by Cathy Repola
The pandemic turned our personal and working lives topsy-turvy. It all happened so quickly, and there was little time to think through the changes it brought. In post-production, our members were often scrambling to set up remote working environments.
If you were fortunate enough to continue working, and you have families or loved ones with whom you live, remote work has blurred the lines between those two distinct parts of life, sometimes in uncomfortable ways.
But it also provided opportunities to be more present for your family. Some of you managed quite successfully; others struggled with a less-than-ideal workspace at your home. Some have found that working from home is a much better way to balance work and family.
But as we continue to move out of the pandemic—we hope!—some may welcome a return to the worksites. They should be allowed to do so with the necessary safety precautions in place, and those are continuing to evolve as I write this in the middle of July. No matter how we move forward, this time provides a perfect opportunity for managers who have control over work schedules to reset the way things have been done and to allow for a more equitable balance of work and personal life.
It is time for change.
The future workplace, whether at traditional worksites or in your home, must include fair compensation. Our members need to be aware of what they should expect when an employer continues to require work from home. The employer must provide the equipment necessary for you to do your job from home, unless you have your own equipment and you and the employer are both in agreement about you using it. If that is the case, they absolutely must provide you with a kit/rig rental fee. What is that fee? We have a lot of different classifications, with a lot of different types of equipment, so it is impossible to put one number out there. That is freely negotiable between you and an employer. But you should consider the type of equipment you are providing and research the rate that a professional vendor is charging for that same equipment.
Beyond that, you must be compensated for any increased use of utilities and Internet service upgrades, if any, as well as any reasonable cost of office supplies and additional security. This amount can obviously vary. During the pandemic, individual employers were determining what they believed to be reasonable amounts, and most elected to pay this as a stipend. The Guild compiled information on what companies were paying, and while the amounts have been lower in low-budget projects, animation and unscripted television, the average in other genres landed around $125 per week but was also up to between $150 to $200 per week.
We applaud those employers who did the right thing and set the higher end of the standard. Whatever the amount, though, it has to be enough so that you, as the employee, are not out of pocket for any expenses incurred as a result from working at home. All of our signatory employers who enter into these arrangements should be fully aware of their obligations. This may get a bit trickier if work from home (WFH) becomes optional, but we should still advocate for the same conditions. If you accept a job with remote work where a stipend is offered, but you find it’s not enough to offset your increased business costs, you should inquire about the employer’s mechanism for seeking additional reimbursement. With the start of every new job, make sure all these details are clearly spelled out in writing.
As always, please contact a field rep if you need any help navigating this. The Guild staff is always here for you.
The main thing is to not allow the employer to take advantage of a WFH arrangement. This can’t become a way for employers to save money and simply exploit employees. Nor can it be used as an excuse for undermining any other contractual obligations, like paying appropriately for overtime, taking meal breaks, securing meal penalties, etc.
WFH does not mean that you are accessible to the employer around the clock and outside of your working hours.
If WFH results in an erosion of working conditions, then we must act aggressively to stop that. Neither should it be allowed to create a false sense of new competition between members—those who have their own work systems versus those who don’t, or those who want to work from home, and can, versus those who cannot.
The potential decentralization of the work force is of concern from a union administrative perspective, but we, too, must change with the times and look for new and creative ways to continue to outreach members and ensure compliance with employer contracts, regardless of where their work sites happen to be. Perhaps this can become one way to promote the work-life balance we have been advocating for in negotiations but have yet to achieve.
If the post-pandemic situation can create a meaningful step toward accomplishing this goal, then let’s collectively make it work for the benefit of our members.
Cathy Repola is the National Executive Director of Local 700.