn the same wage doing more work than before.
A few examples include cloud-based recording, digital intercom systems, and virtual production.
Cloud-based recording has been utilized in the live and broadcast production world for the last several years and is beginning to make its way into episodic and narrative productions now as well. Rather than recording primarily onto physical media (hard drives, tape, etc.) via decks or servers, we are now researching and developing cloud-based hubs for our newly created ones and zeros to safely store. The physicality of storing intellectual property is evolving, but the act of labor to record a show has not.
Digital intercom systems are infiltrating feature and episodic areas of production. These technologies have been used in broadcast environments for decades and we are proud to see their expansion. But these communication systems in new environments does not mean that this work should not be performed and executed by anyone other than Local 695 members.
Video wall playback architectures have advanced using state-of-the-art graphics and gaming engines to map LED panels. The hardware and the software may evolve, but the physical act of playing back content, whether as part of a live graphical overlay, for purposes of review, or to be photographed by the camera falls under the jurisdiction of Local 695.
All of these innovations affect the way that we do our jobs, but our jurisdictions remain unchanged. Work intended for these primary purposes fall under the contractual obligation of Local 695 members, who are committed to being on the forefront of this evolution.
The employees of Ben and Jerry’s are professional scoopers. I personally cannot create a perfectly shaped circular ice cream scoop, nor can I make a perfectly golden waffle cone to hold it. The members of Local 695 are trained to be expert technicians and craftspeople in the areas of sound, video, and projection. The act of our labor does not change, even if the parameters and requirements of our day-to-day do.
Have a good summer.
PS In other union news, those cargo pants you bought from REI—those are going union as well.