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Artist RightsBusiness

‘Rick and Morty’ Artists Push to Unionize Their Show—And Succeed

The crew of the Adult Swim series Rick & Morty ratified a new labor agreement last Monday with the Animation Guild. The term agreement will give them hourly wage boosts and health and pension benefits. The agreement is especially significant since the majority of Adult Swim animation productions aren’t unionized, and most artists who work at studios that produce shows for the channel are paid below union minimums.

The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE, was contacted by show staffers a few months ago and worked with the show’s artists to engineer an organizing drive. “This is an incredible victory for the Rick and Morty crew,” Animation Guild organizer Steven Kaplan said in a statement. “They were the drivers on this, exercising their leverage at the right time. Management knew the artists were a valuable asset to the show. And to their credit, they did the right thing by quickly agreeing to a contract.”

The Guild’s business rep Steve Hulett said, “I’ve been repping the Guild for a while now, and this was as focused and dedicated a crew as I’ve seen. After management realized the artists were serious about coming under the Animation Guild’s jurisdiction, they moved quickly to negotiate a fair and comprehensive contract. The talks were intense at times, but also cordial and professional.”

Rick and Morty follows the standard TV pipeline with story and design work done in the US, animation done outside of the country (at Bardel in Vancouver), and final post done stateside. The show’s American artists work at Rick and Morty LLC, which operates out of the Starburns Industries building in Burbank, California. (The show’s first season was produced by Starburns Industries.) Over two dozen U.S. artists currently working on the series will be covered under the new agreement.

  • starss

    No link here again… which means…. another Cartoon Brew exclusive news headline?

    • AmidAmidi

      Nothing to link to. We receive dozens of press releases daily, just like every other media organization, and these releases are often the foundation of stories. We can’t claim a press release as exclusive unless the release hasn’t been offered to any other sites. In this case, it wasn’t an exclusive.

      • Steve Hulett

        We expanded on it a bit on the Guild’s blog:

        The studio negotiated an agreement quickly after they learned the “R & M” crew had voted to strike the production. Ultimately, there was no strike. We held talks last Saturday and Sunday with the studio’s lawyer, and delivered a proposal to the crew late on Monday morning. (They were waiting for it out on the sidewalk in front of the studio.)

        Steve Kaplan and I detailed the company’s proposal, and the artists voted to ratify it. The documents were signed on Friday.

        When employees are united, and they have leverage, things move quickly.

  • RCooke

    Next up: Pixar.

  • Td

    Canada’s animation artists should follow suit. We may get the work but by no means do we get a fair wage per experience and talent.If it scares work away,so be it.

    • DangerMaus

      How does “scaring away work” improve the situation vis a vis fair wages and experience? That is the Catch 22 of the situation. If a show unionizes, the makers pull up stakes and move, resulting in lost jobs and wages. If the show is non-union, the makers take advantage of the situation to abuse and underpay their employees.

      The situation is compounded because, thanks to “Globalization” and “Free Trade”, owners of production can freely move from country to country, chasing the “best deal”. Organized labour has been left behind with the “Globalization” of finance and commerce which was the main thrust of “Free Trade” agreements in the first place.

      • Chris

        Yes Dangermaus, those are the stakes involved. Some things, like health care and access to a pension, are worth fighting for.

    • Agreed. I saw a few Bardel badges as I wandered the SIGGRAPH exhibit floor last month. Anyone in Canada interested in union representation can feel free to contact one of the IATSE offices near by, or me directly and I’ll connect them with the appropriate person.

  • Lenny


  • Paul M

    Can’t wait for them to riff on this in the show.

  • AmidAmidi

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  • Karl Hungus

    Thats a creative take to say the least…
    Seeing that the owner of the old studio (Starburns) is Dan Harmon.
    The same Dan Harmon who is a creator of “Rick & Morty”.
    And the same person who owns Rick & Morty LLC.
    Gosh the lines must have really gotten crossed with all three entities sharing a principle.

    And what shows does Adult Swim have unionized? Care to name them?

  • Principle Skinner

    Apparently it is a tactic to avoid allowing their employees to organize.

  • Roberto Severino

    Wow. Very well deserved for what I think is one of the best animated shows on right now period. Let’s hope others are able to follow suit.

    • DJM

      Yes. Because jokes about trivializing boys being molested is a funny thing.

      • Roberto Severino

        What does that have to do with anything here? I get you don’t like the show but still. I think unions in general can be quite benfecial for the industry and helping artists get fair compensation for their work.

      • Max C.

        It wasn’t meant to be. Rick and Morty doesn’t want to be another wacky Family Guy. It’s much deeper.

  • James VanDam

    Good for them. Now if only we can unionize the industry globally.

  • The allegation that Rick and Morty LLC was completely unaware that the artists were interested in union representation is completely false. When we approached the principle of Rick and Morty approached us, that person asked for “the same process Starburns was afforded” .. knowing full well that process would have put the negotiation time after all the Rick and Morty artists on Season 2 had already completed their work.

    So, to hear an obvious company-representative say that we handled it poorly, only strengthens our position that the artists acted at the *RIGHT* time and exercised their leverage to accomplish the results in a timely manner.

  • We were told there were business reasons that warranted the creation of Rick and Morty LLC. We didn’t get specifics.

  • We did not release the news to PR Newswire or PR Web because .. I wasn’t aware of them nor had any contact info for them. I’ll look for them on Monday.

    As for Adult Swim, I hadn’t bothered to look on their site. I hope they would be as happy for a vendor animation studio as we are for the crew. Let me know if they express that happiness on their site.

  • Steve Hulett

    “Black Dynamite” is a union show, and (I think) one other — the name of which escapes me.

  • DangerMaus

    I don’t disagree. I think every worker should be getting proper wages and benefits.