If you’re an animation enthusiast, you know jobs in that industry are perpetually on shaky ground. Sometimes animators work their whole lives in a studio without earning a living wage or benefits. Sudden project cancellations leave them abruptly out of work and worried. They often have to fight with the studio for a final paycheck. This is why The Animation Guild is taking the Disney Animation Studios’ production workers under their wing to fight for unionization.
More than a few corporations have worked with union-busting organizations to quash movements before they happen (Starbucks, anyone?). IATSE Local 839 (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) is trying to put together a group of roughly 80 production workers from Disney Animation Studios for a bargaining unit.
This group is composed of production coordinators, production supervisors, and production managers. Thus far, they’ve been met with refusal. The studio denied the request for the group to voluntarily recognize the group. Instead, Disney would rather go the route of a National Labor Relations Board Election. According to TAG (The Animation Guild) organizer Allison Smart, Disney is attempting to exclude certain members from organizing. She claims Disney says “production managers and production supervisors are statutory supervisors under the National Labor Relations Act, meaning that they are excluded from the law that grants people the right to organize unions.”
Obviously TAG disagrees with that, seeing it only as a means of Disney trying to disperse their numbers. Talks of unionization started in winter of 2022, so this has been in the works for some time. And production workers are tired of being shortchanged for how much work they do to make these companies successful.
“For the majority of us this is our long-term career path; however, the current value tied to production workers does not reflect our worth,” production coordinator Maggie Hughes said. “We produce and deliver some of the most profitable franchises at one of the oldest animation studios in the world, it’s unreasonable that production workers can’t create a sustainable, comfortable future.”
Shannon Henley, another production coordinator is of a very similar mind. “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,” Henley said. “Joining TAG gives me hope that I’ll no longer have to consider leaving my dream job in order to live comfortably.”
The idea that production workers — the people directly responsible for making the machine of animation run — have to reconsider career options or worry about their futures is, frankly, abhorrent. Animation studios gross millions of dollars a year. Yet the pay of those behind the curtain doesn’t reflect their worth. Studios need to stop lowballing the people who literally make their money.