ea_spouse (ea_spouse) wrote,

EA: The Human Story

My significant other works for Electronic Arts, and I'm what you might call a disgruntled spouse.

EA's bright and shiny new corporate trademark is "Challenge Everything." Where this applies is not exactly clear. Churning out one licensed football game after another doesn't sound like challenging much of anything to me; it sounds like a money farm. To any EA executive that happens to read this, I have a good challenge for you: how about safe and sane labor practices for the people on whose backs you walk for your millions?

I am retaining some anonymity here because I have no illusions about what the consequences would be for my family if I was explicit. However, I also feel no impetus to shy away from sharing our story, because I know that it is too common to stick out among those of the thousands of engineers, artists, and designers that EA employs.

Our adventures with Electronic Arts began less than a year ago. The small game studio that my partner worked for collapsed as a result of foul play on the part of a big publisher -- another common story. Electronic Arts offered a job, the salary was right and the benefits were good, so my SO took it. I remember that they asked him in one of the interviews: "how do you feel about working long hours?" It's just a part of the game industry -- few studios can avoid a crunch as deadlines loom, so we thought nothing of it. When asked for specifics about what "working long hours" meant, the interviewers coughed and glossed on to the next question; now we know why.

Within weeks production had accelerated into a 'mild' crunch: eight hours six days a week. Not bad. Months remained until any real crunch would start, and the team was told that this "pre-crunch" was to prevent a big crunch toward the end; at this point any other need for a crunch seemed unlikely, as the project was dead on schedule. I don't know how many of the developers bought EA's explanation for the extended hours; we were new and naive so we did. The producers even set a deadline; they gave a specific date for the end of the crunch, which was still months away from the title's shipping date, so it seemed safe. That date came and went. And went, and went. When the next news came it was not about a reprieve; it was another acceleration: twelve hours six days a week, 9am to 10pm.

Weeks passed. Again the producers had given a termination date on this crunch that again they failed. Throughout this period the project remained on schedule. The long hours started to take its toll on the team; people grew irritable and some started to get ill. People dropped out in droves for a couple of days at a time, but then the team seemed to reach equilibrium again and they plowed ahead. The managers stopped even talking about a day when the hours would go back to normal.

Now, it seems, is the "real" crunch, the one that the producers of this title so wisely prepared their team for by running them into the ground ahead of time. The current mandatory hours are 9am to 10pm -- seven days a week -- with the occasional Saturday evening off for good behavior (at 6:30pm). This averages out to an eighty-five hour work week. Complaints that these once more extended hours combined with the team's existing fatigue would result in a greater number of mistakes made and an even greater amount of wasted energy were ignored.

The stress is taking its toll. After a certain number of hours spent working the eyes start to lose focus; after a certain number of weeks with only one day off fatigue starts to accrue and accumulate exponentially. There is a reason why there are two days in a weekend -- bad things happen to one's physical, emotional, and mental health if these days are cut short. The team is rapidly beginning to introduce as many flaws as they are removing.

And the kicker: for the honor of this treatment EA salaried employees receive a) no overtime; b) no compensation time! ('comp' time is the equalization of time off for overtime -- any hours spent during a crunch accrue into days off after the product has shipped); c) no additional sick or vacation leave. The time just goes away. Additionally, EA recently announced that, although in the past they have offered essentially a type of comp time in the form of a few weeks off at the end of a project, they no longer wish to do this, and employees shouldn't expect it. Further, since the production of various games is scattered, there was a concern on the part of the employees that developers would leave one crunch only to join another. EA's response was that they would attempt to minimize this, but would make no guarantees. This is unthinkable; they are pushing the team to individual physical health limits, and literally giving them nothing for it. Comp time is a staple in this industry, but EA as a corporation wishes to "minimize" this reprieve. One would think that the proper way to minimize comp time is to avoid crunch, but this brutal crunch has been on for months, and nary a whisper about any compensation leave, nor indeed of any end of this treatment.

This crunch also differs from crunch time in a smaller studio in that it was not an emergency effort to save a project from failure. Every step of the way, the project remained on schedule. Crunching neither accelerated this nor slowed it down; its effect on the actual product was not measurable. The extended hours were deliberate and planned; the management knew what they were doing as they did it. The love of my life comes home late at night complaining of a headache that will not go away and a chronically upset stomach, and my happy supportive smile is running out.

