FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
Basics Of Unionization
Q: HOW DOES THE UNIONIZATION PROCESS IN VANCOUVER WORK?
A: In BC, the road to unionization is essentially a 5 step process. This is the most basic overview of the process:
Educate and Gather Support
Sign union cards
The Labour Board holds a vote (secret ballot)
If the majority of the voters vote YES to unionization, a bargaining unit is formed
The Bargaining Unit negotiates the terms of the union contract with the employer
The union contract that is signed is called a “Collective Agreement” and it is negotiated and agreed to by both the workers forming the union, and the employers, so that it is fair to both parties.
For a longer overview, you can read up on how to organize here
Q: WHAT SORT OF THINGS CAN BE EXPECTED IN A UNION CONTRACT?
A: There are many benefits to unionization.
Primary benefits include:
A Stronger Health and Pension Plan
Continuous Health Coverage
A Grievance Procedure
Training and Funding for Professional Development
Protection from studio bankruptcy
In the long term, secondary benefits could include:
Revitalized 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 animation: 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.
Q: HOW MANY BENEFITS CAN WE EXPECT RIGHT AWAY?
A: Overtime structure, Wage Minimums, COLA and a Grievance Procedure can be implemented in the first union contract. It’s important to note that a first contract may not have a significant increase in wages, as this will give employers time to adapt and budget for wage increases and overtime pay. However, it is important to think long term, especially as this is a lifelong career for many artists. Union contracts are often renegotiated every 3 years, and in a decade, significant gains can be made. Unfortunately the past decade has seen wages stagnate, or even drop, and working hours increase with no overtime pay. It’s important to reset the stage.
Q: What are 'Union Cards'?
A: A union card, or ‘Authorization Card’, is the worker’s way of indicating that they would like to be represented by a union. In BC, these union cards expire after 90 days, so it is best to wait to sign these cards until the majority of workers in a studio/on a production are organized and ready to vote for a union.
Q: DO ALL UNIONS HAVE SENIORITY?
A: No, not all unions have seniority. A union contract is written, negotiated and agreed upon by the workers, and therefore will reflect what is needed by the workforce. If a group of workers are engaged in primarily contract-based work, and do not require seniority, then it will not be added to the collective agreement.
Q: WHAT IS COLA?
A: COLA stands for Cost Of Living Adjustment. COLA adjusts salaries based on changes in a cost-of-living index, usually the Consumer Price Index. Essentially, as inflation and cost of living goes up, wages increase as well. This incremental wage increase can be negotiated into a union contract to ensure wages do not stagnate as other costs rise.
Q: HOW WOULD A HEALTH PLAN THROUGH THE UNION WORK?
A: A health plan is usually better the more people are involved in it. Generally speaking, a studio with 50 employees will have a more limited health plan than a studio with 500. If we come together and combine workers from many studios into a union, we will have more buying power than any individual studio. This will give us a better health plan, as well as continuous coverage. This means, if you start working at another union studio, you do not need to wait 3 months for your health care to kick back in. In addition, if you are out of work, you can self pay into the health plan at a reduced rate to keep your health benefits.
Q: ARE THERE FEES? WHAT ARE THE UNION DUES?
A: There are two fees for a union of this nature, an Initiation Fee and Working Dues.
The Initiation Fee is a one-time fee when a new worker joins the union. However, this only applies after a union is formed. This fee is waived however, the first time a workplace forms a union. Therefore, the workers joining at the start of this union process will not be charged the initiation fee.
Working Dues are a percentage of gross wages assessed to members who are working at contract studios. This number, anywhere between 0.5% and 3%, is set by the local when the union constitution and by-laws are put together. As IATSE is not for profit, working dues go to pay the employees that are running the local. Therefore, this number will vary depending on how many employees are needed to run the back end.
Q: WHAT IS THE HTP EXCLUSION?
