Don’t Let Them Do to Teachers and Firefighters What They Did to Us


Nothing in this world is black and white anymore, but the struggles of the Wisconsin unions and those of all the state workers behind them in Jersey, Ohio, Indiana and who knows where else make it necessary for freelancers to choose sides.

Are you siding with the power of big government and crony corporations, or with the dignity of the individual worker (or in our case,  “individual content producers”—that’s what photographers, writers, musicians, and artists are called in contracts).

Because those of us who cannot unionize have been run roughshod over for the last thirty years to the point where, not only can we not collectively bargain for better wages….in more and more cases, we are expected to work for next to nothing, or even for free…oh excuse me, I mean “for links, credit, and exposure.”

The only problem is, while our income and rights have been eroded by usurious contracts, “work for hire” terms, crowdsourcing, and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, our corporate employers have enjoyed tax loopholes, courts that rule in favor of the big business each and every time, and the ability to cloak themselves in the myth that’s “what’s good for big business is good for America.”

Yes, the internet has made it rough for media companies, but the first place they look to make up the shortfall is not by replacing the management who totally misjudged how to make money in the new economy, but by bullying the freelancers into doing more for less, and giving up the rights to our creations.

Here’s what happens when you lose the right to collectively bargain. Whenever freelancers band together to try to set rights and rates, we are legally stopped by the provisions of Sherman Anti-Trust Act. They call it “price-fixing.”

On the other hand, when the cable monopoly Comcast and NBC want to merge, they get the red carpet treatment. Wait, isn’t Comcast already a monopoly? Sure, but that’s okay because it’s good for (big) business.

When Rupert Murdoch wants to own TV stations and newspapers in the same area, formerly prohibited by a law outlawing media monopolies in a given market, it’s no problem….we just change the law that prohibited the practice,  so that now he can own whatever he wants!

So we individual content producers have not been able to collectively bargain, and not to put too fine a point on it, but our day rates haven’t gone up much at all from the late 70’s, and our claims to copyright have all but eroded. But not to worry, because it’s good for business, and what’s good for business, um, is good for a very very small group of Americans at the top of the economic food chain.

There’s no doubt that our entitlement programs are bloated and that unions can and do protect some incompetent and underperforming members in jobs they shouldn’t have. 

But that is far less draining on the deficit than corporate tax dodges and the extension of Bush era taxbreaks. You’d be amazed at how many of the American corporations (who just won the ability to donate unlimited funds, anonymously, to politicians who toe their corporate line thanks to the Federal Election Commission vs. Citizens United Supreme Court ruling) are headquartered offshore and don’t pay any taxes at all.

Well, enough, this is supposed to be a photography blog. I’m going back to talking about lenses, cameras, and neato gear. It’s much better for the blood pressure….



This Post Has 27 Comments

  1. Indeed, “this is supposed to be a photography blog.”

    1. Indeed it is….it deals with a wide variety of issues that affect both the amateur, but also the professional photographer who does this for a living. And for those who do it for a living, the post is, I’m afraid, all too topical!

    2. there are plenty of other photography blogs out there without having to read pro union cra p
      #unfollowing sheep

      1. Ah, Joe, it’s not so much pro-union, as it is anti-exploitation….but all the same, we’ll miss ya, bud!

  2. I agree that you should focus on photography but since you brought the topic up I will offer a rebuttal.

    You have grossly mischaracterized the Wisconsin debate. First, the proposed legislation specifically excludes fire fighters and police. Second, public employees are already protected by civil service laws. They hardly work under sweat shop conditions. Third, when public employees collectively bargain they are not negotiating with “The Man” who owns/runs a private company. They are negotiating/striking against taxpayers and citizens who they are supposed to be serving. Wisconsin has unfunded liabilities in the billions of dollars. Unlike, Uncle Sam, Wisconsin does not have the ability to print dollars to pay their bills. Wisconsin citizens and their elected representatives can let special interest group public employee unions continue dig them into a deeper financial hole which means ever increasing taxes. Their other choice is to reign in special interests who are over-compensated and get the fiscal house in order. Wisconsin will make it clear whether public employees work for the citizens or if citizens work for the public employees.

    1. Steve: I dunno, a bill that will allow the governor to sell off public power plants in no bid, no review deals to the private corporation of his choice seems to be overreaching the civil service laws (which one protects them? I’m not familiar with it) that allegedly protect these guys.

      When you talk “gross misrepresentation,” don’t forget that part.

      And it’s funny, in the face of a $137 million deficit, that the guv can bestow $117 million in tax breaks to corporations, and then blame the unions. But don’t take my word for it..

      Here’s the state’s leading paper’s take on it:

  3. Hi Bob
    Thank you for taking a stand and helping to open people’s eyes.
    We used to believe what we felt is the most beneficial to us, that’s human nature, now it seems we’ve handed even that over to the media corporations.

    Warm regards Colin

    PS loving your tales of experiences with the D300 and now the 7000. Oh, and that 16-85mm is one sweeeet lens:)

  4. Bob,

    Thank you for an excellent post. I agree with you 100%.

    This paragraph says it all for photographers/writers:
    “Yes, the internet has made it rough for media companies, but the first place they look to make up the shortfall is not by replacing the management who totally misjudged how to make money in the new economy, but by bullying the freelancers into doing more for less, and giving up the rights to our creations.”

