On November 11, 2010 the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced their intent to organize visual effects artists. Things have been a bit slow on that front in spite of numerous meetings, an increased web and social media presence and the efforts of the union and many artists who have tried to keep the discussion alive.

Meanwhile in Burbank, IATSE has won an election and contract to represent 70 CG artists working at Nickelodeon Animation Studios.  It was not a close vote with 90.1% voting to ratify the contract which will be under the Animation Guild, Local 839.

We spoke with Steve Kaplan, organizer for the Animation Guild about what led to this, "Today's vote was the result of visual effects artists, working at an animation studio, who saw the benefits and strengths of union representation and finally achieved those through their determination and steeled resolve.  It's important to note that these artists, trained in the same skills and techniques as visual effects artists across the world, were in a unique position as they worked side-by-side with traditional animation artists who've enjoyed union representation for almost 10 years."

Kaplan continues, "Through this close proximity, they were able to see the disparity in conditions and treatment that comes when working under a union contract against not enjoying those protections.  I believe this was one of the crucial factors in the organization of this unit.  This shows to me that given enough exposure to the facts, all of visual effects can reach the same conclusion as these 70 artists did today."

More information from the press release:
The Guild has had a contract with Nickelodeon covering traditional animation artists since 2004. Talks extending union contract protection to Nick's CG artists extended from March to July of this year, between management and a committee of seventeen employees along with Guild representatives. The primary issue was bridging from Nickelodeon’s corporate insurance to the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan, to insure uninterrupted health coverage for covered employees.

Steve Hulett, the Animation Guild’s Business Representative Steve Hulett issued this statement: 

“Five years ago, the Animation Guild went to work organizing Nick’s CG department.  We had a number of setbacks, but last year, thanks to Guild organizer Steve Kaplan, communication with employees accelerated and support for the Guild increased dramatically.  Early in February, Nickelodeon agreed to a neutral card count and negotiations for a contract started soon thereafter.

“Talks went on for months.  TAG had a large negotiating committee of unit employees, most in their early to mid-twenties, and they were focused and tenacious through several long days of work.  I doubt we could have reached agreement without them. 

“Nick negotiators Bill Cole and Kevin Ellman were tough but flexible, and had a lot to do with the parties reaching agreement.”

Final negotiations over the Memorandum of Agreement wrapped on July 10, with ratification by unit employees taking place at the studio’s Burbank facility on Friday afternoon.


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