Disney Production Workers Unionize, Studio Refuses Voluntary Recognition

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. However, studio leadership refused to voluntarily recognize the organizing effort and chose to exclude more than half of the bargaining unit based on job title.

The Animation Guild points out that this decision to specifically exclude 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, etc.

The WDAS Production Organizing Committee responded to the news with this statement:

“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.”

Steve Kaplan, Business Representative for IATSE Local 839 / The Animation Guild, says, “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. 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.”

The IATSE, on behalf of The Animation Guild, filed a petition for an NLRB election on March 6, 2023.

“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,” adds IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb. “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.”

The production workers at Disney united to oppose low wages, unpaid overtime and other unsustainable workplace practices. The group has been pursuing their contract goals for more than a year.

“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. 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,” says Production Coordinator Hannah Bialosky. “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.”

Allison Smartt, who has been working with the group to unionize, notes, “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.”

IATSE and the WDAS Production Organizing Committee have launched a solidarity petition for public support of their efforts. You can find it here.



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