Walt Disney Animation Studios workers have voted to unionize, as a majority of the workforce at the Burbank, California, location supports joining The Animation Guild.
On Wednesday, during a National Labor Relations Board ballot count, a majority of production coordinators, production supervisors, and production managers at Walt Disney Animation Studios voted to join The Animation Guild (IATSE Local 839), a union that has been representing animation artists, writers, and technicians for more than 70 years.
Coming Full Circle
In April, The Animation Guild staged a “solidarity walk” around the Disney Studios in Burbank. Dozens of the studio’s production workers participated in the walk to protest The Walt Disney Company’s opposition to recognizing their unionization efforts.
As part of the demonstration, more than 100 supervisors, managers, and coordinators in production, alongside many of Disney’s artists, gathered in front of the Roy E. Disney Animation Building–an icon of the animation division at Disney–rallying for their cause. Workers then marched along the adjacent street before finally approaching Mark Stubbington, Disney’s labor relations counsel, to present him with a petition signed by more than 10,000 animators.
The petition called on Disney to validate its workers’ desire to be a part of the bargaining unit at Walt Disney Animation. It also called on the company to allow the production workers to receive benefits like higher wages and health insurance under its labor contract.
A Vital Vote on Wednesday
On Wednesday, a group of workers at Walt Disney Animation Studios, comprised of production coordinators, production managers, and production supervisors at Walt Disney Animation Studios, demonstrated a majority support for joining The Animation Guild.
During the vote, 63 production team members voted to join the guild. Of 68 total eligible voters, only five workers opposed the move. As it stands as of the time of this publication, if neither party involved objects to the result of the vote by filing a formal objection within five days, the group will be certified, thus allowing labor and management to begin the work of bargaining the team’s first contract.
Since 1941 artists & technicians at Disney have enjoyed benefits & protections of a hard-won union contract & have been partners in making the studio a great workplace. Today, #AnimationGuild members at WDAS carry on that legacy & negotiate for a fair contract. Stand with them! pic.twitter.com/yBPRSSy9nh
— The Animation Guild // #WeAre839 (@animationguild) August 17, 2022
Legality Delays the Move
Wednesday’s developments follow the resolution of issues that arose pertaining to the eligibility of certain production workers to join the union.
The Walt Disney Company argued that its animation production managers and supervisors are managers and, therefore, do not share a “community of interest” with the production coordinators, thus rendering those workers ineligible to join. But in late September, a regional director with the National Labor Relations Board determined that the bargaining unit was indeed appropriate. The director followed by issuing a “direction of election” that included all the roles at the animation studio.
Maggie Hughes, one of Disney Animation’s production coordinators, issued a statement, saying that Wednesday’s win “exemplifies the core of why we’re unionizing.” Hughes went on to say that the group “knew throughout this process that everyone in our unit deserves to be eligible,” but that Disney “still decided to pursue this long and arduous process in an attempt to divide us.”
Disney’s production workers first announced their plans to unionize in March 2023. At that time, the group claimed that The Walt Disney Company had opposed a request for their efforts to be recognized by the organization. But the initiative had its beginnings even earlier–in the winter of 2022.
“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,” said Disney Animation production coordinator Shannon Henley at that time. “Joining [The Animation Guild] gives me hope that I’ll no longer have to consider leaving my dream job in order to live comfortably.”
Congratulations to the production workers at Disney Feature Animation! Today, they voted in an election to be represented by @IATSE and TAG. With 96% voter turnout, 93% voted yes!!! Let's celebrate! pic.twitter.com/OwDWDIkBA1
— The Animation Guild // #WeAre839 (@animationguild) November 1, 2023
Disney Animation production workers are only the latest group to vote to join The Animation Guild. In recent months, the guild has worked with groups at Nickelodeon, Titmouse New York, Titmouse Los Angeles, and ShadowMachine.
The Animation Guild has contracts with several groups already, including Imagine Entertainment, Apple Studios, Amazon Studios, Dreamworks, Cartoon Network Studios, Hasbro, Netflix Animation, Marvel Animation, MGM Animation, Skydance Animation, Sony Pictures Animation, and many other entities.
It remains to be seen whether either of the interested parties will file a formal objection to the vote. If no objection is filed within five days of the vote, the measure stands, and the production team at Walt Disney Animation can begin to negotiate a contract.