Battle To Unionize Art Directors Guild’s Staff Turns Acrimonious

Art Directors Guild
Art Directors Guild

EXCLUSIVE: Amid allegations of “union-busting,” the office staff at the Art Directors Guild, IATSE Local 800, will vote this month in a contentious battle over whether they want to be represented by a union. In early June, a slim majority of the bargaining unit – which now stands at 28 – signed union representation cards with the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 537.

The guild could have recognized OPEIU voluntarily but chose to allow the vote to proceed instead. In a statement, the guild said that it “believes strongly in the rights of workers to decide to be in a union.” The vote on unionization will be held July 29.

“We staff in the office have been putting up with a pretty toxic work environment for some time and are finally self-organizing, seeking representation from OPEIU Local 537,” said a staffer who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal. “Now that we have submitted union cards to the executive staff, they have been union-busting pretty aggressively – at a union office.”

White-Brown OPEIU

“We are looking forward to winning this election and to be able to provide them with a collective bargaining agreement,” said Jacqueline White-Brown, OPEIU Local 537’s business manager/secretary-treasurer. “Just as Local 800 has a wonderful contract for their members, we are looking to do the same for ours. We want to be the union inside the union.”

Supporters say the local’s leadership added six part-time employees to the bargaining unit after the representation cards were signed in order to defeat the drive — a charge the guild flatly denies. They also accused Casey Bernay, the local’s director of education, of “union busting” – a charge she vehemently and angrily denies.

“I heard that there is someone over there trying to union-bust,” White-Brown told Deadline. “That is what I heard from another employee.”

Bernay, who comes from a family of IATSE leaders – and who was recently elected as Local 800’s delegate to the L.A. County Federation of Labor – is outraged by the allegation. “I work my tail off for the members of this union,” she said. “To accuse me of union-busting is bullshit. I’m owed an apology. I want a freaking apology for having an opinion.”

Bernay Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock

Said Bernay, who is part of the bargaining unit that will be voting on unionization: “Unions have a very important place in our culture, in our world. Their job is to protect people and to make sure they are protected. They are crucial to ensuring that workers are treated fairly, and to make sure companies enforce their social contract. And unionism is the best way to achieve that. I’ve spent most of my life as a union member and a union organizer. Workers have a right to unionize.”

She acknowledges that she told another OPEIU rep at a meeting in June that she was opposed to the unionization effort at Local 800. “I walked up to her, introduced myself, shook her hand, and said, ‘Hi, I’m hostile to this effort.’ I sat down and listened to what she had to say, and shook her hand when she left.”

Bernay also took issue with the allegation that the guild did anything wrong by adding part-timers to the bargaining unit – which includes field reps, accountants, dues and membership services employees, and other administrative staff. “Are they saying that part-timers are not eligible to be members of the unit? They should do their homework.”

In its statement, the guild said: “Upon the parties meeting, it was discovered that OPEIU’s list included some but not all of the guild’s regular part-time workers. To be fair we have provided OPEIU with contact information for those employees who were not included in their list, so that they could communicate with them about their effort. The guild also asked that since OPEIU 537 had signed representation cards from just under 54% of the complete unit, that all employees be permitted to vote on the question of representation. On July 15th, the Art Directors Guild and OPEIU 537 entered into a Stipulated Election Agreement with the National Labor Relations Board. That election will take place on July 29th at the guild’s offices. Neither national executive director Chuck Parker nor associate national executive director dooner have taken a position on this question as they, and the guild, believe that it is up to the employees to decide, without interference or influence. The Art Directors Guild will abide by the decision of its regular full time and part time employees as expressed in their secret ballot votes.”

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“Workers have a right to unionize,” Bernay said. “In the case you’re discussing, I’d like to know what those workers want. That’s the question I’ve been asking, and no one’s given me any answers. How I feel about an organizing drive within my own office is my business.

“What are they offering that people in this office don’t already have?” she asked. “I have yet to get an answer to that question. We already get everything that our members get – pension, health, vacation, and sick days – all of it. We already get the contractual raises they get every August – the same that everyone else in the basic agreement gets. That’s why I’m wondering: What’s the issue?”

“I am a union member, a member of Local 800, and proud of it,” she said. “I’m proud to be part of the IATSE. My whole freaking family has been a part of the IATSE — my sister, my mother, my father and me. I don’t think that having no information and the way certain things are handled is union-busting. I have a problem where I’m being kept out of the loop on purpose, before anybody knows my opinion. And I wasn’t the only one kept out of the loop. There were at least three others who were not approached until the last meeting, and there may be others. I’ve not been included in any conversations, and I’m supposed to be alright with that? A lot of people are working really, really hard to make sure that people in the workplace are protected, and I am one of them.”

She added: “If someone accuses me of union-busting, I will respond. Really. Trying to break a union. Who’s breaking what? I’ve had absolutely no contact with that organization.” She also took issue with White-Brown’s comment about her. “How appropriate is that for her to spread gossip to you?” she asked. “I’m insulted.”

Bernay, who has spearheaded the drive to train IATSE members in order to expand their careers, also works with local schools and colleges to prepare them to enter the industry. Her father, Joe Bernay, was a longtime IATSE official and former head of the union’s West Coast office. Her mother, Martha Bernay, was a longtime member of IATSE Illustrators and Matte Artists Local 790 before its merger with the Art Directors Guild in 2008, and served as the office manager of the IATSE’s West Coast office for many years until she retired in 1985. Her sister, Marjo Bernay, was the business agent of Local 790 and IATSE Set Designers and Model Makers Local 847 from 1979 until they merged with the Art Directors Guild.

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