Basics of Unionization

In BC, the road to unionization is essentially a 5 step process. This is the most basic overview of the process:

  • Educate and gather support
  • Sign union cards
  • The Labour Board holds a vote (secret ballot)
  • If the majority of the voters vote YES to unionization, a bargaining unit is formed
  • The Bargaining Unit negotiates the terms of the union contract with the employer

The union contract that is signed is called a “Collective Agreement”, and it is negotiated and agreed to by both the workers forming the union, and the employers, so that it is fair to both parties.

Union contracts will generally include many benefits to workers, which are enshrined in a document called a Collective Agreement. A Collective Agreement is renegotiated every 3 years between the employer and the workers of a studio, with legal and bargaining support from IATSE reps. This allows for benefits to change, adapt, and improve as the workers’ union grows and they gain better leverage.

For a look at what benefits can be found in a usual agreement, you can find Titmouse Vancouver’s very first collective agreement here.

Overtime structure, wage minimums, COLA and a grievance procedure can be implemented in the first union contract. It’s important to note that a first contract may not have a significant increase in wages, as this will give employers time to adapt and budget for wage increases and overtime pay. However, it is important to think of the long term, especially as this is a lifelong career for many artists.

Union contracts are often renegotiated every 3 years, and in a decade, significant gains can be made. Over the past decade, wages across non-union industries have stagnated, or even dropped, and working hours have increased with no equivalent overtime pay. It’s important to reset the stage.

A union card, or an ‘authorization card’, is the worker’s way of indicating that they would like to be represented by a union. In BC, these union cards expire after 90 days, so it is best to wait to sign these cards until the majority of workers in a studio or on a production are organized and ready to vote for a union. Recently, IATSE has been making more and more use of digital union cards, which are easier to keep track of.

No, not all unions have seniority. A union contract is written, negotiated and agreed upon by the workers, and therefore will reflect what is needed by the workforce. If a group of workers are engaged in primarily contract-based work, and do not require seniority, then it will not be added to the collective agreement. As of the current agreement, the Canadian Animation Guild does not have seniority.

COLA stands for Cost Of Living Adjustment. COLA adjusts salaries based on changes in a cost-of-living index, usually the Consumer Price Index. Essentially, as inflation and cost of living goes up, wages increase as well. This incremental wage increase can be negotiated into a union contract to ensure wages do not stagnate as other costs rise.

A health plan is usually better the more people are involved in it. Generally speaking, a studio with 50 employees will have a more limited health plan than a studio with 500. If we come together and combine workers from many studios into a union, we will have more buying power than any individual studio. This will give us a better health plan, as well as continuous coverage. This means, if you start working at another union studio, you do not need to wait 3 months for your health care to kick back in. In addition, if you are out of work, you can self pay into the health plan at a reduced rate to keep your health benefits.

To fund the services and infrastructure involved with running a union, members pay their union two kinds of fees: dues and working dues.

Regular Dues are required of all members. The dues for Local 938 are $80 per quarter, which can be paid in full at the beginning of the year for a 10% reduction ($288 per year).

Working Dues are a percentage deducted directly from the gross wages of members who are working at contract studios. For Local 938, that percentage is 2% of gross wages. 

As IATSE is not a for-profit organization, all dues go towards keeping the local and the international running, with all the benefits that they provide, from legal counsel and training courses, to something as simple as keeping our website running. In some cases, a large local will require employees to work full-time running the local, and dues will ensure that they are properly paid for their work. Currently, the executive board of CAG are unpaid, which can only be changed with the direct consent of the membership.

HTP stands for “High Technology Professional”. From the BC Employment Standards Act, (ESR Section 37.8) this refers to any employee who:
  1. Is primarily engaged in applying his or her specialized knowledge and professional judgment to investigate, analyze, design, develop, or engineer an information system that is based on computer and related technologies, or a prototype of such a system, but does not include a person employed to provide basic operational technical support.
  2. Is primarily engaged in applying his or her specialized knowledge and professional judgment to investigate, analyze, design, develop, engineer, integrate or implement a scientific or technological product, material, device or process or a prototype of such a product, material, device or process, but does not include a person employed to provide basic operational technical support.
  3. Is primarily engaged in applying his or her specialized knowledge and professional judgment to carry out scientific research and experimental development as defined in section 248 (1) of the Income Tax Act (Canada).
  4. Is engaged as a sales or marketing professional in relation to: (i) a service or system described in paragraph (1), (ii) a product, material, device or process described in paragraph (2), or (iii) scientific research or experimental development described in paragraph (3).
We as animation workers use technology as a base to create art, to draw, to paint, to animate models, etc. We do not design information systems, or implement scientific or technological products, or sell/market these services. It is IATSE’s position that animation workers should NOT be classified as HTP workers. For more about the HTP Exclusion, you can read up on it through the BC government website here.
It may be written into your contract that you are HTP. However, a company may be operating on the unchallenged presumption that because we work on computers that we are automatically classified as HTP. This is not the case. If it is not written into your contract, or you would like to challenge this, please do not do so alone. If you contact us, we can help you get legal representation through IATSE.

