Should Bart Simpson join a union?
In an effort to win converts to the union cause, a Hollywood guild orchestrated the filing of a lawsuit Friday on behalf of animators who work on "The Simpsons"--even though the cartoonists are not union members.
With the help and support of Local 839 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes (IATSE), one current employee and one former employee of Klasky-Csupo, Inc. charged that the company, which draws "The Simpsons" for Fox Broadcasting and "Rugrats" for Nickelodeon, owes back overtime pay to its 100 animators.
"The studio has been telling them that they're salaried employees and exempt from wage laws," said Steve Hulett, the union's business agent. "But they treat them like hourly employees--they dock their wages if they're off."
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by animators Fred Gardner and Nancy Kruse, does not ask for a specified amount of money, because it is not clear how many, if any, additional employees will join the action. It claims that Gardner, the former Klasky-Csupo employee, is owed $26,000 and that Kruse is owed $4,000 in unpaid overtime.
Because the union does not represent Klasky-Csupo employees, it is not a party to the suit. But the union has provided lawyers and hopes that additional employees--seeing dollar signs--will sign on.
The idea, Hulett said, is to persuade skeptical animators that the union is capable of helping them. "I think it's incumbent upon this union to show what benefits can accrue to (the cartoonists)," he said.
Gabor Csupo, part owner of Klasky-Csupo, said the company is not required to pay overtime to animators, because federal labor law exempts artists from rights afforded hourly workers.
The union maintains that the law only exempts those artists who create what they draw from scratch, not those who draw to specifications created by someone else, as animators do.
Csupo, who said he dislikes unions, insisted that his company would never buckle to the demands of organized labor. Csupo said that even if employees voted to bring IATSE on board, he would refuse to cooperate.
"I'm never going to sign with the union," Csupo said. "If they vote for it, I'm just not going to hire them. I can lay them off and I'll take (the work) to Hungary. I'll take it to Japan."
Hulett said the union had little interest in Klasky-Csupo when it was a tiny outfit with 20 employees, drawing "The Simpsons" as a segment of "The Tracey Ullman Show." But now that the company has about 150 employees, IATSE has targeted the company for organization.