A: HTP stands for “High Technology Professional”. From the BC Employment Standards Act, (ESR Section 37.8) this refers to any employee who:
1. Is primarily engaged in applying his or her specialized knowledge and professional judgment to investigate, analyze, design, develop, or engineer an information system that is based on computer and related technologies, or a prototype of such a system, but does not include a person employed to provide basic operational technical support.
2. Is primarily engaged in applying his or her specialized knowledge and professional judgment to investigate, analyze, design, develop, engineer, integrate or implement a scientific or technological product, material, device or process or a prototype of such a product, material, device or process, but does not include a person employed to provide basic operational technical support.
3. Is primarily engaged in applying his or her specialized knowledge and professional judgment to carry out scientific research and experimental development as defined in section 248 (1) of the Income Tax Act (Canada).
4. Is engaged as a sales or marketing professional in relation to
(i) a service or system described in paragraph (1),
(ii) a product, material, device or process described in paragraph (2), or
(iii) scientific research or experimental development described in paragraph (3).
We as animation workers use technology as a base to create art, to draw, to paint, to animate models, etc. We do not design information systems, or implement scientific or technological products, or sell/market these services. It is ABAS’ and IATSE’s position that animation workers should NOT be classified as HTP workers.
For more about the HTP Exclusion, you can read up on it through the BC government website here.
To sign our petition asking the government to repeal HTP, visit endhtp.com and add your name now!
Q: HOW DO I KNOW IF I AM QUALIFIED AS AN HTP?
A: It may be written into your contract that you are HTP. However, a company may be operating on the unchallenged presumption that because we work on computers that we are automatically classified as HTP. This is not the case. If it is not written into your contract, or you would like to challenge this, please do not do so alone. If you contact us, we can help you get legal representation through IATSE.
Q: CAN PRODUCTION STAFF BE COVERED BY THIS UNION?
A: As we are on the ground floor of creating a new local with IATSE, we have a lot of say in how this union will be set up. If production assistants, coordinators, etc. show support and sign union cards indicating they’d like to be represented, then we can create the union to reflect that. The only members of a studio that cannot be represented by a union are anyone considered to be ‘management’.
Q: WHO IS CONSIDERED ‘MANAGEMENT’?
A: Per the “Managers’ Factsheet” from the Employment Standards Branch, Management positions are defined as members of the studio who can hire and fire employees, without needing permission or being accountable to anyone for those decisions.
For more about what counts as management in BC, you can read up on it through the BC government website here.
Common Concerns and Fears
Q: IF WE UNIONIZE ANIMATION IN VANCOUVER, WON’T ALL THE JOBS BE SENT OVERSEAS?
A: Due to globalization, many industries have moved jobs overseas and animation is no exception. Animators in Korea, the Philippines and India already work for much lower rates than animators in Canada or the USA with or without a union, and yet, animation is still being done in North America. Hollywood animators have enjoyed the benefits of unionization since 1941. Live action film in BC has been unionized since the 1990s. The actors who record voices for the cartoons we make are also in a union. Animation work is likely to stay here for a number of reasons:
BC’s Tax Credit program
Same time zone as LA
Close proximity to the LA industry
Same language and culture
Infrastructure setup and a large pool of talented artists
A well established Canadian entertainment industry that needs Canadian talent for CANCON requirements.
Q: WHAT IF THERE IS ANOTHER RECESSION? ISN’T IT BAD TO ‘ROCK THE BOAT’?
A: It is very likely that there will be another recession at some point in the future, as the industry has ties to other countries and economies, and there is no way to ensure market stability forever. However, if unionization leads to paid overtime work, COLA, higher wages and a better mobile health and pension plan with continuous coverage, we can be better protected when the next recession comes. If we are paid overtime and higher wages while there is tons of work, we can have more savings for when we may be out of work, and continue to have a health plan through the union, even if we are not working.
Q: ISN’T UNPAID OVERTIME JUST PART OF THE LEARNING CURVE?
