With Marvel Studios ramping up its production of films and shows over the past years, there have been many reports of VFX workers having to work long hours and being overworked, trying to create special effects for the many films and Disney+ shows. This overwork has led to Marvel Studios’s Visual Effects (VFX) Workers unanimously voting in favour of unionising with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). This significant milestone marks the first time a unit of solely VFX Workers has unionized with IATSE since VFX was pioneered nearly a half-century ago.
The initial filing to unionise was made last month, and the members have been voting by mail for the past few weeks. Now that the election votes have been counted, it was announced that all the votes were in favour of unionizing with IATSE, with zero against. Anna George, Asst. Coordinator at Marvel described witnessing the vote count live via Zoom:
“it was so emotional hearing the yes’s and knowing we were fighting for what we deserve. What a powerful moment!”
Carolyn Newes, VFX Coordinator at Marvel, added:
“I’m just so excited I could be part of this in some small way. It’s so needed and so appreciated by everyone.”
This unanimous result and high turnout demonstrate the Marvel VFX workers’ unwavering collective determination to secure the same rights and protections as their unionized peers in the broader motion picture and television production industry. Mark Patch, VFX Organizer for IATSE said in a statement:
“Today, VFX workers at Marvel Studios spoke with a unanimous, collective voice, demanding fair pay for the hours they work, healthcare, a safe and sustainable working environment, and respect for the work they do. There could be no stronger statement highlighting the overwhelming need for us to continue our work and bring union protections and standards to all VFX workers across the industry. And there could be no stronger example of the courage and solidarity of these workers than each and every one of them declaring “union YES!”
While positions like Production Designers/Art Directors, Camera Operators, Sound, Editors, Hair and Makeup Artists, Costumes / Wardrobe, Script Supervisors, Grips, Lighting, Props, and Paint, among others, have historically been represented by IATSE in motion picture and television, workers in VFX classifications historically have not. While this unit only includes Marvel’s in-house VFX team for now, Walt Disney Pictures VFX staffers have already begun voting in their NLRB election, with the results expected on October 2. Additionally, the union anticipates this is the first of many organizing victories within VFX, and interested client-side and vendor-side VFX workers can reach out to union organizers at VFXunion.org.
Thomas Barnard, VFX Coordinator at Marvel, reflected on the unprecedented result of the vote and what it means for VFX going forward:
“This is historic and I’m glad to be part of it. Not only will this radically change the game by increasing the quality of storytelling through our work, it’s also a huge step forward for taking care of the unsung individuals who helped to build the industry.”
Sarah Kazuko Chow, VFX Coordinator at Marvel added:
“I grew up dreaming of working on Marvel films, so when I started my first job at Marvel, I felt like I couldn’t complain about the unpaid overtime, the lack of meal breaks, and the incredible pressure put on VFX teams to meet deadlines because I was just supposed to be grateful to be here at all. But the reality is that every worker deserves rights, and joining IATSE means we don’t have to choose between the job we love and having identities outside of our work.”
The Marvel VFX workers’ successful unionization comes at a pivotal moment in the film and television industry, amidst ongoing strikes by both the Actors and Writers guilds as both seek fair contracts with the studios and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb explained in a statement:
“Today’s count demonstrates the unprecedented demand for unionization across new sectors of the entertainment industry is very real. To these VFX workers, I congratulate you on your historic victory. Your bravery, determination, and unity are a beacon for workers not just in VFX, not just in entertainment, but workers in every industry across this country and beyond. You will enter negotiations with Marvel and Disney with the full backing and support of our 170,000 strong alliance. Your fight is our fight.”
Following the outcome of the NLRB election in favor of unionizing, the next step for the union is to engage in collective bargaining negotiations with the employer to draft a contract addressing the needs of the represented workers. Union contracts, also known as collective bargaining agreements (CBA’s), generally outline terms and conditions of employment, including wages, hours, and working conditions. Both the union and the employer are obligated to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement on these terms. As of this writing, no negotiation dates have yet been scheduled.