“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” -W. Edwards Deming
What is a “structure test?” It’s a method by which unions may assess their own strength. Unions undertake structure tests to both build and maintain a tight ship composed of ranks of people who can communicate effectively with their ship-mates to properly steer a boat—our Union—where it needs to go. This begs the question: where does the ship need to go? For 839 members well-versed in our Union’s current culture, it may feel taboo to talk about, but we need to start the conversation: the biggest strength a collective of workers has to effect change in the workplace is to put the boss in crisis.
Our Union has begun thinking outside of the box. When is the last time you remember animators having a rally, making signs, or painting their cars with pro-union slogans? The change has been fast. I can still recall asking about strike preparedness during the last Union election, and being met with many “no’s.” Now we have a Readiness and Defense Fund. I remember when you had to move to Los Angeles to make any kind of living in animation. Now we have unionized studios in New York and Canada. Change is coming fast to our Union, and our members clearly want to get ready to do what it takes to put the producers in crisis mode.
What kind of exercises can we undertake to help strengthen our structure and form a network of communication within our Union? Our solution cannot be to ask everyone to join or form a committee. Having 5,000 committee members is not tenable. We wouldn’t get anything done. Our Union is already a committee—a collective of people who swear an oath to work together for each other. And if you’re taking the time to read this statement, that means you’re playing an active role in that collective.
We have re-thought a lot of what it means to be in a union, both as this Local and as Americans during the biggest revival of unionization in recent history. Being a Negotiations Committee member now and being able to participate in the discussions in “the room” this cycle gave me a very different view of bargaining, and I now realize that if we want real, substantial change—change to our wages, the ability to work from home anywhere, a cut of the merchandise we make so popular—we have to rethink our system and structure of negotiating, too.
In many ways, we undertook more structure tests in 2021 and 2022 than we have ever seen before. It’s given us a good picture of what years and years of not undertaking these tests will do to a union: we have many members who are checked out, apathetic, or frustrated with a lack of progress. But we have to meet members where they are. Instead, what happened was our membership worked hard to meet us where we were. When we asked you to show up for a last-minute rally, you listened, and showed up in droves. When we asked you to form a network of activists who can lead their co-workers through the next steps in escalation, you listened, and you joined TAG’s Tactical Action Group. Then, when you asked: “What are the next steps? What can we do to prepare for a strike?” we were silent. Despite all these tectonic shifts in mobilization happening underneath our feet, we, the negotiations team, were not ready to utter “The S-Word.”
Despite my pleas again and again in 2021 for us to plan our steps in advance, so our committee could move smoothly from one to the next and weren’t scrambling for new ideas at a crisis point, I was told that “we can’t predict how negotiations will go” and that we would decide what we’d walk over when we were in the room. The result was our structure tests being ad-hoc and born of necessity. Our bargaining system was designed to get the results it gets.
Let’s re-imagine negotiations together. Let’s imagine a bargaining cycle where you don’t have to sacrifice your free time to a committee in order to get a summary of what’s going on in the negotiations room. Let’s realize that our Union doesn’t have to agree to a media blackout before bargaining. Let’s acknowledge, together, that you cannot have a coalition of mobilized members without communicating with them about what’s going on.
On June 20th, our Union approaches the biggest structure test of this cycle: the contract vote. If you think the Negotiations Committee should rethink its assessment of your strike-readiness, vote this contract down. Tell us unequivocally that you need more than incremental gains; that you’re ready for radical change, and you’re ready to give us the power to return to bargaining with a supermajority voter turnout. Because every system is perfectly designed to produce exactly what it’s producing right now, and if you want it to make something different, you have to change the system.
Inform yourself by asking questions until you know what our tentative agreement entails, and then tell every single one of your co-workers and supervisors what you think, and to vote. No matter which way our membership decides to go, I will never stop trying to change our Union’s system, to make these processes more transparent, and to give our membership the power and knowledge to make fundamental shifts that better put us in a place to leverage our power for the good of our co-workers’ lives.