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HomeCraftsAnimationAnimation Workers at Walt Disney Animation Studios' Traveling Lab Organize to Secure...

Animation Workers at Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Traveling Lab Organize to Secure Remote Work Inclusion

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In a groundbreaking move, a unit of 10 animation workers at Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS), working remotely across six states has, filed to unionize and be
represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and The Animation Guild, IATSE Local 839, marking a significant shift in the animation industry’s approach to remote work.?

These remote workers at the studio’s “The Traveling Lab” have joined together to call for union recognition from their employer, and on Nov. 27, 2023 filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an official unionization election.

“TAG’s remote worker organizing campaign is motivated by a basic principle—artists and writers who do the same work for the same studios should have the same rights and standards on the job, regardless of where they live,” says Organizer Ben Speight. “Walt Disney Animation Studios, and other union studios in LA, have shown for years that world-class animation work can continue to be done remotely.”

While remote work became a viable option in the animation industry during the COVID-19
pandemic, existing collective bargaining agreements were not designed to accommodate this sudden shift. However, employers made some initial concessions allowing employees to work remotely on a temporary basis. Once Return to Work protocols were initiated, employers told many animation workers who chose to work remotely, their working arrangements would fall outside contractual boundaries, jeopardizing workers’ union status.
During the last contract negotiations with The Animation Guild, the employers argued that
addressing this issue was not a mandatory subject of bargaining. Undeterred, the Negotiations Committee representing the animation workers stood firm, recognizing the need for a pathway to union-covered remote work outside of Los Angeles County.

The result was a new sideletter in the agreement that affirmed the right of individuals hired in Los Angeles to work remotely outside the county and state, contingent upon employer approval. This breakthrough meant that members could leverage their individual negotiations to secure Union coverage even when working remotely outside the state. However, many studios, including WDAS, chose not to extend the protections of a union
contract to these remote workers hired outside of LA County, resulting in lower pay and limited benefits.

This landmark organizing development sets a precedent for the animation industry, recognizing the importance of adapting labor agreements to the evolving landscape of work. The Animation Guild and IATSE are proud to support their members in achieving a fair and inclusive framework that respects the realities of a remote working environment.
The filing signals another shift in IATSE and the Animation Guild’s strategies, where unionizing is increasingly viewed as a way to ensure more Animation workers can have access to the rights and protections that come with a union contract.

Historically, the Animation Guild’s Membership has been limited to those residing and working in Los Angeles and contiguous counties. However, The Animation Guild has recently seen success organizing workers outside this area, including in New York, Virginia, Puerto Rico, Texas, and others.

Additionally, as a Local Union of IATSE International, The Animation Guild was granted national jurisdiction by IATSE’s General Executive Board in August 2023.

The Animation Guild invites remote Animation workers interested in TAG membership from other studios to visit https://animationguild.org/remote-work/ and use the form to contact an organizer immediately.

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