Perhaps you wondered what that card and envelope were on your desk last week.

It was an IATSE Representation Card. Its a small document that is your lever to get yourself better health and pension benefits, and an overall better deal with your employer.

Perhaps you’re wondering why it was put there, who is responsible, and why you should care.

Glad you asked.

We are a group of your colleagues who’ve decided that the time has come to stand for a better VFX industry. As many of you have, we’ve watched as the industry has marginalized who we are by using us as pawns in the “Race To The Bottom” game. We struggle to maintain a livable lifestyle as VFX Professionals while being asked to shoulder burdens that should be the responsibility of the studios or producers to bear. We’ve wondered how others in the entertainment industry have been able to cope in the face of these strange times, and came to the realization ..

.. they all have a union to fight for their needs.

That union provides workplace standards that belong across the vfx industry. That union provides portable health and pension benefits that would increase the quality of life for vfx artists. That union focuses the voices of its members to get employers to listen to, discuss and agree to those conditions and more.

We feel the time has come for vfx artists to join the ranks of the rest of the unionized entertainment professionals and that Imageworks is the best place to start. Sony currently enjoys a long-standing and mutually beneficial relationship with the IATSE for most of its working professionals, including our colleagues at SPA. Unionization of its visual effects artists could not only help Sony in its pursuit for profit, but could be the deciding factor in making Sony stand out among the group of entertainment conglomerates as the most profitable and worker friendly.

We are asking that you fill out those representation cards and send them back to The Animation Guild. (Didn’t get a Rep Card? Click the page link at the top.) We ask that you discover what the union is and why unionization is important by visiting this and The Animation Guild’s websites regularly. We want you to understand how unionization is the best way we can secure a better and stronger industry for us all.


15 Responses to WHAT’S THIS??

  1. ElSapoLoco says:

    I dont think many of the animators in the north building in Culver City know about this. Or got envelopes at all. I only found out cause a friend sent it to me. How will you get the word out?

    And since SPI is on the production hire model, what happens when we are let go after a project? Do we lose all benefits? And have to pay intro fees again if we are hired into another guild shop?

    • 839spi says:

      We did not know about animators in the North building, and we apologize for leaving you out.
      We are working on getting the word out, but please talk to your co-workers and feel free to ask us any and all questions , privately or publicly.
      In answer to your question, NO. Initiation fees are a one-time charge good for lifetime membership. BUT did you know if the studio joins a union while you are working there , the fees are waived? Yeah, no initiation fee, and it’s good for your lifetime.

      • ZeeFoufouFrog says:

        Sounds good. It is always scary to bring this up, never know where many people stand. If there was a way of getting us cards or a link to this site to the north building folk (2nd floor) it would be greatly appreciated. Will do what I can. Is there a deadline or something?

      • 839spi says:

        There is no deadline. The “card” itself is just a printout of the PDF linked at the top of the site. Steve Kaplan will personally come and collect them of you don’t want to have to mail them all individually. You can also fax them to the TAG office # linked on the side. Change can be scary sometimes, but know that there are many of your fellow artists that support you. Some may choose to remain silent which is completely their right. We respect their choice 100%. And remember , no one is doing anything against the “rules”. We are standing up for the rights guaranteed us by law.

  2. LeRibbitCrazee says:

    As you many know, many of us are show/production hires. Maybe we’ll be kept for next shows, maybe we wont. How long do we keep benefits after being let go? What happens if we join a non-union shop afterwards?

    Thanks for all the help and answers, by the way. Just trying to ask questions I’ve heard round the office and pass answers along.

    • 839spi says:

      Your pension and 401k benefits remain intact. Those don’t go away. Your health benefits will continue for 12 months after your layoff if you have worked enough qualifying hours during the year. The number of hours was raised to 400 this year. In addition to that, your hours in excess of 400 are added to a “bank” which can then be used to extend your benefits by more months. We are working on the benefits page, should be up in a few days.

      If you work at a non-union shop nothing happens. You just won’t be adding to your bank of hours.

      Keep the questions coming! Anyone can jump on the discussion and ask us or Steve any questions they like.

  3. HoolaVFX says:

    What about the Vancouver Studio? Can they join too? Or are they set up as a different company altogether?

    If so and they dont join, would this increase Sony’s recruiting efforts to get more people into Vancouver and less in Culver?

    Also, seeing as Sony does a lot of show hires as stated before, many of them working at Sony every now and then, many of them being new to the company… Every new hire would have to pay the 3 grand fee to join the union for a job that is usually 4-5 months long? Would joining the union make Sony want to keep their employees more? It is good to know it it a once in a lifetime fee to enter the guild, but for the many artists that go by the company (and I know that many come back), that fee feels a bit big for a short term contract with no promise of continued employment.

    Thanks for all the info btw.

    • 839spi says:

      We are working on a post for Monday about the Vancouver studio. Short answer is: it is possible to have transferable benefits between the two, but it would be 2 entirely separate union contracts.

      We can not speculate as to what the future plans of management will be. The presence/non-presence of a union has not had any influence on business strategy that we can tell.

      Any new hires currently working at the studio when a vote occurs will have all initiation fees waived. Artists are encouraged to ask the company to pay the initiation fee as a signing bonus when starting work at a union company. This is standard practice at many studios, but they won’t offer it, if you don’t ask. If you fall outside of these options, the union has payment plans available to spread the cost over several months.

      There are many other factors to consider regarding the initiation fee. We are working on a page that will breakdown costs clearly.

      • Anonymous says:

        I am sorry, but I don’t see this working if you cannot get the Vancouver studio under the same contract. This is a major problem to solve in order gain my support.

