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Production Workers at Walt Disney Animation Studio Unionize

IATSE Local 839 claims the studio has denied its request to voluntarily recognize the group of workers, preferring a NLRB election where it is attempting to exclude production supervisors and production managers from voting based on their job titles.

A supermajority of production workers at Walt Disney Animation Studio (WDAS) has unionized with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) to bargain their first collective agreement with Walt Disney Animation Studios, the Animation Guild has just announced.

The IATSE, on behalf of The Animation Guild, filed a petition for an NLRB election on Mar. 6, 2023, and has launched a public petition “to encourage Disney leadership to do the right thing and recognize the demand of Production Coordinators, Production Managers, and Production Supervisors to join IATSE Local 839, The Animation Guild (TAG).”

The move follows recent TAG representation efforts with production workers on Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites; The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad!; and studios including Titmouse LA, Titmouse NY, Shadowmachine, and Nickelodeon.

According to TAG, the production workers at Disney came together to demand an end to unsustainable workplace practices, such as low wages and unpaid overtime. They were disappointed when studio leadership refused to voluntarily recognize the organizing effort and chose to exclude more than half of the bargaining unit based solely on job title – claiming production supervisors and production managers work as managers - to capitalize on common misconceptions of labor law and unnecessarily prolong the unionization process.

TAG noted, “The decision to exclude specific job categories, specifically production managers and production supervisors, runs contrary to the studio’s past practice of recognizing workers who perform comparable duties across multiple existing collective bargaining agreements. The IATSE, supported by The Animation Guild, has an existing union contract with Walt Disney Animation Studios under The Secret Lab agreement that covers more than 550 feature film artists, including CG artists, storyboard artists, character designers, animation supervisors, visual effects supervisors, and more.”

In response to the news, the WDAS Production Organizing Committee stated, “Disney denying Production Coordinators, Production Supervisors, and Production Managers voluntary recognition and trying to divide us signals that they want us to be scared, to give up, and accept less than we deserve. If they think this will make Production cower, they are wrong. Production is a craft in its own right, and by forming our union we are saying we deserve to have viable and sustainable careers paths, living wages, and the ability to retire with dignity.”

The group has been pursuing the possibility of a union contract for more than a year. TAG Organizer Allison Smartt, who has been working with the group to unionize, said, “Like the beloved characters and films they are integral in making, these animation production workers are everyday people who found the strength within themselves to do something extraordinary—collectively demanding respect, equity, and dignity by forming a union. Now, they need the support of their community to achieve their goal.”

“The compensation we currently receive doesn't come close to matching the value of the work being performed, let alone allow most of us to be financially independent,” Production Coordinator Hannah Bialosky shared. “Our salaries make it difficult for us to stay in these jobs we love as a lifelong career and live a moderately comfortable life without being financially dependent on a partner, parent, or second job. Meanwhile, the content we help create goes on to make billions of dollars for Disney through box office revenue, merchandise, gaming, publishing, streaming, parks attractions, and more. It is past time the studio recognizes our value and the critical role we play in their productions and compensate us fairly.”

“We gave the studio an opportunity to work collaboratively, but their refusal to voluntarily recognize the bargaining unit directly challenges the supermajority of support for unionizing the workers,” said IATSE Local 839 Business Representative Steve Kaplan. “We take the request for representation to heart, and we will commit resources to ensuring that the production workers achieve the rights and improved conditions that only a collective agreement can bring.”

IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb said, “Every behind-the-scenes entertainment worker deserves a chance to make their voice heard and democratically decide for themselves if they want to be represented by a union. It’s disturbing that the Walt Disney Company would prefer to create division within one of its own workplaces by trying to single out some workers from a unionizing group just so they can pay them less and deny them the benefits and protections they deserve. Disney already employs IATSE members as department heads and similar job titles across their business. This is a blatant attempt to undermine the collective bargaining rights of our members and to drive down standards for all workers in our industry. We’re not leaving anyone behind. We’ll see you at the NLRB.”

Source: The Animation Guild

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.