Contract negotiations between the Animation Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are entering their fifth day – one more than had been scheduled.
Major issues for the union include better terms for streaming shows; a significant pay raise for animation writers – who make far less than their live-action counterparts covered by the WGA – and an outsized raise for the guild's lowest-paid members, most of whom are women.
The talks are being conducted under a media blackout, but before the negotiations began this week, leaders of the 4,600-member guild told their members, "After a substantial delay, negotiation dates have been set for The Animation Guild to meet with the AMPTP and bargain our Master Agreement. Negotiations will take place between Nov. 29 through Dec. 2, and the Negotiations Committee continues to dedicate substantial time and energy to prepare."
The guild's current contract had originally been set to expire on July 29 but was extended to October 30 and extended again to allow IATSE to work out a film and TV deal with the AMPTP . In those talks, bargaining resumed after a near-unanimous strike authorization vote by IATSE members across the country. The union got some additional improvements, and the deal was ratified by a razor-thin margin on November 15. The Animation Guild, IATSE Local 839, bargains separately and was not part of those talks.
Prior to the negotiations, leaders of the Animation Guild – known as TAG – told their members: "Once the collective bargaining agreement expires, the contract's 'no strike' clause is no longer in effect. Local 839's Executive Board could proceed with a strike authorization vote among TAG's active membership if necessary. If the strike authorization vote process is approved, the vote would take place electronically with ballots sent to all members in good standing. Only TAG members who are active and in good standing will be eligible to vote."
The guild also laid out another scenario that could come into play if it can't reach an agreement with the companies. "The process of negotiations between a union and employers follows a legal process. When two parties cannot reach an agreement and cannot make any further progress in discussions, they reach what is called 'impasse.' A lot of back-and-forth discussion must happen before negotiations can reach a point that would be called impasse, and reaching this point would not happen suddenly or unexpectedly. When negotiations have stalled, either side has the option to request third-party mediation from federal or state mediation bodies. These third parties can act to restore negotiations that are approaching an impasse to a place that is acceptable for both parties. Both sides must agree in order for a third party to mediate."
"Prior to reaching impasse," the guild explained, "employers issue a 'last, best, and final offer,' a specific type of legally binding agreement offer. Employers are legally required to implement the terms of this offer in full moving forward, even if the union does not ultimately accept the offer. If negotiations have reached a point of impasse, a union might regroup and discuss with its membership how best to proceed and make decisions about its next steps accordingly. At this point, the Negotiations Committee and Guild leadership would reach out to the membership to review priorities and discuss strategies on how to proceed, which could include overt membership actions."
Members have been expressing solidarity with the guild's goals on social media and at town halls. "Folks in animation are extremely overworked and underpaid for the amazing work we do. Let us get those fair wages and continue to make cool stuff under better conditions," a member wrote on the local's #NewDeal4Animation site.
"We are not paid the same as our live-action counterparts, and when it comes to productions for streaming, we can be paid even less, even when our work kept the studios afloat," wrote another.
"Animation workers kept studios afloat during the pandemic and entertained millions of people, working at a steady pace and hitting impossible deadlines with the backdrop of a global crisis," wrote another. "What we're asking for in our negotiations is fair, and long overdue."
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