Haunted Mansion Haunted Mansion

Visual effects workers at DNEG Vancouver have won union representation with IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees). The news was announced today in a letter sent by IATSE to workers.

“We did it!,” IATSE told workers in the letter, which was obtained by Cartoon Brew. “Today we filed our application for certification with the BC Labour Board to form our union at DNEG! We wanted to take a second to thank all of you that signed a card, came to a lunch Q&A and asked great questions, and ultimately believed that the best way for us to improve our working conditions is by working together!”

We first reported on the effort to unionize DNEG studios across Canada last month. According to labor laws in British Columbia, 55% of eligible workers needed to sign a unionization card. This group of workers included artists (including dept. leads and supervisors), production, cg/dfx/vfx supervisors, production technology, and part-time workers. With today’s announcement, that threshold has been reached.

DNEG Vancouver has provided vfx and animation for recent Hollywood productions including Dune 2, Oppenheimer, Haunted Mansion, Bullet Train, Uncharted, and season four of Stranger Things. The DNEG Vancouver workers will become members of the newly established IATSE Local 402, which is specifically for vfx workers in British Columbia. Cartoon Brew reached out to IATSE for comment, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

The mission to organize vfx studios in Canada has been an ongoing effort for years. The breakthrough at DNEG Vancouver happened primarily due to missteps by DNEG management in recent months. There was tremendous worker backlash after the company told workers in Septembers of its plan to slash worker pay and offer “loans” to employees instead of a salary. IATSE capitalized on the employee discontent and urged the value of having a union for workers.

IATSE, which also runs the powerful Animation Guild Local 839 out of Los Angeles, says that organizing a union will give collective voice to workers’ concerns and requests. Some of the things it aims to achieve at DNEG Vancouver include:

  • More transparency and consistency in the decisions that impact our daily lives
  • Improvements to current working conditions (i.e. salary, vacation)
  • Enhanced RRSP and health benefits
  • Sustainability in the Canadian VFX industry as a whole
  • Access to legal counsel
  • Protections from sudden and unjust layoffs
  • Strong representation and solidarity across the Canadian VFX industry

DNEG now has a few days to take action before the BC Labour Board hearing next week. The company is required to share the notice of certification with everyone, so DNEG employees could see posters around the studio or an email indicating that the application has been submitted.

The BC Labour Board could still order a vote, depending on how DNEG responds to IATSE’s application. If such a vote happens, it would be conducted by a third party and the results would be confidential. That vote would likely be held within the next week. Cartoon Brew reached out to DNEG for comment, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

In the letter sent to DNEG workers, IATSE warned that they could see some of the following arguments from DNEG and what their responses are to these arguments:

• Promotions will be based on seniority

Promotions will not be based on seniority because seniority has not been set up in this union, Local 402. If seniority were to be set up in the future it would be democratically voted on, as with all decisions, by the workers in Local 402 the VFX union. Promotions will continue to happen based off of skill, experience, and the factors that are currently being used.

• Salaries will be bracketed

A union brings a wage minimums chart, not a wage cap. The wage minimums chart is designed to protect the workers from being lowballed, from juniors being taken advantage of because they are just starting out, and are implemented to raise the floor so that little by little we’re able to achieve a sustainable wage to help the longevity of our VFX careers.

• Workers will not be able to negotiate their own contracts anymore

Workers will continue to be able to negotiate their contracts as the union collective agreement only provides a baseline of benefits and protections for workers that are above the regular ESA standards. Anything above these benefits will continue to be negotiated as is right now, based off skill and experience.

• Jobs will go to countries with cheaper labour once DNEG unionizes

We have seen that this is simply an unfounded statement as many industries in Canada and in BC are unionized including the on-set VFX workers in Local 891. They have been unionized for decades and work has continued to flow. Titmouse Vancouver, part of the Canadian Animation Guild Local 938 unionizing in 2020, has been one of the only studios in the animation industry of BC continuously hiring despite the extremely high precarity people are facing lately. Once a workplace unionizes, the labour laws in Canada provide a “statutory freeze period” that protects workers from being retaliated against; including being fired for their union support.

Pictured at top: Disney’s Haunted Mansion, a film for which DNEG Vancouver provided vfx and animation services.

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Amid Amidi

Amid Amidi is Cartoon Brew's Publisher and Editor-at-large.

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