Amid writer and actor strikes in Hollywood, Marvel Studios visual effects (VFX) workers have made history by voting unanimously to unionize with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage, Moving Image Technicians, Artists and Crafts Employees Allied States of the United States, its Territories and Canada (IATSE for its acronym in English).
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In accordance with The Wrap this fact marks the first time that a group composed exclusively of VFX artists has joined IATSE, a milestone in the film industry. The vote, overseen by the US National Labor Relations Board, took place between August 21 and September 11, and all votes were in favor of unionization, with no votes against.
The movement is a strong statement on working conditions and workers’ rights in the field of visual effects. Mark Patch, VFX organizer for IATSE, noted that the unanimous vote shows the “overwhelming need” to extend union protections and standards to all workers in the industry. Employees seek safer and more sustainable working conditions, fair compensation for hours worked, and access to healthcare.
Thomas Barnard and Sarah Kazuko Chow, both VFX coordinators at Marvel, also spoke about the importance of the result. Barnard sees this as a crucial step in recognizing and caring for the “unsung individuals” who have helped build the VFX industry. Chow highlighted the moral dilemma of working in difficult conditions simply because he is “grateful” to have a job in such a competitive industry. According to her, joining the union will allow workers to enjoy their jobs without sacrificing their basic rights as employees.
Although this act of unionization does not include VFX artists hired by vendors outside of Marvel Studios, it is considered a significant first step in ensuring more rights and benefits for these workers in the future, and could mark a significant change in how workers are treated. labor rights in the VFX industry and in Hollywood in general.
Why did Marvel’s VFX artists choose to unionize?
The work experience in the visual effects area at Marvel Studios seems far from the shine and appeal that one might associate with the brand. Numerous artists in this area have come forward to criticize the work environment, pointing out long work hours and poor communication from the company. An employee revealed that his team found out about a change in the release date of a major movie through a press release, rather than directly from the company. Criticism also pointed to Victoria Alonso, a key figure at Marvel, as the person behind this toxic work environment. Although she was fired this year, the controversy is not over.
Why are unions important?
Unions play a crucial role in collective bargaining for workers, ensuring safer working conditions, higher wages, and benefits such as health insurance and paid vacations. They also provide a platform for workers to make their voices heard, giving them more power to negotiate with employers. Unions often also offer legal, educational and training services to their members, and act as a support network in cases of dismissal, discrimination or harassment in the workplace.
Neoliberalism, an economic and political philosophy that advocates minimizing the role of the state in the economy and maximizing market freedom, has had a negative effect on unionization in recent decades. Since the 1970s and 1980s, neoliberal policies have favored deregulation, privatization and globalization, often at the expense of workers. The decline in union power has been linked to wage stagnation for the working class, even as productivity and corporate profits have increased.
This weakening of unions has contributed to growing economic inequality. Without the ability to bargain collectively for higher wages and better working conditions, workers have lost ground to employers and capital owners. This has led to an increasingly unequal distribution of wealth, where a small elite accumulate wealth at the expense of the working class. The lack of strong unions also makes it harder for workers to advocate for public policies that could mitigate inequality, such as universal health care, free education, and progressive taxes.
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