I recently posed the following question to a visual effects artist:
“ What do you think it would take for VFX folks to be willing to make changes for themselves via unionization?”
This was the response:
“ Education: folks think that unionizing would ultimately be bad for the overall industry. The “unions are bad for business” myth is amazingly strong.”
It’s a shocking disconnect to me. How can a union be bad for the entertainment business? After all, the entertainment industry is one of the last bastions of a strong unionized workforce, and is more robust today than it ever has been.
Is the success and strength of the entertainment industry due to the union agreements in place that cover the industries working people? Those agreements are responsible for creating a skilled labor force that is eager to work under the conditions they provide. That workforce helps to make the industry strong and their ability to create a better workplace is the reason their careers are long, safe and result in dignified retirements. The fact that the content producers can count on those working professionals is certainly a factor in their success.
The same will come to the visual effects industry, once the agreements are written and have a chance to mature. The business of visual effects will benefit from having a unionized workforce, because the union agreements will bring the stability of a universal set of workplace standards and benefits that visual effects studios will use. The associated costs will be reduced as they will be set according to the scale of the industry, as opposed to a single visual effects studio. Visual effects studios will then enjoy a better relationship with their vfx staff as many issues that cause stress between the two can and will be managed by the agreement. Should a dispute occur, the union and the studio will work to resolve it per the remedies in the agreement (ie. the grievance procedure) alleviating the need for the visual effects artist to “just deal with it”.
The visual effects workforce will then be able to enjoy the benefits of an agreement that provides transparent wage minimums (making it easier to plan life events and goals), a portable health plan that allows for coverage even when the vfx artist is between jobs (making it possible to keep themselves and their families healthy), as well as industry standard workplace safety standards (making it possible to receive overtime pay, proper breaks for rest and meals as well as enough time between work shifts to get enough time away from work for family and rest). This will result in better visual effects artists since those burdens will have been lessened.
The industry will continue to thrive. The dependence on visual effects will continue to increase. With the union in place, the worth of the visual effects artist will as well.