The Dirty Little Secret About Union Dues

Posted: July 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

When it comes to discussing union dues, I have seen VFXers post the following comments:

“The Union is a business”

“The Union just wants to take your money.”

“The Union does nothing for me”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

IATSE Local 891 provides numerous services at the request of the members. These services are voted on in a democratic process by the general membership of the union. Here’s a sampling of some of the services the members have chosen:

Medical and Dental
Life Insurance
Family Services Employee Assistance
Union Savings
Retirement Savings Plan
Residential Rehabilitation
Professional Upgrading and Training (budgeted at over a $1,000,000)
Meeting Spaces
WCB advocacy

The delivery and administration of these services is not without cost. It requires fulltime paid staff, office equipment and supplies, a building to operate out of, and an IT department to make sure everything runs smoothly.

The operating revenue required for these expenditures is generated by the collection of dues from the members. The constitution of the local states,

(a) In addition to annual dues, members working under a Collective Agreement to which the Local is a party shall pay working dues calculated at a rate as set from time to time by the Executive Committee and ratified by the Membership.

That’s right, the members of the union decide on how much they contribute. The dues are tax deductible; you are entitled to write off the total amount collected by your union on your taxes.

There are two types of dues IATSE 891 members contribute. One is the annual dues and the other is what is commonly known as “dues check off” or the “working dues assessment.”

The annual dues of $320 have not been raised in over 20 years and if a member pays prior to March 31, the amount is reduced to $288. That’s less than 80 cents a day!

The annual dues monies are re-distributed to numerous organizations that 891 is a member of:

The British Columbia Council of Film Unions (negotiates the master agreement)
The Motion Picture Production Industry Association (lobbies for tax incentives)
BC Federation of Labour (advocates for worker rights and fair labour laws)
IATSE (advocates nationally and internationally for IATSE members)
The Actors’ Fund of Canada (provides emergency financial assistance)

The working dues assessments fund the union office. 2% is deducted off members’ wages by the payroll companies and remitted to the union. The union does not collect working dues unless the member is working under a union collective agreement.

Now let’s look at a member who has made $60,000 in the year, and see how much dues they would have paid versus the value of the services they received.

2% dues check off plus the annual dues paid before March 31, equals $1,488 dollars. Their T4s/receipts will indicate this deductible amount for tax purposes.

If the member worked for example on “Caesar: Rise of the Apes” and “Wimpy the Kid” their employers would have contributed $3,600 to the member’s retirement plan. I think I could stop here because already the member is ahead of the game but let’s continue. If they are on the health benefits plan the value of those benefits is an additional $3,600. Wow this is beginning to add up fast in the union member’s favour. The Medical Services Plan savings alone are worth $648/individual or $1,296 per family and the members’ individual life insurance policy costs $200 per year.

Add in training and all the other services and you can readily see the member is receiving a valuable return on their contribution.

How can you be sure of the veracity of these statements? Unlike privately held companies, the union’s books are open for inspection by the membership. Each year a certified general accountant audits all the unions transactions and prepares the financial statements which are mailed to every member. An annual budget itemizing salaries, office expenditures, training costs, etc is submitted to the membership to be voted on. There are multiple rigorous checks and balances in place to ensure transparency.

IATSE Local 891 is a democratic collective of members. The members determine how much their dues are, the members of determine the services they want.

It’s a good deal, union members dues at work helping union members.

  1. Rolling Red says:

    This is a very good and informative post. Thanks for quoting the local 891’s constitution. Where can we find the full text of the constitution?

  2. iatse891vfx says:

    IATSE 891 is governed by two constitutions, our local constitution and the International constitution. Currently, neither of these are available online. You may contact the International with respect to the IA constititution:

    IATSE General Office
    1430 Broadway
    20th Floor
    New York, NY 10018
    Telephone: 212-730-1770

    Please email to request an 891 constitution.