No one works in the game industry unless they love what they do. No one on that team is interested in producing an inferior product. My heart bleeds for this team precisely BECAUSE they are brilliant, talented individuals out to create something great. They are and were more than willing to work hard for the success of the title. But that good will has only been met with abuse. Amazingly, Electronic Arts was listed #91 on Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" in 2003.

EA's attitude toward this -- which is actually a part of company policy, it now appears -- has been (in an anonymous quotation that I've heard repeated by multiple managers), "If they don't like it, they can work someplace else." Put up or shut up and leave: this is the core of EA's Human Resources policy. The concept of ethics or compassion or even intelligence with regard to getting the most out of one's workforce never enters the equation: if they don't want to sacrifice their lives and their health and their talent so that a multibillion dollar corporation can continue its Godzilla-stomp through the game industry, they can work someplace else.

But can they?

The EA Mambo, paired with other giants such as Vivendi, Sony, and Microsoft, is rapidly either crushing or absorbing the vast majority of the business in game development. A few standalone studios that made their fortunes in previous eras -- Blizzard, Bioware, and Id come to mind -- manage to still survive, but 2004 saw the collapse of dozens of small game studios, no longer able to acquire contracts in the face of rapid and massive consolidation of game publishing companies. This is an epidemic hardly unfamiliar to anyone working in the industry. Though, of course, it is always the option of talent to go outside the industry, perhaps venturing into the booming commercial software development arena. (Read my tired attempt at sarcasm.)

To put some of this in perspective, I myself consider some figures. If EA truly believes that it needs to push its employees this hard -- I actually believe that they don't, and that it is a skewed operations perspective alone that results in the severity of their crunching, coupled with a certain expected amount of the inefficiency involved in running an enterprise as large as theirs -- the solution therefore should be to hire more engineers, or artists, or designers, as the case may be. Never should it be an option to punish one's workforce with ninety hour weeks; in any other industry the company in question would find itself sued out of business so fast its stock wouldn't even have time to tank. In its first weekend, Madden 2005 grossed $65 million. EA's annual revenue is approximately $2.5 billion. This company is not strapped for cash; their labor practices are inexcusable.

The interesting thing about this is an assumption that most of the employees seem to be operating under. Whenever the subject of hours come up, inevitably, it seems, someone mentions 'exemption'. They refer to a California law that supposedly exempts businesses from having to pay overtime to certain 'specialty' employees, including software programmers. This is Senate Bill 88. However, Senate Bill 88 specifically does not apply to the entertainment industry -- television, motion picture, and theater industries are specifically mentioned. Further, even in software, there is a pay minimum on the exemption: those exempt must be paid at least $90,000 annually. I can assure you that the majority of EA employees are in fact not in this pay bracket; ergo, these practices are not only unethical, they are illegal.

I look at our situation and I ask 'us': why do you stay? And the answer is that in all likelihood we won't; and in all likelihood if we had known that this would be the result of working for EA, we would have stayed far away in the first place. But all along the way there were deceptions, there were promises, there were assurances -- there was a big fancy office building with an expensive fish tank -- all of which in the end look like an elaborate scheme to keep a crop of employees on the project just long enough to get it shipped. And then if they need to, they hire in a new batch, fresh and ready to hear more promises that will not be kept; EA's turnover rate in engineering is approximately 50%. This is how EA works. So now we know, now we can move on, right? That seems to be what happens to everyone else. But it's not enough. Because in the end, regardless of what happens with our particular situation, this kind of "business" isn't right, and people need to know about it, which is why I write this today.

If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. "What's your salary?" would be merely a point of curiosity. The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you're doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that? That when you keep our husbands and wives and children in the office for ninety hours a week, sending them home exhausted and numb and frustrated with their lives, it's not just them you're hurting, but everyone around them, everyone who loves them? When you make your profit calculations and your cost analyses, you know that a great measure of that cost is being paid in raw human dignity, right?



This article is offered under the Creative Commons deed. Please feel free to redistribute/link.

