To Unionize or Not to Unionize


Although the movie-making industry has become more and more reliant upon visual effects to make block-buster films, little has been done to protect these innovative creators from falling victim to exploitation by their employers. In a recent article in the International Business Times, Christopher Zara describes the challenges these workers face, and their hesitation when discussing the option of unionization.

“Visual effects are now the foremost draw for most big-budget movies, and yet conditions for the workers who create those effects have never been worse. Many VFX artists face punishing schedules, working with no health insurance or benefits to meet the demands of effects-laden motion pictures. It’s a grueling way to earn a buck: One VFX artist described ‘sweatshop-style graphics … where teams of people spend hours’ performing repetitive tasks in front of a computer screen.” (

IATSE Local 839 (also known as the Animation Guild) has become the largest organized advocates for the unionization of VFX artists. IATSE (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) is the mother union for technicians and artisans in the areas of stagecraft, film and television production, Broadcast, and trade shows, and— through Local 839—has been representing the rights of nearly all artistic, creative, and technical personal associated with the animation process since 1952 but has no jurisdiction over VFX employees.

Although the union has been meeting and with VFX workers since April 2012, and representation could provide these workers with fair pay, a safer working environment and the health benefits they currently lack, most are afraid to speak openly about the issue for fear of alienation, blacklisting, and other forms of retribution. Other anti-union VFX workers are concerned that the unwieldy nature of unions will be counterproductive in an industry that so deeply depends on fast-moving technology and innovative progress. The union may simply not be able to adapt quickly enough to be of real benefit to its constituents. Even so, it seems most industry workers feel that unionization is only a matter of time.
Karyn McNay

One Response to “To Unionize or Not to Unionize”

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