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Marvel Studios VFX Workers unanimously vote to unionize: is this a revolution?

This article is available in: French

Marvel Studios’ visual effects workers are making history: they have unanimously voted to unionize. This comes after years of challenging working conditions, including tight deadlines and heavy workloads.

A historical announcement

In practice, these teams be unionizing with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), representing nearly 170,000 people in the entertainment industry (from film and television to live performances, radio, and conventions) in the USA and Canada.
IATSE emphasizes that this is “the first time a unit of solely VFX Workers has unionized with IATSE since VFX was pioneered nearly a half-century ago.” This announcement is nothing short of a small revolution.

Also, please note that Walt Disney Pictures’ VFX staff could soon follow the same path, as a request has been filed to hold elections for unionization. The team has already begun voting.

“Avengers! Assemble.”
Avengers: Endgame – Marvel Studios

First reactions – what’s next?

In the IATSE announcement, Sarah Kazuko Chow, VFX Coordinator at Marvel, explains:

I grew up dreaming of working on Marvel films, so when I started my first job at Marvel, I felt like I couldn’t complain about the unpaid overtime, the lack of meal breaks, and the incredible pressure put on VFX teams to meet deadlines because I was just supposed to be grateful to be here at all. But the reality is that every worker deserves rights, and joining IATSE means we don’t have to choose between the job we love and having identities outside of our work.

IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb also commented this announcement:

Today’s count demonstrates the unprecedented demand for unionization across new sectors of the entertainment industry is very real. To these VFX workers, I congratulate you on your historic victory. Your bravery, determination, and unity are a beacon for workers not just in VFX, not just in entertainment, but workers in every industry across this country and beyond. You will enter negotiations with Marvel and Disney with the full backing and support of our 170,000 strong alliance. Your fight is our fight.

Furthermore, IATSE explains that following this this election, we can expect the union to start negociating with the studio:

Following the outcome of the NLRB election in favor of unionizing, the next step for the union is to engage in collective bargaining negotiations with the employer to draft a contract addressing the needs of the represented workers. Union contracts, also known as collective bargaining agreements (CBA’s), generally outline terms and conditions of employment, including wages, hours, and working conditions. Both the union and the employer are obligated to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement on these terms. As of this writing, no negotiation dates have yet been scheduled.

Is this a huge revolution? Not so fast

Please note, however, that this announcement is only about VFX employees at Marvel, which amounts to just a few dozen people. The studio’s films also involve dozens of visual effects studios with much larger teams, and they remain non-unionized. Even though working conditions can be challenging, especially when it comes to Marvel movies since the studio is notorious for changing its mind very late in the postproduction process.

At this stage, it’s hard to tell whether unionizing efforts might succeed in other studios. Or even if the collective bargaining at Marvel will indeed improve the working conditions.

Writers and actors keep up the fight

We should also highlight that this news comes at amidst ongoing strikes by both the Actors and Writers guilds. Both are asking to improve their contracts with the studios and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). At this stage, the studios don’t seem to be willing to negociate.

We will of course keep following these events in the weeks, months to come.

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