Behind the Animation Guild’s drive to organize production workers

In January, The Animation Guild announced a double breakthrough: By syndicating Harriet the spy studio Titmouse New York, the home of IATSE had not only initiated an expansion outside of Los Angeles County, it had also organized the production staff for the first time in recent history. Since then, TAG has unveiled new campaigns to organize production workers at the rate of almost one a month — at trade shows rick and morty and solar oppositesat Titmouse LA and ShadowMachine studios and, on June 2, at The simpsons, family guy and American dad! (Before organizing the production staff, TAG represented a number of animation workers at these latter employers.)

This campaign – targeting production managers, production supervisors, production coordinators, production assistants and script assistants, among others, all of whom help move artwork and scenes and facilitate communications between departments – has so far paid off for the union. While attempts to extend TAG’s presence to The simpsons, family guy and American Dad! seem to be heading for a National Work Election of the Relations Council, the guild says that it has succeeded in obtaining voluntary recognition at rick and mortyTitmouse New York, Titmouse LA and ShadowMachine and won an NLRB election at solar opposites.

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And, while union organizers won’t go into details about future campaigns, it looks like TAG’s interest in organizing production workers isn’t going to wane anytime soon. “The only way to make meaningful, lasting, and meaningful change in the animation industry is to be able to speak to the voice of everyone who works in animation,” says TAG Sales Representative Steve Kaplan.

The push is part of a strategy to increase the size and reach of the guild, which already represents animation artists, technicians, and writers, furthering its strength and influence within the industry. Under previous leadership, TAG represented some production workers, but that number has dropped, and when mapping their workplaces recently, members realized that “many of their colleagues weren’t covered. by any union, mostly production workers,” says TAG. organizer Ben Speight. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Speight says, production workers were among the last to leave studios and were among the first to be brought back and could have “been used as a wedge to try to continue the production and undermine the position of artists at that time.

An entertainment industry executive labor lawyer who asked to remain anonymous said the timing of the launch of the union organizing campaign seemed “particularly interesting” to them. From November until recently, TAG was locked in protracted negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the representative of studios and streamers, for a new “umbrella agreement” (a tentative agreement was reached on 27 may). The AMPTP talks “seemed like the appropriate place to discuss industry-wide whether the classifications would be expanded to include these additional positions,” the lawyer said, suggesting the guild might have thought it didn’t. could not have succeeded at the bargaining table and therefore organized workers with individual employers. (TAG’s Kaplan replied, “There’s a strategy to organize, and we’ll file for recognition where and when we can.”)

From the perspective of the production workers who support TAG’s effort, however, it’s time they received similar benefits to their union animation colleagues. “We want to continue to work remotely, we want a retirement plan, we want to provide health care for our dependents and our partners,” says Margaret Glaser, assistant production manager on The simpsons. adds Laura Smalec, a family guy production coordinator of the animatic department, “We have a lot of people who are really well educated and who have tons of years of experience, and we don’t have those advantages yet – whereas almost everyone on our show in a. It is therefore more simply a question of creating equality within the series.

Tom Sito, former president of the Animation Guild and author of the 2006 book Drawing the line: the untold story of animation unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson, notes that the production staff of animation companies has increased over the past few decades. The animation renaissance of the 1990s led to an expansion of the infrastructure of animation companies, while studios that outsource certain work internationally or to outside companies, such as Illumination Entertainment, required more of workers to coordinate and monitor their work. “I think what’s been a little surprising in recent years is how much unanimity there is among production people that they want union representation,” Sito says. “Usually [in unionization efforts] there is a kind of more contentious opinion among individual workers about what would be in their interests.

Jason Jones, a American Dad! animation and timed production supervisor, says union supporters want to make production work more “sustainable.”

He adds, “There was this old studio construct that lingered that animation production was entry-level work for other careers. You might be able to get away with selling that narrative to shows that lasted a season or two, but now we see that’s not the reality because shows like The simpsons, family guy onen/a American Dad! have production workers with over a decade of employment. The reality is that animation production work is a career.

Looking ahead, Jones thinks the current effort to organize the 20th TV Animated Shows could inspire others: “Certainly nothing is more hyped than The Simpsons, Family Guy and American Dad!,” he says. “I think it’s a beacon for all animation production workers at all levels to unionize.”

The next challenge for TAG and production workers with accredited unions will be to increase the number of employers with organizing campaigns and bargaining contracts that address workers’ top concerns and priorities. Dates have not yet been set for the start of contract negotiations at employers with recently unionized production workers, according to TAG. And on whether the Guild has more campaigns for production workers that could go public this year, Kaplan says, “I wish I could tell you when and where, but it really depends on those units.”

A version of this story first appeared in the June 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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