The Animation Guild (TAG) has unionized a studio outside Los Angeles County for the first time in its 70-year history.
More than 90% of animation workers at Titmouse New York have voted to join IATSE Local 839. There were 113 workers at the studio who were eligible to be unionized. The studio, whose credits include Harriet the Spy, Big Mouth, Goldie and Bear, Team Hot Wheels, Fairfax, T.O.T.S., and Superjail!, voluntarily recognized the union, and an arbitrator certified it on January 7. The workers are the first animation industry workers in New York City to vote to join a union in over three decades.
They will soon start negotiating their first union contract with their employer. Key issues include “defining job roles and classifying workers accurately, addressing unrealistic schedules, paying overtime appropriately, improving health benefits, and establishing wage minimums to ensure a livable salary,” according to the union.
The company has so far reacted positively to the workers’ intentions to unionize, though the two sides must now work to figure out the terms of the deal. Titmouse co-founder Chris Prynoski released the following statement on social media:
We are proud of the Titmouse artists in NY and support them as we move into the future together! Following our voluntary recognition of the unit, we look forward to the opportunity to work with IATSE as we explore the first agreement for our NY-based employees
— chris prynoski (@chrisprynoski) January 10, 2022
Cartoon Brew was the first publication to report on poor labor conditions at Titmouse New York, back in 2012. We noted a large gap — almost $700 per week — between the starting wages for artists working on the same show in the company’s L.A. and New York studios. While conditions have since improved, true parity between the two can only be achieved now that the New York branch has joined TAG.
Animation unions have existed in New York in the past. The city had representation from the 1940s until the 1980s, when the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists (IATSE Local 841) merged with the International Photographers of the Motion Picture Industry (Local 644). But Titmouse is the first New York animation studio to be organized in more than three decades.
Importantly, TAG has indicated that their organization of Titmouse New York represents a new era in the organization, as it aims to expand representation to animation workers throughout the United States. TAG business representative Steve Kaplan said in a statement: “This historic moment is a cause for celebration as we begin a nationwide effort to ensure all animation workers are treated with respect and are afforded the same benefits and protections as those who are working in Southern California.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s animation industry is beginning to organize. The animation team at Oasis Animation in Montreal became the country’s first-ever accredited animation union in 2020 and reached a deal with the studio last June, while Titmouse Vancouver workers voted to join The Canadian Animation Union (IATSE Local 938) — TAG’s sister union — in 2020. They ratified the union’s first animation agreement in September 2021.
Late last year, TAG sat down to negotiate a new master agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents employers. The groups failed to reach an agreement by the deadline. Bargaining will resume on February 14.
Image at top: “Harriet the Spy”