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After the departure of nine colleagues in the past few months, staff members at the International Documentary Association have announced their intention to unionize with the Communications Workers of America.
The group of workers, who are organizing under the group name Documentary Workers United, shared their plans and asked for voluntary recognition in a message sent to IDA executive director Richard Ray Perez on Monday. (Deadline was the first to report the news.) “This union will make IDA stronger and more effective as well as fulfill IDA’s mission,” the group wrote in a Medium post published Monday. “It will empower and protect the staff as we demand necessary improvements, negotiate equity (of salary, benefits, working conditions, and support), and build solidarity across departments.” The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to IDA for comment.
The group is seeking to align themselves with CWA Local 9003, which bargains on behalf of thousands in telecommunications, union staff, computer programming, news media, security video systems and others in the L.A. area. Their desired bargaining unit is composed of 11 full-time workers, out of what the group says is a total of 16 remaining full-time staff members, below the senior manager level (including associates, coordinators, specialists, officers and non-senior managers). Documentary Workers United say they have given Perez 24 hours to respond to their request for recognition.
“We are hopeful that there won’t be any organizational resistance to this initiative,” a DWU organizer who did not disclose their name said in a statement. “However, we are prepared to pursue a formal election in accordance with US law if we are met with opposition.” They continued, “After a rocky start to 2022, we have determined that unionizing is the only way — as our mission statement says — ’to continue fighting for IDA’s mission and community, to reduce employee turnover, and to resist the erasure of institutional memory.’”
In a response sent to staff on Monday, Perez acknowledged he had received the message and added, “Please know that we recognize the healing that must happen within the IDA… We will make every attempt to respond within 24 hours, but may need longer to convene the entire Board of Directors to respectfully and diligently consider this matter.”
Nine staff members have left the nonprofit in recent months, including staff that worked in programming, development, awards campaigns and communications. When four director-level employees left in January, they wrote a Medium post asserting that they had previously made “several attempts” to voice concerns about “workplace conduct” and “organizational actions that did not align with IDA’s stated values,” including in a letter sent to IDA’s board of directors. “The process and investigation that followed over the next nearly two months left us isolated, further diminished, and increasingly concerned about the future of the organization and colleagues on staff,” the former employees wrote. They said the Board’s handling of the investigation ultimately led them to resign.
In a statement published in late January about the four resignations, Perez stated that he was “deeply disappointed” by the turnover. He added, “My reputation and track record of collaborating with and advocating for documentary filmmakers in the US and abroad runs deep and is easily verifiable. I am firmly committed to IDA’s ongoing mission of supporting, funding and advocating for the documentary community.” The IDA board added in their own statement at that time, “We want to communicate clearly and unequivocally that we have been thorough and committed to being fair and equitable, and we are united in ensuring the IDA continues to be an essential resource for the documentary community.”
In their mission statement, the Documentary Workers United group says that with a union they are looking to “prioritize staff concerns” and “continue to respect the authority of the IDA Employee Handbook,” as well as institutionalize a reporting process that prevents retaliation. They are also looking to “create accountability” for leader conduct, improve transparency with regard to hiring and promotions and reevaluate compensation for any additional IDA work done outside of one’s normal job responsibilities, among other goals.
The group, which believes it has a supermajority in favor of unionization, considered a few other unions before settling on working with the CWA.
March 15, 9:11 a.m. Updated to include Perez’s response to the request for voluntary recognition.
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