I am Hannah Nance Partlow (she/her), and I have been working as a member of the Animation Guild for the past 8+ years as a Color Design Lead, Title Card Designer, Background Painter, and Color Designer (formally the cringe-worthy “Color Stylist”).
This negotiations cycle was the first time I have participated on the Negotiations Committee. The pandemic and my anger at the gains we weren’t able to achieve in the 2018 contract negotiations pushed me to get more involved with TAG, first by joining the Color Designers Committee and then by joining the Negotiations Committee.
Our comrade Teri Cusumano fought with all her might to negotiate equal pay for Color Designers in 2018 in the last round of contract negotiations with the AMPTP. She and the other members of the committee were able to make some progress, by getting our title changed to bring us more in line with our peers, as well as eliminating some other barriers to equity in the contract. But a significant pay gap and retirement contributions disparity remained.
In 2018, I was livid that we couldn’t achieve pay parity with our other animation design department peers (background painters and background, character, and prop designers). I was angry, but I wasn’t ready or able to do anything about it. Fast forward to 2020 and my seething rage about being underpaid by studios because of “the contract,” but really because of an enforced gender pay discrepancy that dates back to the 1930s* forced me to get involved. I felt I couldn’t keep complaining if I weren’t doing more to help the cause I believed so strongly in.
So I began participating in the arduous, frustrating, and taxing process of IATSE Locals’ contract negotiations. I didn’t join because it was fun! I joined because I felt I had to if I ever hoped for our industry to change in ways that matter to me.
I have learned so much from my fellow Negotiations Committee members, our business representative Steve Kaplan, field rep Leslie Simmons, and Organizer Ben Speight, and TAG’s lawyer Michael Feinberg, about HOW unions work, WHY they work, and how they can work better. The biggest lesson I learned is that “The Union is YOU,” meaning… If there is something in our Union or our contract that is lacking, it is because there is a need for more Union hands working toward whatever goal. TAG has some staff, who work diligently to serve the thousands of members, but the bulk of the work of TAG is done by US, by those of us who work in animation. This is simply how unions operate, on volunteer member effort. Committees are not run by the people who work for TAG, but by US–regular, normal members who seek change.
Before we began direct negotiations with the AMPTP (aka “the employers”) in this contract cycle, the Negotiations Committee members worked to craft hundreds of versions of proposals large and small, countless theoretical counter proposals, and gathered or created tons of content to back up our proposals. Negotiations Committee members represent intersectional groups such as the QT Committee, POC Committee, and Family Committee, as well as craft-specific committees like the Writers, Storyboard Artists, Timers, and where I find myself, the Color Designers Committee. To my amazement, this diverse body of Union members worked in consistent solidarity with one another throughout the entire process. Even once we started negotiating directly with the AMPTP, back in late November 2021, I was so impressed by the fact that our Union members on the Negotiations Committee did not start sacrificing one another’s goals for their own gain. THIS WAS AMAZING TO WITNESS! I wish I could express how beautifully united we were against the AMPTP.
After nearly six months of back and forth with the AMPTP, the Negotiations Committee reached the agreement that we were not able to achieve any more in this cycle. For Color Designers, we lessened the gender pay gap for journey members by 34%, thus improving our retirement contributions as well. We also negotiated that the supervisory clause, which applied to all other Design positions but not to us, would finally apply to Color Design Leads, as well. And we were able to begin the process of moving the Color Design classification in the wage scale document out of the outdated and gendered “Ink and Paint” category and into the “Animation” category, where all of our Design peers are listed.
We weren’t able to achieve all that we wanted, by a long shot. But I believe we pried out every single economic or non-economic gain that we could from the AMPTP without diminishing our Union’s members or its position in the process. The gains we negotiated in this cycle will set us up to achieve more, in each of these categories, in future cycles. As many have said to me, “Contract negotiations work is a long game,” and some things just take time. Institutional change is one of those things. The historic and global gender pay gap is unfortunately also one of those things.
I know I will continue to fight for equal pay for women in my field, and I hope some of you reading this decide to join us in 2024 to keep fighting for even more.
I voted YES to ratify this contract, imperfect though it is. I was there, in the room, and I voted YES. I wanted more, and still I voted YES. This contract is progress, but we have a long way to go yet. I urge you to educate yourself about what’s in the new MOA and vote your conscience, even if you disagree with me.
If you are unhappy with what TAG’s Negotiations Committee was able to achieve in this cycle, as I was in 2018, I beg you to give a little of your time to get more involved in the process. It is the surest way for your point of view to be heard, and will allow you to directly fight for what you believe is right. There are a hundred ways to get involved, and our Union needs as much as you can give.
Hannah Nance Partlow