As we are on the ground floor of setting up this new local, there are still a lot of discussions to be had in regards to how this union will be set up. If production assistants, coordinators, etc. from a studio show support and sign union cards indicating they’d like to be represented, then we will organize them just as any other department.

The only members of a studio that cannot be represented by a union are those considered “management”.

Per the “Managers’ Factsheet” from the Employment Standards Branch, management positions are defined as members of the studio who can hire and fire employees, without needing permission or being accountable to anyone for those decisions.

Common Concerns & Fears

Due to globalization, many industries have moved jobs overseas and animation is no exception. Animators in Korea, the Philippines and India already work for much lower rates than animators in Canada or the USA with or without a union, and yet, animation is still being done in North America. Hollywood animators have enjoyed the benefits of unionization since 1941. Live action film in BC has been unionized since the 1990s. The actors who record voices for the cartoons we make are also in a union. Animation work is likely to stay here for a number of reasons:

  • BC’s Tax Credit program
  • Same time zone as LA
  • Close proximity to the LA industry
  • Same language and culture
  • Infrastructure setup and a large pool of talented artists
  • A well established Canadian entertainment industry that needs Canadian talent for CANCON requirements.

Since Titmouse workers organized to form CAG in 2020, Titmouse Vancouver has still been getting work, just as it did before. Animation in Vancouver did not flinch or slump at news of unionization; in fact, new studios continue to open here, because of the reasons listed above.

It is very likely that there will be another recession at some point in the future, as the industry has ties to other countries and economies, and there is no way to ensure market stability forever. However, if unionization leads to paid overtime work, COLA, higher wages and a better mobile health and pension plan with continuous coverage, we can be better protected when the next recession comes. If we are paid overtime and higher wages while there is tons of work, we can have more savings for when we may be out of work, and continue to have a health plan through the union, even if we are not working.

No, it isn’t. In other industries, employees are often paid for training periods, and are paid if an employer requires them to train on their days off. If you worked at Starbucks, you would not be expected to stay late to keep practicing with the espresso machine. The unpaid overtime issue stems from the “High Tech Professional Exclusion” that was created in the late 90s, a provision that has already been challenged in court. In December 2018, the British Columbia Employment Standards Branch ruled that the HTP exclusion does not apply to animation workers, setting a clear precedent that overtime must be compensated in accordance with BC law.

Under the BC Employment Standards Act, workers are entitled to overtime after 8 hours a day, or 40 hours a week. Even if the HTP applied to us, we would still be entitled to straight pay for overtime hours worked.

Yes. IATSE union locals generally set wage minimums, to ensure no one is being underpaid. Artists are allowed to negotiate above wage minimums depending on their skills, level of experience, etc.

As we have freedom of speech and assembly, yes, you are allowed to talk about unionization at work. However, you are not allowed to contact an IATSE or other union representative at work, on your work time or on your work computer or internet.

With that said, IATSE Local 938 advises that you never openly discuss union organizing with your employer, or with coworkers whom you do not trust. In addition, you should never openly discuss unionization on official company channels (such as your studio’s Google Chat). We advise you to always practice discretion when looking to organize your workplace, which is why we provide organizers with proper guidance from our International representatives.

It is important to know that in BC, employers are not legally allowed to harass anyone for trying to unionize, attempt to dissuade their staff from unionizing, or bribe employees to vote ‘no’ to unionization. Employers may be ignorant of this, and may try to talk to employees and change their minds. However, doing so is against the law.

If your employer is engaging in any of these, or if you are being harassed, laid off, or asked to talk about your involvement with unionization with your employer, this is a SERIOUS OFFENSE. Please contact us as we can help you and provide legal representation through IATSE if necessary.

