On Wednesday, union leaders from IATSE Local 839 began efforts to unionize almost 80 production coordinators, production managers, and production supervisors at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Southern California.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the decision comes on the heels of the Animation Guild’s successful organizing drives for production-specific roles within the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) at competitor studios such as Nickelodeon, ShadowMachine, Titmouse New York, Titmouse Los Angeles, and 20th Television Animation. Of course, Disney itself now owns the final studio, known for shows such as Family Guy, The Simpsons, American Dad! and Solar Opposites.
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However, the Walt Disney Company has resisted the motion in what IATSE International President Matthew Loeb calls “a blatant attempt to undermine the collective bargaining rights of our members,” driving down industry standards at the same time. Moreover, Animation Guild organizer Allison Smartt says Disney has tried to claim certain administrative roles are “statutory supervisors,” allowing for their exclusion from the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act, contrary to the union’s own position.
As a result, by denying the union’s request to recognize this group voluntarily, Disney complicates the process. For example, Local 839 organizers must now bring together a National Labor Relations Board Election hearing, to be scheduled for late March of this year, in order to unionize just 78 employees within the Production division at Walt Disney Studios.
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Even so, the complexity seems to be worth it, ensuring that Disney cannot exclude supervisors and managers from participating in the vote. In fact, the Animation Guild has begun petitioning the historic leaders of animation to “do the right thing and voluntarily recognize the IATSE and its Local 839” rather than disqualifying certain members merely based on job titles.
Disney production staff have attempted to organize since the winter of 2022, an effort which culminated in them contacting Disney management to seek voluntary recognition last month. The ability to join IATSE Local 839 would provide employees with the right to salary improvements, as well as health care, unable to be impacted by layoffs or moving to another employer.
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In a statement, Maggie Hughes said the change would allow a majority of the group to pursue production as a long-term career path without worries of an uncomfortable or unsustainable future, and one which reflects their worth and contributions. Furthermore, she called Disney’s resistance to the union “unreasonable” for “one of the oldest animation studios in the world,” where production crews help to create some of the world’s most profitable and popular animated franchises.
Should Disney reverse its own decision, the Walt Disney Animation Studios will become the first feature studio to organize its production workers.