A: No, it isn’t. In other industries, employees are often paid for training periods, and are paid if an employer requires them to train on their days off. If you worked at Starbucks, you would not be expected to stay late to keep practicing with the espresso machine. The unpaid overtime issue stems from the “High Tech Professional Exclusion” that was created in the late 90s, a provision which has yet to be challenged. ABAS and IATSE do not believe the HTP exclusion should apply to animation workers. Under the BC Employment Standards Act, workers are entitled to overtime after 8 hours a day, or 40 hours a week. Even if the HTP applied to us, we would still be entitled to straight pay for overtime hours worked.
Q: WILL I BE ABLE TO NEGOTIATE MY OWN WAGE UNDER A COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT?
A: Yes. IATSE Union Locals generally set wage minimums, to ensure no one is being underpaid. Artists are allowed to negotiate above wage minimums depending on their skills, level of experience, etc.
Q: AM I ALLOWED TO TALK ABOUT UNIONIZATION AT WORK?
A: As we have freedom of speech and assembly, yes, you are allowed to talk about unionization at work. However, you are not allowed to contact an IATSE or other union representative at work, on your work time or on your work computer/internet.
Members of ABAS are animation workers and not union representatives. You are welcome to contact them at anytime to discuss unionization. However, we recommend you do so on your own devices.
Q: WHAT IF I GET IN TROUBLE FOR BRINGING UP A UNION AT WORK?
A: It is important to know that in BC, employers are not legally allowed to harass anyone for trying to unionize, attempt to dissuade their staff from unionizing, or bribe employees to vote ‘No’ to unionization. Employers may be ignorant of this, and may try to talk to employees and change their minds. However, it is unlawful.
If your employer is engaging in any of these, if you are being harassed, laid off, or asked to talk about your involvement with unionization with your employer, this is a SERIOUS OFFENSE. please contact us as we can help you and provide legal representation through IATSE if necessary.
Q: WILL UNIONIZATION HURT THE STUDIOS?
A: Actually, unionization can be very beneficial for the studios. It can guarantee labour stability, which can ensure that the studio can meet their deadlines. It can draw talent to the studio, as workers will often want to be at a studio where their needs are met and their interests are represented. It can help employers save money on Health and Pension Plans for their employees, and it can help stop studios from a “race to the bottom” by setting the bottom before a studio goes into bankruptcy. Unionization will benefit employers just as it will benefit employees!
Studios may say that their biggest challenge with a unionized work force is a lack of complete flexibility. However, flexibility is often a detriment to employees and needs to be weighed appropriately in a workplace. With a union, animation workers would be an integral part of that conversation.
Q: HOW DO I RECORD MY OVERTIME?
A: It’s best to keep a record of the hours you have actually worked, from the time you get to work to the time you leave. Remember, if you are working 9 to 6 and work through lunch, you have already worked one hour of overtime. There are many timesheet apps you can download to help you count your hours, such as Work Log, or you can use our form here.
Q: HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
A: There are many ways to get involved with ABAS.
If you would like to be more informed, ABAS has resources and literature through IATSE to help you understand everything from the basics of unionization to the specifics of IATSE. Additionally, ABAS hosts Town Hall Meetings with our IATSE representatives once every few months, where workers can come learn and ask questions and voice concerns.
If you are well educated and ready to organize, we encourage you to use our contact form to get in touch with an ABAS core member. From there, we can discuss your position in the industry and how best you can help with the union effort.
Mechanics of Organization
Q: HOW DO WE DEAL WITH PEOPLE WHO MESS AROUND DURING THE WORK DAY, AND THEN CLAIM LONGER WORKING HOURS WHEN THEY HAVE TO MAKE UP THEIR WORK? HOW DO WE DEAL WITH “OVERTIME ABUSE”?
A: Per the Animation Guild in LA, our closest unionized workforce of animators, overtime hours typically need to be approved by a supervisor before they are taken. This allows the supervisor to check the budget and decide how many overtime hours can be allotted, and helps keep the artists accountable for their work hours. If an artist has spent some time being distracted, it can be up to them to stay a bit longer to make up for that time. In the end, it will always be up to the individual artist to show integrity and a solid work ethic to be hired back for another contract.