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for all of you that work for EA, just sue EA and ignore overtime. just go home. if they fire you, sue them again.

everyone else dont buy from EA and spread the message.

maybe in a few months the impact will be so big that they will do something about it.
Your story is getting bigger exposure. Now it's been picked up on Cinescape in their weekly video games column: http://www.cinescape.com/0/editorial.asp?aff_id=0&this_cat=Games&action=page&obj_id=42967&type_id=270331&cat_id=270444&sub_id=272439.

I hope you and your SO get payback and EA learns to change its ways before it's too late for them. Boycott!
This is standard manipulation by a corporation. Keeping individual employees isolated in their quest for acheivement. No standard agreement in writing that clarifies how many hours you have to work. Due to the amazing demand of people who want to work at that company the workers have no negotiating power.

The alternatives: accept it as is, leave the situation, change the situation.

To change the situation requires a redistribution of power. No one is standing up to EA and questioning their labour practices because they equate that behavior with losing their job.

The solution to this for a low paid employee is to increase awareness among the public, politicians, local and national news.

Every game store in America should have a postcard or flyer explaining the labour practices of Electronic Arts. Encourage a boycott of EA products until there are fair labour agreements.

The workers in these positions are willingly agreeing to these unwritten unspoken agreements out of fear. Dont allow this to be a one to one struggle between the people who control your economic security and the workers. Most employees can be fired "at will" by their company. They do not have to have a reason or explanation so long as they do not violate rules of discrimination. If the company is of a certain size they must have a notification period in some states.

Be Americans, fight the system so others can live in freedom.

Re: Cinescape linked to blog


19 years ago

When my husband worked for EA a few years back, they relocated us from Quebec with a newborn baby and a five year old child. Hubby was flown out there and given a highly taxing skill test, (hours long) which he passed with flying colors. The salary seemed alright and the "EA image" was convincing enough, so we packed up our lives and relocated across thousands of miles to work for those guys.

We were not prepared for what awaited us in B.C. If we knew then what we know now, we would never have relocated.

Hubby was brought on in 3-D modeling game development at the onset of a "crunch" which lasted nine long months. The staff was encouraged to literally live there, and they had a fully stocked gym, cafeteria, etc... to accomodate lengthy stays. The only thing which kept them going was the promise of a "bonus" which would happen at the end of this production. Meanwhile, I succumbed to post-partum depression because I never saw him. He worked from eight in the morning to eleven at night for days on end and even though he had to leave at eleven to catch the last bus home, his team leader began to ride him for not staying as late as the others. For the first nine months of our son's life, our father never saw his son. His co-workers all had cars and would arrive at ten in the morning. They would spend many hours playing video games while he worked. He never recieved a training period, yet was expected to know everything about their production pipeline, and was reprimanded twice for asking questions because his team leader would leap on every chance to run straight to management behind his back.

After they used him up like this for nearly a year, and their game was finally finished, they fired hubby, citing incompetence. Another guy who started there much later than hubby did, and made at least as meny mistakes, had no family and spent his days drawing naked girls on the chalk board did just fine. But the team never saw that bonus that was held like a carrot on a stick during this months long "crunch".

When hubby was fired, they offered him a ten grand severence package. They upped it to fifteen grand when I got on the phone to tell the HR person at the time just how I had nearly been driven to a nervous breakdown by the conditions my husband had endured there while we tried to raise our newborn. They made us sign a legal document releasing them from liability for any damage they had caused us.

That was in 1999.

I can honestly tell you that after what we went through, my health is only improving five years after hubby's departure from EA. The negative cycle our experience with that company impacted on our morale and our reputation is only now beginning to leave us. Management openly slandered him to prospective employers. I still maintain that the culture in that company and the treatment of their employees at that place is NOT Canadian. They are in violation of the human rights of their employees and it MUST STOP. I am so relieved to hear that finally all this is coming out.


Free At Last.

Wow, I cannot imagine going through this with kids, as I mentioned in an earlier comment... much less a newborn! I wish I could do more, but all I can say is, you have my deepest sympathies, and I am glad you made it out. Thank you for sharing your story.

Re: Yeah! Tell it like it is!!!


19 years ago

Re: Yeah! Tell it like it is!!!


