By: Leo T. Reed

The Union has recently become aware of this important issue that you need to know. The Union has heard that several television production companies have begun demanding that wranglers, animal handlers and animal trainers sign contracts stating that they are independent contractors. Indeed, the Union has heard that animal handlers who have worked on a show for years as employees are being told that, unless they agree that they are now magically independent contractors, they will not get the show for another season. As far as we know, none of these contracts are now in effect.

Just so you know, in the opinion of our legal counsel, you are not independent contractors (you’ve been treated as employees for decades). Thus, it is very important to let the Union know whenever a production company tries to say that you are. Business Agent Shanda Laurent is handling the issue.

To be clear, if you own your own animals, there is a difference between renting the animal to a production company and handling the animal on a set or location. Animal owners can be and probably are independent contractors who are in the business of renting animals to production companies (just like Studio Services rents trucks). We are not talking about that. But once someone steps on a set or location to handle an animal (large or small and regardless of who owns it) on a motion picture or TV show, it is no different than a driver sitting behind the wheel of a Studio Services truck: that is Union work must be done by an employee covered by the Black Book and not some independent contractor.

And so that you understand how important it is that you call Business Agent Laurent if any production company tries to make you an independent contractor, independent contractors are not covered by the Black Book, only employees are. If you aren’t covered by the Black Book, your hours don’t count toward health and pension benefits. In addition, independent contractors are responsible for their own and the employer’s taxes (social security, etc.), are not covered by workers comp. insurance, unemployment insurance or even state disability insurance and are not covered by overtime and other wage and hour laws. In other words, this is a very important matter.