Q: What accountability structures would be in place?
A: BC Labour Law mandates that a union have a structure in the collective bargaining agreement to allow wronged employees to seek justice. This is known as the “Grievance Procedure”, and it is the way in which all disputes between the employer and the employee are handled.
The first step is generally to contact a union rep, who will intercede with the employer on your behalf.
If that doesn’t go anywhere, the second step is to file an official grievance with all the specifics of the incident, and present the employer with the remedy that is laid out in the Collective Agreement.
The third step, if still unsuccessful, is to go to Arbitration. The Arbitrator interprets the CA and the decision they make is final and binding.
The IATSE provides this framework as a part of their mandate, and with a union, employees have access to representatives and legal aid to help them through the process.
Q: How would a union handle WHEN AN EMPloyer breaks the contract? What accountability structures would be in place?
A: When an employer breaks a part of the union agreement, for example, pressuring employees into working unpaid overtime despite being forbidden to do so, the main course of action will be to file a grievance. This is the process of filing a complaint against an employer for wrongdoing, and union representatives will work with you to determine the specific issue based on the rules in the Collective Agreement and use that to move forward. The consequences to the employer will vary based on the specific infraction, but can result in a fine or requesting backdated remuneration of lost wages. A union will provide this grievance structure and representatives to hold the employers accountable when they break the union contract.
Q: WOULD OVERTIME PAY MEAN INTERNET ACCESS GETS CUT OFF, OR THAT OUR HOURS WOULD NEED TO BE STRICTLY ENFORCED?
A: Rules surrounding internet access may vary from studio to studio. For certain studios, internet access depends on a studio’s bandwidth. Therefore, this will likely be something that a studio decides based on what is right for them and their environment.
Q: WHAT HAPPENS WITH A PRODUCTION THAT CHANGES CREW TO ACCOUNT FOR BACKFILL? IF A PRODUCTION IS STAGGERED, HOW WOULD THAT AFFECT THE VOTE?
A: When a group of workers decide to unionize and sign union cards, a vote is held to determine whether the group will be unionized or not. The group that votes is not only the workers who signed cards, but others in the studio that may be represented. IATSE will provide the Labour Board with a crew list, the people who get to vote, and the Employer may provide the Labour Board with their own employee list. The employer may try to add other employees to the list, who may or may not be counted. They can even count employees who worked at the studio up to three months prior to the vote. Ultimately, the final crew list will be decided by the Labour Board. They are generally fair in who they decide to include, but it is important to have as much information as possible. It is ideal to know all the employees who worked on a production, to know where they stand, and for at least 75% of them to want to vote “yes” to unionization before the voting process begins, just to make sure we have our bases covered.
Q: SINCE PRODUCTIONS ARE STAGGERED, WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO ORGANIZE?
A: It is best to organize around the beginning of a production, however, it can be done later as well. Productions that have been picked up, or renewed for multiple seasons have a unique advantage for strategic organizing. The first season can be spent organizing workers, and when the second season starts, signing cards/voting/and negotiation can take place immediately.
Q: Will we be able to take freelance or non-union work if we are under a union contract?
A: Yes. There are no restrictions on taking on additional work under a union contract.
Q: HOW DOES THE BARGAINING UNIT WORK? HOW DO PEOPLE PROVIDE INPUT FOR THE CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS?
A: A Bargaining Unit is formed by the workers, and therefore the workers get to decide who will be involved. It is made up of workers who are interested in representing the group, and are supported in doing so by IATSE representatives. In order to form a balanced committee, it’s best to have at least one member from every department in the production who is to be represented by the union. The Bargaining Unit then negotiates the terms of the contract with the union reps and the employers. This contract is then taken back to the larger group of workers, and a vote is held.