In January, The Animation Guild announced a twofold breakthrough: by unionizing Harriet the spy studio Titmouse New York, the local IATSE had not only started an expansion outside of Los Angeles County, but had also organized the production staff for the first time in recent history. Since then, TAG has introduced new organizing campaigns for production workers at the rate of practically one a month, at the fairs. rick and morty Y solar oppositesat Titmouse LA and ShadowMachine studios and, on June 2, at The Simpsons, Family man Y American dad! (Before organizing the production staff, TAG represented a number of animation workers at these latter employers.)
Targeted at production managers, production supervisors, production coordinators, production assistants, and writers’ assistants, among others, all of whom help move artwork and scenes and facilitate interdepartmental communications, this campaign has so far paid off. the penalty for the union. Although attempts to expand the presence of TAG in The Simpsons, Family man Y American dad! appear headed for a National Labor Relations Board election, the union says it has managed to get voluntary recognition in rick and mortyTitmouse New York, Titmouse LA and ShadowMachine and prevailed in an NLRB election in solar opposites.
And, while union organizers won’t go into the details of any future campaign, it looks like TAG’s interest in organizing production workers isn’t going to wane anytime soon. “The only way we can bring about significant, lasting and important change in the animation industry is if we can speak with the voice of everyone who works in animation,” explains Steve Kaplan, TAG Business Representative.
The push is part of a strategy to grow the size and reach of the guild, which already represents animation artists, technicians and writers, thereby bolstering its strength and influence within the industry. Under previous leadership, TAG represented some production workers, but that number dwindled, and as they recently mapped their workplaces, members realized “a lot of their co-workers weren’t covered by any union, mainly production workers,” says TAG. organizer Ben Speight. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Speight says, production workers were some of the last to leave the studios and were some of the first to be brought back and could “have been used as a wedge to try to continue production and undermine the position of artists during that time”.
A labor lawyer from the management side of the entertainment industry who asked to remain anonymous says they found the timing of the launch of the organizing campaign “particularly interesting”. From November until recently, TAG was in protracted negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the studios’ and streamers’ negotiating representative, for a new “master agreement” (a tentative agreement was reached on May 27). The AMPTP talks “seemed like the appropriate place to discuss on an industry-wide level whether the rankings would be expanded to include these additional positions,” this lawyer said, suggesting the union may have felt it could not have succeeded at the table. bargaining and therefore workers organized into individual employers. (TAG’s Kaplan responded, “There’s a strategy for organizing, and we’ll apply for recognition where and when we can.”)
However, from the point of view of the production workers who support the TAG effort, it is about time they received benefits similar to those of their unionized colleagues in animation. “We want to keep working remotely, we want a retirement plan, we want to pay for healthcare for our dependents and partners,” says Margaret Glaser, assistant production manager at The Simpsons. Adds Laura Smalec, a Family man production coordinator in the animation department, “We have a lot of people who are very well educated and have tons of years of experience, and we still don’t have these benefits, whereas almost everyone else on our show does. So it’s more about creating equality between the show.”
Tom Sito, former president of the Animation Guild and author of the 2006 book Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of Animation Syndicates from Bosko to Bart Simpson, points out that the production staff of animation companies has grown in recent decades. The animation renaissance of the 1990s led to an expansion of infrastructure at animation companies, while studios that outsource some work internationally or to outside companies, such as Illumination Entertainment, required more workers to coordinate and perform a job. track your work. “I think what’s a little surprising about the last few years is how there’s a unanimity of purpose among production people that they want union representation,” says Sito. “Usually [in unionization efforts] there is a more divisive kind of opinion among individual workers about what would be in their interest.”
Jason Jones, a American dad! animation production supervisor and timing, says union supporters want the production to run more “sustainably.”
He adds: “There was this old studio construct that insisted that animation production was an entry-level job to other careers. Maybe he could get away with selling that narrative to shows that lasted a season or two, but now we see that it’s not the reality, because shows like The Simpsons, family man aNorth Dakota American dad! have production workers with more than a decade of employment. The reality is that animation production work is a career.”
In the future, Jones believes that the current organization’s effort in the 20 television animation programs could inspire others: “Certainly, nothing is more outstanding than The Simpsons, Family Guy Y American dad!,” he says. “I think this is a beacon for all animation production workers in general to unionize.”
The next challenge for TAG and union-certified production workers will be to expand the number of employers with organizing campaigns and bargaining contracts that address top worker concerns and priorities. Dates have not yet been set for contract negotiations to begin at employers with newly unionized production workers, according to TAG. And as for whether the Guild has any more production worker campaigns that could go public this year, Kaplan says, “I’d love to be able to tell you when and where, but it really depends on those units.”
A version of this story first appeared in the June 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here for subscribe.