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The Animation Guild has set its sights on unionizing the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ production workers — a move that organizers say the family-friendly company is resisting.
Coming off of an aggressive run of production-specific organizing drives at shows (Rick and Morty, Family Guy) and studios (Nickelodeon, ShadowMachine), IATSE Local 839 revealed Wednesday that the union is attempting to form a bargaining unit composed of around 78 production coordinators, production supervisors and production managers at the Encanto and Wish studio. According to the union, the studio has denied its request to voluntarily recognize the group of workers, preferring a National Labor Relations Board Election, and is attempting to exclude production supervisors and production managers from the group that could participate in a vote, arguing that they work as managers.
“They are claiming that production managers and production supervisors are statutory supervisors under the National Labor Relations Act, meaning that they are excluded from the law that grants people the right to organize unions,” says TAG organizer Allison Smartt. The union’s position is that these workers are not statutory supervisors.
TAG filed for an NLRB election on Monday and has produced a petition calling for Disney to “do the right thing and voluntarily recognize the IATSE and its Local 839, The Animation Guild as the exclusive representative” for the group. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Disney for comment.
Initial conversations about unionizing among this group of workers began in the winter of 2022 and culminated in workers seeking voluntary recognition from management nearly one year later, in February 2023. In attempting to unionize, worker-organizers are seeking to improve pay and gain portable health care that will travel with them from job to job. “For the majority of us this is our long-term career path; however, the current value tied to production workers does not reflect our worth,” says production coordinator Maggie Hughes in a statement. “We produce and deliver some of the most profitable franchises at one of the oldest animation studios in the world, it’s unreasonable that production workers can’t create a sustainable, comfortable future.”
Adds production coordinator Shannon Henley in another statement, “Even though I love my job, I regularly must consider if I should instead find a job with better pay, better hours, better benefits, and a more viable career path forward. Joining TAG gives me hope that I’ll no longer have to consider leaving my dream job in order to live comfortably.”
According to the union, TAG already represents production supervisors and production managers on projects including Family Guy, The Simpsons, American Dad! and Solar Opposites (produced at 20th Television Animation, which is owned by Disney) as well as at workplaces such as Nickelodeon, ShadowMachine, Titmouse New York and Titmouse Los Angeles. If TAG is successful in its organizing drive, the Walt Disney Animation Studios will be the first feature studio where it has organized production workers.
An NLRB hearing is scheduled for later this month. Says IATSE international president Matthew Loeb in a statement, “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.”
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