Less than a month after Marvel’s VFX crews filed to unionize, Visual Effects (VFX) crews at Walt Disney Pictures filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an election to unionize with the backing of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union announced Monday.
This marks only the second time in history that VFX professionals have joined together to demand the same rights and protections as their unionized colleagues throughout the film industry, with the other being Marvel VFX workers’ similar filing just this month. Walt Disney Pictures, a prestigious arm of Walt Disney Studios, has been at the forefront of the entertainment industry for a century. Established originally as Walt Disney Productions, it was renamed in 1983. The unionizing VFX workers are responsible for creating the VFX across the studio’s impressive catalogue, including modern classics such as the live-action adaptations of The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, among others.
The historic move follows a supermajority (over 80%) of the eighteen in-house VFX crewmembers at Walt Disney Pictures signed authorization cards signaling their desire to unionize. With today’s filing, a labor board election could commence as soon as two to three weeks. If a majority of these workers vote in favor of unionizing in that election, the studio would be required to begin good-faith negotiations for a contract covering these workers as a group.
In the words of IATSE VFX Organizer Mark Patch: “Today, courageous Visual Effects workers at Walt Disney Pictures overcame the fear and silence that have kept our community from having a voice on the job for decades. With an overwhelming supermajority of these crews demanding an end to ‘the way VFX has always been,’ this is a clear sign that our campaign is not about one studio or corporation. It’s about VFX workers across the industry using the tools at our disposal to uplift ourselves and forge a better path forward.”
While positions like Production Designers/Art Directors, Camera Operators, Sound, Editors, Hair and Makeup Artists, Costumes / Wardrobe, Script Supervisors, Grips, Lighting, Props, and Paint, among others, have historically been represented by IATSE in motion picture and television, workers in VFX classifications historically have not. VFX job classifications have largely remained non-union since the field was pioneered during production of the first Star Wars films in the 1970s. The unionizing workers are demanding fair compensation for all hours worked, adequate health care, retirement benefits, and more generally, the same rights and protections afforded to their unionized coworkers who are already represented by IATSE. These demands echo the increasingly prevalent calls for improvements across VFX Industry, and are corroborated with the sentiment uncovered by IATSE’s 2022 VFX Worker Rate and Conditions Survey, which was published in March.
IATSE has reported unprecedented demand for unionization across all sectors of the entertainment industry, and this groundbreaking move by Walt Disney Pictures’ VFX workers is part of a massive wave of organizing throughout the business. Earlier this month workers at Gladius Studios across animation, Visual Effects (VFX), and video game classifications voted unanimously to unionize with The Animation Guild (TAG), IATSE Local 839. Also this month, Marvel Studios VFX Workers similarly filed for an unprecedented union election. At the time of this release, the labor board’s unionization election for Marvel’s VFX Workers is underway, with the votes set to be counted September 12.
International President of IATSE, Matthew D. Loeb, stated, “The determination of these VFX workers is not just commendable, it’s groundbreaking. Their collective action against the status quo represents a seismic shift in this critical moment in our industry. The chorus of voices demanding change is unprecedented, and demonstrates our united movement is not about any one company, but about setting a precedent of dignity, respect, and fairness for all.”