19 years ago

This is almost funny, EA's "Compensation Committee"

Part of the purpose listed on the page....
"Review annually and approve EA's compensation philosophy and strategy to ensure that employees of EA are rewarded appropriately for their contributions to company growth and profitability. "

Is it just me, or does it sound like they're not doing thier job? ;)

It'd be nice if we could get the email addies for some of these high-ups and see if they can even think of a good excuse...
Someone listed the emails for the CEO and others a little farther back:

lprobst@ea.com CEO & Chairman
jschappert@ea.com SVP & GM, EAC
dmattrick@ea.com President Worldwide Studios
jbowerman@ea.com VP, COO, EAC

Re: EA's "Compensation Committee"


19 years ago

It is ILLEGAL for your company to require you to work more than six days a week.

551. Every person employed in any occupation of labor is entitled
to one day's rest therefrom in seven.

552. No employer of labor shall cause his employees to work more
than six days in seven.

It is ILLEGAL for you not to be paid overtime if you make less than $85,280 a year.

515.5. (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), an employee in
the computer software field shall be exempt from the requirement that
an overtime rate of compensation be paid pursuant to Section 510 if
all of the following apply:
(1) The employee is primarily engaged in work that is intellectual
or creative and that requires the exercise of discretion and
independent judgment, and the employee is primarily engaged in duties
that consist of one or more of the following:
(A) The application of systems analysis techniques and procedures,
including consulting with users, to determine hardware, software, or
system functional specifications.
(B) The design, development, documentation, analysis, creation,
testing, or modification of computer systems or programs, including
prototypes, based on and related to, user or system design
(C) The documentation, testing, creation, or modification of
computer programs related to the design of software or hardware for
computer operating systems.
(2) The employee is highly skilled and is proficient in the
theoretical and practical application of highly specialized
information to computer systems analysis, programming, and software
engineering. A job title shall not be determinative of the
applicability of this exemption.
(3) The employee's hourly rate of pay is not less than forty-one
dollars ($41.00). The Division of Labor Statistics and Research
shall adjust this pay rate on October 1 of each year to be effective
on January 1 of the following year by an amount equal to the
percentage increase in the California Consumer Price Index for Urban
Wage Earners and Clerical Workers.[...]</blockquote There's much much more at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=lab&group=00001-01000&file=500-558 and http://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/DLSE-FAQs.htm. California is very progressive in its protection of workers; the thing is, too many workers think that because their employer is doing it, it must be acceptable. It isn't. Get yourself a good labor lawyer and sue--eventually this industry will grow up, but not unless the workers stand up for themselves. Good luck.
It's actually not $41.00/hr, but $44.63/hr - it's adjusted every year. And the next year would probably be bigger.

It was $41.00 in the year of 2000 when the law was put on.
I worked for the now defunct Ion Storm Dallas on the Anachronox project. Anyone that knows your history of Ion know that it was eventually owned by Eidos. When I started working there I heard tales of the industry I couldn't believe. It was my first industry job, and hearing that the bonus for employees working on Deus Ex was on the other of 400-700 for several years worth of work just sounded preposterous. Especially considering the TOP paid programmers they had got only about 48k/yr.

I thought "Boy that sucks" but worked my little QA job in the back hoping to advance anyway. Then Eidos started to crack down more and more and more. Now granted, the project was over schedule due to some mistakes early on, but after my third month of working hundred hour weeks, we finally shipped a game and were told "OK guys, take a couple days off" On the days off they handed us our pink slips and closed the studio. Didn't offer to transfer anybody, didn't offer any compensation for the mass overtime we had just worked for months without overtime pay. Just "Bye, enjoy unemployment".

I can only imagine how much worse the industry has gotten in the 4 years since. Should I ever choose to try and get back into that industry (which one day I will do), it's gonna be without a major publisher, or not at all. They have no consideration for the many employees working at any given games company, no desire to share the massive amounts of wealth they rake in, and don't give a shit that they wouldn't have ANYTHING without the brilliant talents they drive on with a steel whip and false promises.