    The company I work for is still profitable and still handing out bonuses to corporate executives while it lays people off. There’s something wrong with that picture.


  5. Excellent post. It’s your blog, post what you want. Personally I like the variety and as a freelance working photography I know where you are coming from.


  6. Yawn.

    1. Eric: That’s about the most well thought out and coherent rebuttal I’ve gotten so far….congratulations!:-).

      1. I am in complete agreement with Eric & Bob!

  7. Well said Bob. Photography is not apart from the rest of life. I’m always amused by the notion that teachers in particular have it easy. Those who believe that should try doing it for just one day. The comparison with photography to me involves the devaluing of the work. Anyone can do photography. Anyone can teach. Really? The answer is not in my view to destroy collective bargaining but to bargain more effectively for outcomes in the best interests of taxpayers who have a legitimate concern and public sector employees who do good and valuable work. (I’m not a public sector employee.)

  8. Perfectly put, Bob.

  9. Bob:

    It’s one thing to describe and even lament the demise of the market for professional magazine photography. It’s another thing to ascribe political influences to it all.

    From a fan, please take this to heart. You have a distinguished voice as a photographer, and an ordinary voice on matters political. Do the math.


    1. Thanks Peter…it’s good to know that politics and business don’t have an effect or influence on one another. That’s….um, reassuring? It sure makes things simpler.

      But, even though I readily admit to very ordinary math skills, that equation just won’t add up.

      1. Bob:

        You missed my point nicely.


        1. Pete: But I tried, at least! Bob

          1. Sorry Bob but I can’t resist:

            “Do or do not. . . there is no try”. — Yoda

            Now if I can only figure out how to use that to take better photos.

            (See? It’s a photography blog again!)


          2. LOL! I like that line, Pete, thanks…gonna use it in a workshop or something!

  10. To change the subject..What’s your take on the Leica M9

    1. Jim: It’s a camera designed to inflame the proletariat masses….kidding, okay, I’m kidding. But it really is out of my price range:-).

  11. Thanks for having the courage to speak out on these kinds of issues that affect all photographers. And that’s what a photography blog is really about; not just making pictures but making a living. Many thanks, Bob.

  12. Bob,
    The Suits vs The Creatives… so what’s new? Perhaps now it’s become a matter of scale and scope. Regarding photo and video projects, it’s always best to be hired for your own creative input + personal style and then charge reasonable market fees. Any creative is selling an intangible and it’s got to be financially compensated accordingly. Too many jobs have become “Good-Enough” and so the perceived value of the end result is then priced like a commodity.
    Agreed with you also about the exploitation aspect of management vs labor and loved the cartoon. Thanks.

    1. Jaques: I agree. It’s just tough to get hired for your own creative input and personal style when, for instance, the legal department tells the art director not to hire a certain photographer because he or she won’t sign the “work for hire” agreement.

      I got blackballed by Conde Nast’s legal department years ago, when, after doing a lot of mutually satisfactory work for Gourmet, I wouldn’t sign the new contract that demanded my copyright (without offering one extra dime over the old dayrate for those rights).

      Fortunately (or unfortunately) the Art Director I was working with was months from retirement, and his replacement wasn’t going to hire me, contract or not, so it was a moot point for me, business wise.

      But I have at least a dozen similar stories about negotiating as a lone freelancer against rights-grabbing legal departments who want all rights for no extra money. To quote Old Man River, “I grows weary, and sick of tryin'” when it comes to facing these legal departments as an individual!

      1. Are you sure you were not being rehired because of your inflexible political views manifested by your refusal to sign a contract.

        While most photographers feel they are independant, when they are engaged by large firms they are subject to the will of their master. Slavery is not fully dead, but in WI the master is the opinion of the majority and the majority feels that teachers recieve far better guarantees of pay and benefits than the general population. That feeling is repeated in many other states as well.

        It should be noted that the politicians in charge of removing the teacher benefits have not lessened their own or their staffs rewards while increasing the tax burden on all of the population, so I am no proponent of them either.

        I have for over 35 years worked without a paycheck and not had to deal with the controls placed by a large firm. By taking one of those jobs you place yourself into a position of losing the right to complain without jepordizing your employment. Unions appear to guard against that but when well funded become as corrupt as the firms they are in bed with.

        I have never met with a successful self-employed person who spent a lot of time complaining about the faults of others. The most successful ones were far too busy doing something about making something positive of the negative things surrounding them.

  13. Godsotherson wrote: “Are you sure you were not being rehired because of your inflexible political views manifested by your refusal to sign a contract. ”

    Just what’s the point of signing away your creative / use rights? – that is, with-out reasonable compensation. Yes, you can tell the legal department to create and take the picture… and management can choose to find another individual to fill the job – so starts the race to the bottom. And that’s why the world is now competing with people who will work for a bowl of rice.
    Negotiations is the key to a happy contract and a fruitful job. Be it school teaching, police work, firefighting or any other endeavor; the mutual benefit gathered by both the employer and the employee is to be negotiated so that there is a balance and exploitation is minimized by both parties.
    Removing the ability to negotiate is simply wrong and will lead to conflict that benefits no-one.

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