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Members and supporters of The Animation Guild convened at a sun-soaked parking lot in Burbank on Sunday to voice their support for a “new deal for animation” as the union continues to be locked in prolonged negotiations with studios over a new three-year master agreement.
The #NewDeal4Animation solidarity rally, which took place outside IATSE Local 80’s Olive Ave. building, just blocks away from Disney’s studios, began with car-painting and concluded with spirited speeches from guest speakers including IATSE fourth international vice president Mike Miller, TAG’s (IATSE Local 839) president Jeanette Moreno King, and multiple TAG members and organizers that sought to unite members around the ongoing talks and the Local’s larger organizing efforts.
Miller told the afternoon’s attendees, which one organizer estimated numbered between 200 and 300, though more than 900 were said to have checked in, that the Local’s bargaining committee for this master agreement is “smart and engaged and aligned in their goals and prepared to [win] a new deal for animation.” Second international vice president Thom Davis said, “We will do whatever we have to do to make sure you win this fight.”
TAG Writers’ Craft Committee co-chair Mairghread Scott exhorted attendees in a speech to get involved with their Local and join a committee. “I want to do this rally three years from now and see us flood the streets,” she said. “That future isn’t up to me, it’s up to you… You can do it. It’s your money in their pockets. Take it back!”
In between speakers, Local 839 member Thomas Zenteno led those present in several chants: “New contract, new deal! This is how we really feel!” and “Hey hey, ho ho! Sideletter N had got to go!” were popular refrains. Several attendees carried colorful signs that bore messages like “Your kids’ favs are union strong” and “Are you still watching? Stand with workers.”
The event, scheduled just days before TAG is set to go back to the bargaining table with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), is “pretty historic” in several ways, says TAG organizer and field representative Ben Speight. According to Speight, TAG negotiations have never gone as long as the current talks for the Local’s master agreement (so far, both sides have bargained for 12 days, TAG says). He adds that it’s “unprecedented” for the workers to have an expired contract that allows them to engage in collective action. Moreover, “Not to our knowledge have we had a rally since the strike in the early ’80s,” he says.
The rally was intended to be a morale booster for members who felt isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic and a demonstration to animation studios that TAG members aren’t just “passive spectators,” Speight adds. He also says the rally serves as what organizer Jane McAlevey would call a “structure test”: “We’re trying to see how many TAG members and our allies would show up when there is a call to action.”
In his speech before the attendees, Speight spoke to TAG’s goals beyond the current round of negotiations, asserting that the Local is set on further organizing production workers on animated projects. (Within the last few months, production employees at Titmouse L.A., Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites have filed petitions for union elections with the NLRB to be represented by TAG.) Reading a speech from TAG business representative Steve Kaplan (who tested positive for COVID and couldn’t attend), Local president Moreno King added that the union is working on further organizing animation across the U.S.: The union expanded outside of L.A. County for the first time in January when management at Titmouse New York voluntarily recognized its worker union. “This is not only time for a new deal for animation,” she read, “it is [time for] a new era for animation.”
Several local political figures were on hand over the course of the afternoon, including Burbank vice mayor Konstantine Anthony and Burbank Council Member Nick Schultz, who both gave short speeches at the event expressing solidarity with TAG. L.A. City Council candidate for District 13 Hugo Soto-Martinez could be seen chatting with workers, while a group of Democratic Socialists of America Los Angeles members were present, some holding red signs that stated, “DSA Stands With IATSE!”
When negotiations pick up again this coming Tuesday, the talks will begin from a place where “there’s a lot of distance between the parties,” says Speight. The Hollywood Reporter reached out to the AMPTP for comment.
While a media blackout is currently in effect, TAG members have been outspoken about several key issues over the course of this round of talks. Namely, members have pushed to end the pay disparity between writers working under TAG contracts and writers working under Writers Guild of America contracts on both animation and live-action. Members have also spoken publicly about their interest in changing the terms of their streaming agreement, improving compensation for color designers, changing schedules and pay for story artists and ending unit-rate pay for timing directors.
When asked about her ideal resolution to this round of negotiations, Teri Hendrich Cusumano, a color supervisor who is chair of the Local’s Color Design Committee, says, it would be “one that everyone would be willing to live with, at least for the next three years.”
Background designer and co-chair of the TAG’s People of Color Committee Roger Oda adds, “I want the best we can get. The most we can get, but I think it’s important that whatever this is, that it keeps growing. Whatever momentum we have now, we keep growing it and we keep moving forward so that next time we get even more.”
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