The games industry is officially, in my opinion, worse than the music industry at this point. A bunch of middle men get ridiculously rich, and the artist at the bottom gets shit on for all his hard work and talent. The only way to stop this is simply a mass exodus by the talent from the publishers back to independent works. I just somehow doubt there's a way to make it happen. :-/
Same Thing applies at Ubisoft. If people would all refuse to work on weekends, EA, Ubi and all of them couldn't do shit and couldn't fire us. Everybody in the industry should stick toghter.
True, Ubisoft Canada
I'm a EA spouse as well,
Nothing is the original text really surprises me as many now refer to EA as the Mac Donald's of IT and the horror stories I heard and know of are very similar. The organization got so big that its out of hand, tons of managers and producers are there only because of their attitude and connections and have no clue about art or technical stuff, but they're really "cool" and what not.

My point is this: how did it get there, who let this happen to all the programmers and artists if not themselves. I know many people that left EA because they refused to work 80 hours a week. But it is all the others who accept to do 80+ hours a week that are screwing it all up. Give management a hand and they'll take an arm.

I feel sorry for all the geeky poeple who accept this faith and therefore help set a new standard! Many guys at EA literally have no life, and they prefer to be at work on week-ends, otherwise they'd be surfing the net or playing video games on Saturday nights.

The truth is now there is so much wasted resource at EA that no one would have to do overtime if things were managed properly. Ask employees there how many times they had to redo stuff because of miscommunication or fancies of knowledgeless producers. How many times whole IT teams have had to put in extra months of work to deal with again some idiotic producer's decision to use software that was never tested. So many times they eventually had to revert back to old systems! I better stop here! Too bad really cause originally EA was an awesome place, now I bet you many EA people are scared to post something here! Afraid they be fired...
Could you direct me to the Senate Bill 88 you speak of?

I have looked throughout all of California bill records and the SB88 they show on record is in regards to wine selling permits at particular events.

Regardless of state laws, this is just terrible treatment and shouldn't be tolerated. In the future, I fear we will be hearing the phrase, "He went developer" instead of "He went postal".

I once had aspirations of being a game programmer and, here in Austin, my best "opportunity" would have been working at Origin Systems (the fantastic monkey crew that brought UO and other gaming blights on humanity). Thankfully, I got to attend seminars where Richard Garrett was present and realized how messed up it would be to support that man's business. EA owns Origin and while the treatment would have only gotten marginally worse, I would certainly be killing innocents at the local Starbuck's.

Here is the actual bill:

And here is a legal discussion of it from when it was signed in 2000:

It should be noted that the minimum salary for exemption listed there ($85,280) is increased with inflation and is now somewhere around $92k.

The legal battle here will be in determining exemption. EA claims that these positions are valid for exemption; the lawyers claim otherwise.

Re: Senate Bill 88


19 years ago


November 12 2004, 20:29:21 UTC 19 years ago

thats just scary, I want to be a game programmer but my family and friends are on par with that and will take procedence


November 12 2004, 20:32:55 UTC 19 years ago

Have you considered forming a labour union of some sort?

You could get the employees at EA to sign up to a collective body (create your own) and then as a group all the employees in that body pressure the company. You dont need all the employees, but the bigger the group, the more effective it will be.

Once established, the group lays out its demands to the employer. The employer will either start a negotiation process or balk and say no. When the employer balks (as it will), the group action starts - start with a stop work meeting - take an afternoon off work to protest your conditions. The company is loosing huge productivity, so they will feel the presure. If they dont listen take the stop work meeting from an hour or so to several hours - apply more presure. Repeat as necessary with increasing periods of time until you get the desired effect.

Bear in mind that they will come back with some sort of compromise to your demands, you can use this as a starting point for your negotiations or stick to your guns until they come with a better offer, the choice is yours.

The group needs to have a negotiation team - a bunch of people who can be trusted to negotiate. These negotiations will take place

I suggest that you start by simply insisting that EA pay overtime. If you go beyond this, you may find that you end up with a less variable remuneration scheme. Which you dont want. If you just want to be paid for the hours you work (which is only reasonable), they either come up with some cash or you eventually all together just stop doing the over time. If they pay for overtime, they will be more sensitive about getting employees to work it too - meaning everyone wins.

The body needs to have some rules which each employee subscribes to when they join, e.g. they work together, not individually, so a benefit for one is a benefit for all. you might need others too - the idea is to ensure that no one employee can be paid off and leave the group reducing it's strength.

