Union Seeks to Organize U.K. VFX Workers

A large meeting in London leads to an organizing push akin to the one IATSE has been pursuing in the U.S. and Canada.

A London-based union similar to IATSE is beginning a campaign to organize U.K. visual effects workers after what the union called an “overwhelming” vote at a meeting of more than 300 VFX workers Wednesday. The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union also called on VFX employers to set up their own organization to promote improvements in working conditions.

The BECTU meeting comes just three weeks after a large Los Angeles meeting at which panelists including IATSE representatives called for the same thing: a union and an employer association.

An employer association would not only give the union a single bargaining partner rather than having to organize on an employer-by-employer basis, it also is viewed as a way for VFX employers to push back against their employers, the studios, whose practices they say have put the VFX business in dire straits – leading, among other things, to the bankruptcy sale of venerable house Rhythm & Hues.

Meanwhile, in the U.K., “VFX workers are joining BECTU because staff are tired of working long hours, often for no money at all,” BECTU organizer Gus Baker tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Skilled and talented artists are leaving the VFX industry because they can’t continue working unpaid overtime and raise a family at the same time.”

A union website describing the meeting cited “a powerful consensus which states that working conditions have to improve.” Issues cited on the web page as having been raised at the meeting included long hours, unpaid overtime, poor scheduling, little work/life balance and scant treatment of interns.

The concerns aren’t limited to Los Angeles and London. Indeed, the March 14 L.A. meeting was set up as a video conference via a Google hangout to the San Francisco Bay Area, Vancouver, Austin and Wellington, N.Z. About 350 people participated.

IATSE has been working for on the unionization effort for more than a year, but it appears to be an uphill battle. Key locals involved are Local 839 (The Animation Guild) and the Vancouver-based Local 891.

BECTU general secretary Gerry Morrissey said, “The issues in VFX are pressing, and I am confident that with strong membership we can make real progress with the employers.”

Baker tells THR: “We want to see a healthy, vibrant VFX industry in the U.K. where everyone is able to achieve their potential and no one is exploited and overworked.”

Bookmark The Hollywood Reporter’s Labor Page for the most in-depth coverage of entertainment unions and guilds.

Email: jhandel99 at gmail dot com

Twitter: @jhandel