Animation Unions: What do they do?
What does an animation union do?
A common question amongst animation and VFX artists is this: What does an animation union actually do? Why do we need one?
To answer this question properly, we must first look at our industry and ask ourselves what is wrong with it, what we need as workers, and what can we do to improve it. We can do very little as individuals, but together we stand a chance to change many widespread issues in our industry. We need to stand together and stand up for our rights.
What an animation union will do is what every labor union does: negotiate better working conditions, wage adjustments and minimums; enforce the laws in regards to health, safety and overtime; provide pension plans and extended health benefits; and provide workers with advocates during disputes between employees and employers. The goal of a labour union is to give all workers the strength of a collective voice, and to reset the power imbalances between employees and their employers.
ABAS is working closely with IATSE to create a brand new union local to represent the Animation and VFX Workers of Vancouver. To determine how to best build an animation union, ABAS is also working with The Animation Guild in LA to learn from and build upon their solid foundation.
The Animation Guild has been the foremost animation union in Los Angeles since the early 1950s, having been chartered in 1952 as an IATSE Local after growing out of the Screen Cartoonist's Guild.
As they have almost 70 years of rich history in protecting artists, they have been able to accumulate many protections and perks for their members. These are just some of the benefits that The Animation Guild affords all union artists:
- Wage Floors: TAG sets wage minimums for each position, that anyone employing a member has to meet for a union job. Only the minimums are set, and most artists negotiate above their wage minimums.
- Healthcare: After acquiring the hours needed to join the MPI Health plan, members have access to low cost healthcare, paid mostly for by their employer.
- 401k: 839 offers several retirement options, such as a 401k plan that members can take part in, and continue with as they move to other union employers.
- Pension Plans: 839 also offers 2 different pension plans to assist with retirement.
- Collective Bargaining: Being a part of a Labor Union means you have the power to negotiate your working conditions. Every 3 years, TAG collects the wants and needs of the members and negotiate with the studios to make the best contract possible.
- Education and Training: Through IATSE, TAG uses an organization called CSATF to help educate and train members. Members of the union can partake in pre-approved courses at well known institutions and receive 2/3 reimbursement for passing a course.
- Upholding the Contract: TAG supports its members in upholding all stipulations of the union contracts - no member is alone.
- The International: In addition, TAG as a union is not alone. All members have the support of the full power of the International Organization (IATSE) behind them.
- Sick Days and Vacation Days: TAG has negotiated sick day minimums for its union members. Many studios have 10 sick days a year, and up to 2 weeks of vacation a year for new employees
- Dismissal Pay: If a show is cancelled and a union member is laid off, they are generally entitled to Dismissal/Severance pay. This is an additional amount of money paid to the artist, amount depending on pay and how long the artist was employed.
- Overtime: TAG supports artists in the fight for paid overtime, enforcing the laws that dictate overtime. All work over 40 hours a week, and over 8 hours a day is paid as time and a half, any work over 12 hours a day is paid as double time.
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Animation Unions: The Benefits
There are numerous benefits to forming an Animation and VFX Union in Vancouver. The benefits that a union can provide are generally two-fold: primary benefits that can be written into contracts, and secondary benefits that come later as a result of those primary benefits shaping and changing the industry.
- Revitalized, Longer Lasting Workforce: Artists working less overtime will likely have more personal time for friends, family, healthy living and personal and artistic development.
- Increased Capital For Artistic Projects: Artists receiving higher wages will have more money to invest in themselves and their own projects.
- Higher Quality Of Work: By strengthening our industry and providing artists with more time and resources to develop their skills, the quality of local production work can increase.
- End to Job Creep: With more clear job definitions, expectations and working hours, animation artists are less likely to be forced to take on more responsibilities than their job entails.
- Overtime Protection: Overtime Pay can be mandated and regulated, leading to higher wages and/or more manageable working hours for artists.
- Wage Minimums: Wage minimums will set a floor that no studio can go beneath, ensuring that artists are not underpaid and can be paid more consistently across the board.
- Enforcement of Labour Rights: A Labour Unions' primary goal is to enforce proper labour law and ensure working conditions are safe and legal for all workers.
- Stronger Extended Health Benefits and Continuous Coverage: A Union made up of many artists from many studios will have far more buying power, allowing us to purchase better health plans that will carry over as artists move from studio to studio.
- Pension Plans: A Union can provide pension plans for artists to pay into for their retirement.
- COLA: Cost Of Living Adjustment, gradually increasing wages incrementally to match inflation.
- Grievances and Procedures: Workers will no longer be on their own when filing a complaint against their employers. Workers will have access to union advocates who will be on their side and walk them through grievances.
- Funding for Professional Development: Unions often provide professional development opportunities in various ways such life drawing classes, funding for certain courses, etc.
- Bonded Studios/Protection from Bankruptcy: A Union can ensure that studios prove they have enough budgeted in salary to pay their artists for the work they have done in the case of bankruptcy.