Actually, unionization can be very beneficial for the studios. It can guarantee labour stability, which can ensure that the studio can meet their deadlines. It can draw talent to the studio, as workers will often want to be at a studio where their needs are met and their interests are represented. It can help employers save money on Health and Pension Plans for their employees, and it can help stop studios from a “race to the bottom” by setting the bottom before a studio goes into bankruptcy. Unionization will benefit employers just as it will benefit employees!

Studios may say that their biggest challenge with a unionized workforce is a lack of complete flexibility. However, flexibility is often a detriment to employees, and needs to be weighed appropriately in a workplace. With a union, animation workers would be an integral part of that conversation.

It’s best to keep a record of the hours you have actually worked, from the time you get to work to the time you leave. Remember, if you are working 9 to 6 and work through lunch, you have already worked one hour of overtime. There are many timesheet apps you can download to help you count your hours, such as Work Log, or you can use our form here.

There are many ways to get involved with the Canadian Animation Guild!

If you would like to be more informed about any specific aspect of this animation union, you can reach out to us at contact@cag938.ca. CAG also hosts town halls every few months, where you will have the chance to ask questions directly to IATSE members and reps. You can make sure you never miss a town hall by following us on our Twitter or Facebook.

If you are already on board and ready to organize your workplace, we encourage you to contact IA representative Jeremy Salter at jsalter@iatse.net.

If you’re already a union member working at Titmouse Vancouver, there will be even more opportunities to get involved! CAG members will be encouraged to join our committees as they arise, so they can have an active role in shaping this new local.

Mechanics of Organization

As delineated in the Titmouse Collective Agreement, overtime hours need to be approved by a supervisor, in writing, before they are taken. This allows the supervisor to check the budget and decide how many overtime hours can be allotted, and helps keep the artists accountable for their work hours. If an artist has spent some time being distracted, it can be up to them to stay a bit longer to make up for that time. In the end, it will always be up to the individual artist to show integrity and a solid work ethic to be hired back for another contract.

BC Labour Law mandates that a union have a structure in the collective bargaining agreement to allow wronged employees to seek justice. This is known as the “Grievance Procedure”, and it is the way in which all disputes between the employer and the employee are handled.

  • The first step in this procedure is to contact your union rep, who will intercede with the employer on your behalf. Together, you will discuss the incident in question, and attempt to reach a settlement.
  • If no settlement is reached, the second step is to file an official grievance. This is essentially a report of the incident that is presented to the employer, containing the desired solution laid out in the Collective Agreement.
  • The third step, if a solution has still not been reached, is to go to Arbitration. The Arbitrator, decided on by both parties involved, interprets the Collective Agreement and comes to a final decision, which is final and binding.

The IATSE provides this framework as a part of their mandate, and with a union, employees have access to representatives and legal aid to help them through the process. At the end of the process, the consequences that an employer might face will vary based on the specific infraction, but can result in a fine or the request of back pay of lost wages.

Rules surrounding internet access may vary from studio to studio. For certain studios, internet access depends on a studio’s bandwidth. Therefore, this will likely be something that a studio decides based on what is right for them and their environment.

When a group of workers decide to unionize and sign union cards, a vote is held to determine whether the group will be unionized or not. The group that votes is not only the workers who signed cards, but others in the studio that may be represented. IATSE will provide the Labour Board with a crew list, the people who get to vote, and the employer may provide the Labour Board with their own employee list. The employer may try to add other employees to the list, who may or may not be counted. They can even count employees who worked at the studio up to three months prior to the vote. Ultimately, the final crew list will be decided by the Labour Board. They are generally fair in who they decide to include, but it is important to have as much information as possible. It is ideal to know all the employees who worked on a production, to know where they stand, and for at least 75% of them to want to vote “yes” to unionization before the voting process begins, just to make sure we have our bases covered.

It is best to organize around the beginning of a production, however, it can be done later as well. Productions that have been picked up, or renewed for multiple seasons have a unique advantage for strategic organizing. The first season can be spent organizing workers, and when the second season starts, signing cards, voting, and negotiation can take place immediately.

Yes. There are no restrictions on taking on additional work under a union contract.

A Bargaining Unit is formed by the workers, and therefore the workers get to decide who will be involved. It is made up of workers who are interested in representing the group, and are supported in doing so by IATSE representatives. In order to form a balanced committee, it’s best to have at least one member from every department in the production who is to be represented by the union. The Bargaining Unit then negotiates the terms of the contract with the union reps and the employers. This contract is then taken back to the larger group of workers, and a vote is held.

Have a question not addressed here?

Please email us at: contact@cag938.ca
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