  3. Freddy says:

    The audit is a notice to reader audit and thus is the lowest test of credible audit governed by the law and in this case the Labour Code, so I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a perfectly transparent rendition of the finances of the organization. In comparison, the audit and financial statements prepared for publically traded corporations are significantly more thorough and must by the law provide much more detail to the shareholders and potential investors of the company. In addition the audit is conducted by a CA (Chartered Accountant not a Certified General Accountant.) As for the budget, it is equally lacking detail and it is approved by the Executive Committee for approval not mailed to the General membership to be voted on.
    The dues collected do not accurately reflect the “redistribution” of monies to the various groups above or reflect the salaries, benefits or expenses paid to and for the full time union executive or staff, as is required by most BC Public corps such as BC Hydro, BC Ferries, ICBC, Fortis etc.
    It is also worth noting that the Health Benefits are administered by an independent trust, who does not and can not take direction from the membership. So there is very little democratic input from the membership as to the services and levels of service which the membership receives. But that is probably just considered splitting hairs at this point.

  4. Freddy says:

    As ususal the IATSE democratic voice only applies to having the facts that the IATSE wants you to hear, and all other posts will be removed summarily.

  5. Rolling Red says:

    Freddy, email me: [at]
    I am interested to hear more. Thanks!

  6. iatse891vfx says:

    Hi Freddy, why are you hiding behind a fake name? Is it because you are not a VFX artist nor a member of any union let alone 891? Are you a management plant? Or are you just an anti-union management type?

    The notice to reader audit is what is required by the law, and is the one most typically used by not for profits; Local 891 being a “not for profit.” Whether you feel that this is transparent or not is irrelevant as members of 891 can access the financial records of the local anytime. In fact at yesterday’s general meeting members reflected favourably on the clearness of the statements they had been provided, with ample opportunity to inquire for further detail. You of course cannot.

    “The audit is done by a CA (Chartered Accountant and not a Certified General Accountant.)” So what is your point? You neglect by omission to mention that the Financial Controller of the local who prepares the records and budgets for review is a Certified General Accountant. Yes the day to day financial oversight of the local is done by a Certified General Accountant.

    I really do not know what point you are making by comparing a union to a public corporation. I have stated over and over again the union is not a business and it is not a corporation. We are not for profit. We are a collective of our members, we do not exist without members.

    Your point of accurate redistribution of the dues, I will once again note the members may access the records. The audit committee who is comprised of members of the local are the financial committee oversight and they review the statements including detailed expenses and the annual budget. They report their findings to the executive committee who are the democratically elected representatives of every department of the local and the duly elected executive officers and officials. The constitution stipulates both the Local’s President and the Business Representative salaries. All members have a copy of the constitution.

    And finally you talk about “very little democratic input from the membership” with respect to the services in the health benefits plan. I am a past trustee so feel more than qualified to comment. Yes the health benefits is run by an arms length trust. The relationship between the trust and the union local is implicit. The trust is comprised of members of the local who are elected by the membership of the local. The trust has a fiduciary responsibility to deliver cost effective services. The money for the health benefit plan flows from what the members ratify through the collective agreement to the trust. The trustees are entrusted with those monies that the contract bargaining committee has negotiated. That committee is comprised of members of the local. Ratification of the collective agreement is done by a mail out ballot to every member. If you were a member you would have know that many services that are delivered by the trust were motioned at general membership meetings. In addition, the members are surveyed to comment on the benefits and level of service they receive and on any proposed changes to the plan.

    We are a democratically run organization.

  7. Freddy says:

    So democratic you will not another of my posts….might want to look up exactly what democracy is.

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  9. Donald says:

    SEE Freddy is actually understating how deceptive many in the executive really are. Elections have been corrupt since Don Ramsden first scammed the honest majority of members. RCMP and CRA are now getting very defining details on this group of literally CRIMINALS.. Provincial Inquiry and even Forensic audit voted for by 470 “honest” members ignored. That says everything. Support Bill C-377. This is why.

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