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Disney’s ‘The Traveling Lab’ Animation Workers Vote to Unionize

10 remote Walt Disney Animation Studios employees are seeking official unionization election, setting the stage for a potential shift in the animation industry's approach to remote work.

The Animation Guild (TAG) announced a unit of 10 remote Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) "The Traveling Lab" animation workers filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an official unionization election and to be represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and The Animation Guild, IATSE Local 839. The filing took place November 27, 2023, marking a potential shift in the animation industry's approach to remote work.

"TAG's remote worker organizing campaign is motivated by a basic principle - artists and writers who do the same work for the same studios should have the same rights and standards on the job, regardless of where they live,” said Organizer Ben Speight. “Walt Disney Animation Studios and other union studios in LA have shown for years that world-class animation work can continue to be done remotely."

According to TAG, during the COVID-19 pandemic, as remote work became a viable resource in the animation industry, existing collective bargaining agreements did not accommodate the shift. However, employers did make concessions, allowing employees to work remotely temporarily. As studios initiate “Return to Work” protocols, TAG noted that employers have offered animation workers a choice to work remotely, outside contractual boundaries, jeopardizing their union status.

Furthermore, TAG stated, "during the last contract negotiations with The Animation Guild, employers argued that addressing this issue was not a mandatory subject of bargaining.”

The Negotiations Committee recognized the need for a pathway to union-covered remote work outside Los Angeles County. The result was a new “sideletter” in the agreement affirming the rights of individuals hired in Los Angeles to work remotely outside the county and state, contingent upon employer approval. This means that members could leverage individual negotiations to secure union coverage even when working remotely outside the state.

According to TAG, many studios, including WDAS, chose not to extend the protections of a union contract to these remote workers hired outside of LA County, resulting in lower pay and limited benefits. The new organizational development potentially sets a precedent for the animation industry to adapt labor agreements to the evolving work landscape. The Animation Guild and IATSE support members in achieving a “fair and inclusive framework that respects the realities of a remote working environment.”

Source: The Animation Guild

Debbie Diamond Sarto's picture

Debbie Diamond Sarto is news editor at Animation World Network.