        The 400 hour minimum is also problematic considering most artists don’t usually work more than 3 months as a contract hire, some do, others don’t. The 400 hour was agreed upon by those that are not vfx artists, but animation artists who work on feature films with gigs that last more than 6 months on average.

        Also, I feel that this unionization is missing the bigger picture. I want a union to stand for work standards, not just healthcare. I get great benefits already. What I want is someone to come in and give us vfx artists some of our lives back such as mandates on maximum hours to work in a week or a day. With proper breaks between shifts. The 60+ hour weeks seem to be the biggest problem in this industry. Also, I want a union that stands for proper vacation time during the year as opposed to some producer pressuring you to wait until the production is done even though the deadline is 3 months away. The union should also match Sony’s current vacation,sick, and holiday policy which currently it does not.

        Sony doesn’t have a problem with OT, so that is not an issue with them here. I don’t need a union to give me health benefits because those benefits do me no good when I have to go work in another country. They also don’t do me much good in other states either.

        If you were to tell me that R&H and DD were considering this as well, you might be able to get more support. Keep in mind, most of us are and will continue to be vfx artists, not feature animation artists. If I leave Sony, I don’t want to Disney or Dreamworks to be my only place to go to work/bank union hours. Those companies don’t do what I love to do.

      • 839spi says:

        The support from the Vancouver studio needs to come from inside. The artists there need to send in rep cards. We can and have provided advice and support. The initial process to get a vote to happen has to come from the employees that work there.
        Is this something you would like to help volunteer to assist with?

        The 400 hour minimum is met by working about 3 months. If you leave Sony and come back, your hours still qualify towards that every 6 months.

        The union negotiates vacation/pay/sick time with each studio individually. Most production hires get 0 of any of those (holiday pay excluded).
        It’s great that you have superior benefits, most don’t.

        Sony most definitely does have a problem with OT. Lot’s of OT goes unreported and worked for free. Walk around at night, there’s lots of “voluntary” OT going on all the time.

        Instead of waiting for DD, R+H, or someone else to do something first, why don’t we work together to do something now?

        Is Smurfs a vfx movie? Or an animated movie? Not sure what you are defining as most artists, but the crews that work on SPA movies are quite large. Aren’t we all artists using the same tools?

      • Anonymous says:

        “Sony most definitely does have a problem with OT. Lot’s of OT goes unreported and worked for free. Walk around at night, there’s lots of “voluntary” OT going on all the time.”

        If you understood the OT policy at Sony, you would know that is not policy. Managers, producers, supervisors, and coordinators are constantly telling people you should not be working for free. I know of several people/show teams that have been talked to for working “ghost” hours and told to stop doing it. If you are staying late beyond your hours, you are doing that voluntarily as you stated. You are not doing it because it is mandated. I don’t work for free and neither should you. You should properly report your hours worked. It is the only way that production can know how long it really takes to do the work. When you work off the clock, you make it appear that a task that really took let’s say 14 hours, takes only 8.

        Also, I am not asking us to wait for DD and R&H. I don’t think you understand the whole picture to this. There is more to unionization than healthcare. Because if you are looking for healthcare, you might want to read this article about that: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/iatse-amptp-pension-health-304491

        Who is to say that your pension will be around by the time you retire? Who is to say that your health benefits will be around as well. This is the same problem that is plaguing every industry, not just film.

        The biggest issue we have in vfx in regards to successful unionization is the middle men aka the vfx studios. We cannot have the leverage that we seek if we seek to negotiate with these middle men. We need to collectively bargain with the studios to gain that leverage in the long term. This is how we can create real change and help to set mandates on schedules, credits, and whether post production has to be all union much like what stage and actors have with their union contracts. They don’t negotiate with the production companies. Their contracts are with the studios.

        Another thing to keep in mind, it is not the large companies that take advantage of artists, although some try. It is the small companies that pop up and die at random every other year and leave their artists unpaid. These are the artists we need to support and represent. The big vfx companies follow most labor laws because they are big enough so they have to. There are some exceptions, there always are.

        If you can tell me a way to unionize our industry instead of one company at a time, then you can start some serious change. Getting one company is not the answer. Getting the artists around the country and globe is.

      • skaplan839 says:


        I feel that you’re missing the bigger picture. Unionization will provide vfx artists more than just portable pension and health plans. While a nice fringe benefit, and one we’re very proud of, its not the crux of the argument in favor of organizing.

        Unionization will provide visual effects artists the ability to have a voice in setting workplace standards and conditions. In setting those standards, the union will come to an agreement with vfx studios that is enforceable and binding. VFX artists will therefore have a way to negotiate directly with the studios, using the collective voice and leverage of all artists.

        You mention that you want to negotiate directly with the production studios. I don’t see how you’ll be able to do that, unless you work directly for them. As the industry isn’t set up that way, starting by bargaining with your employer is the logical first step. According to law, each studio will have to sign an agreement with the union as the workforce at the studio requests/demands union representation.

        While you’re right that informing artists globally regarding the option and reasons for unionization is a priority, the organization process is not one that is debatable. Each studio will bargain with the union as soon as the artists who work for them demand union representation. While you can argue that the former will beget the latter, the process is federal law and can not be changed without new laws being enacted.

  4. yay says:

    Hey I just wanna say this is a brave and completely necessary thing. I’ve sent my card in. What’s next? Can we have a meeting, some kind of formal campaign?

    • 839spi says:

      Would you like a meeting with Steve to answer questions? Should we get together somewhere in Culver?
      We need volunteers willing to handout another round of return envelopes for rep cards (this time they’ll be bulk mail rate postage-paid envelopes).

  5. […] under a Collective Bargaining Agreement.” That effort started at least a month ago, when they perplexed their estimated 400-500 coworkers by dropping union representation cards on workers’ desks […]

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