Anyway - I'm not a labour specialist, but I've seen this done in blue collar companies, and there is no reason (as far as I know) why it wont work in white collar environments with a bit of thought.

Hope things improve!
Being a life-long gamer, as many here are, most of which who no doubt remember EA from WAY back when, I'm both horrified AND pissed off about this.

One of the posters on this thread said he or she would not be buying any more EA titles, which is a logical boycott for this kind of situation. Alas, ea_spouse replied that it probably wouldn't help the situation much, since it's NON-GAMERS who make up a big portion of the consumers (moms and dads buying for Jr., fratboys buying Madden, etc).

Although it seems that many employees aren't willing to poison their worth to the industry by starting a lawsuit, what about public perception? There's got to be some kind of way that this kind of story could be presented to the non-gaming public in a way that they would understand. It's not about whether or not you play games, or even KNOW anything about them. This is about sweatshop conditions (albiet with higher pay, but the bottom line is still the same). It won't bring the industry to it's knees, but it would be a nice kick in the crotch for these bastards.

I used to lament the fact that all of EA's MMO attempts have tanked...Now I'm laughing my ass off.
What about someone starting a paypal fund for a one page advertisement in time life magazine? Everyone who gives a damn donates a buck or two. The ad could have a photo of one of these slave laborers handcuffed to his comp with a golden carrot dangling over his head...caption something like:

Video game development; Is it worth the price?

And it could be folowed by something like:

Did you know that many big title video game companies are squeezing the life out of their employees? etc...etc... then there could be a link to an online petition for reform.
My SO has been in games for eight years. He's worked "crunch" periods that lasted literally months at 90-100 hours a week. There was a time on one project when we literally did not see each other for months and he came home only to sleep about 4-6 hours a day before returning to work.

Well, now he's burned out. Even though he's got 13 titles and eight years of experience, he's shifting gears and driving right out of the industry. There oughta be a law...and it sounds like there is. Take advantage of it if you want ot stay in the industry, or get the hell out and do something that doesn't sap away your lifeblood and destroy what's really most important to you.
My husband and I are both ex-employees of EA.

My husband worked at a small but successful studio which EA acquired a few years ago. While at the studio he LOVED his job doing support for the on-line game. He enjoyed himself so much that he liked staying at work and performing overtime everyday. I decided this sounded like a great environment and applied to work there just after EA took over. Before any of the changes began. Within weeks of my start date the changes were in full swing. The call queue for support was significantly altered. No longer was customer service the main priority but rather clearing out the queue as fast as possible, taking as many calls as you can in as short of time as possible. Ten hour shifts were the norm and lunch was not allowed. The I was diagnosed with a disability that made it so I HAD to eat five times per day. Instead of relaxing the new "no eating in the call center" policy, I was told I could take longer breaks to eat. When I got written up for not having the same production as other workers I was told I could stay over after the work shift as long as I needed to make up time for any breaks taken. So a ten hour no break work shift has suddenly progressed to close to twelve hours. Since there was muttering whenever the upper management saw me in the lunch room and the metrics were more important than the fact that the employees were all exhausted I gave my 2 week notice. Before my two week notice was up I was told that they "did not want me to return".
A short while after that it was time to layoff employees due to more bad decisions made by upper level management. The first round of layoffs came and went and my husband still had a job. A little bit later everyone on his shift was individually written up. The majority of them were written up for "sexual harassment". I can understand that some work places have problems like that where everyone is sexually harasing one employee or one employee feels persecuted, but in this case the charges were obviously a way to get rid of the night-shift staff, the ones with whom noone else interacted. If the second round of layoffs hadn't happened so soon following the first, I am certain anyone who had been written up for even the smallest infraction such as being tardy by five minutes, would have been fired. As it was, every person on that shift was laid off.
Electronic Arts needs to treat its employees with decency.
The meal break system you are describing sounds like a violation of wage and hour laws. This is in the press right now because the governator is trying to do away with meal breaks, but it is still the law and you might want to look into it before the law changes. I can put you in touch with a lawyer with no obligation if you want.
Josh Pastreich
IATSE Local 16

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    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,…