“Organizing provides people with the opportunity to become aware of their own capabilities and potential.” – Fred Ross, Sr.
What does the word “organizing” mean and why is it important? On April 26, 2023, TAG Organizer Allison Smartt explained the history of our parent Union and discussed how organizing animation industry workers benefits current TAG members and strengthens the future of our Union.
How organizing got its start.
The Animation Guild is part of a larger network of local unions governed under the umbrella of the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). In simple terms, think of this as an everything bagel: the IATSE is the bagel and each of the local unions is a different seasoning. To date there are more than 360 “seasonings” affiliated with the IATSE.
Before unions were legal in the U.S., as stagehands traveled in shows being performed in theaters along the Vaudeville Circuit across the country, they began talking about wages and working conditions. This traveling conversation served as the organizing origins of the IATSE. These stagehands started their own secret organizations to use collective power to get better pay and treatment.
The IATSE was officially formed in 1893, more than 40 years before the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 made unionizing legal. Fast forward to 2023—the IATSE has more than 168,000 members in the U.S. and Canada.
Organizing is all about community-building, connecting, and communication—propelling individuals to join together collectively and demand better conditions and wages. The structure that results from organizing is the union—the vehicle through which various goals can be achieved.
Why should workers organize?
- Organizing is tied to job preservation.
- Organizing can improve a worker’s quality of life.
- Organizing can deliver fair wages, benefits, and working standards.
How does organizing start?
The best and longest-lasting types of organizing come from organizing efforts initiated and sustained by the people who are impacted by the changes that will come for organizing and forming a union.
Workers who are interested in having discussions about how to improve wages and working conditions get together and create an organizing committee. This core group volunteers time to talk to all of the workers about forming a union—a process than can last months and even years.
The goal is to build toward a supermajority (75%-80%) of support for unionization. This support is codified through a legal document: an authorization card. A worker who supports unionization signs a card. All cards are kept confidential, and everything about an organizing campaign should remain secret from the company in order to prevent retaliation.
It’s important to know the things an employer cannot do to workers during the organizing process. It cannot:
- Fire you.
- Threaten to fire you.
- Threaten to take away benefits.
- Treat you differently.
- Take work away from you.
- Ask you if you support unionizing.
- Ask you how you would vote (for/against unionizing).
- And more.
If you experience or witness any of these things during an organizing campaign, you should reach out immediately to TAG organizers Allison Smartt and Ben Speight at firstname.lastname@example.org or TAG’s Business Representative Steve Kaplan at Steve.Kaplan@tag839.org.
What happens once a majority of support is established?
Once a group of workers has majority support, they go public—most often demanding voluntary recognition from their employer, which means their employer agrees to do the right thing up front and recognize the workers’ union.
Along with voluntary recognition, an employer may demand a card check to prove the majority of worker support. In this case, a neutral third party receives two lists: a list of people who are demanding recognition, and a list from the company of all employees in a position to demand recognition. The neutral party compares the two lists to confirm there is a majority of support. This majority must be 50% plus 1.
In the ideal situation of voluntary recognition (with or without a card check), the next step would be to begin negotiations.
In the case that the employer does not agree to voluntary recognition, there will be an election. TAG would file a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stating that the workers want to schedule an election—this includes submitting the authorization cards. If the NLRB determines that the group of workers has the bare minimum majority to move forward, it agrees to schedule a vote.
Once this happens, there is a waiting period. During this time, an employer can hold meetings to talk workers out of unionizing (known as “captive audience meetings”). But if you have solid group foundation of education and preparation and a strong supermajority of workers in support of unionizing, it can minimize or nullify the impact of these employer tactics. If the election is won, the next step is negotiations.
At the bargaining table.
Workers now create a negotiating committee. They hold town halls to share how negotiations work. Then negotiations begin between the employer and workers (represented by the committee)—a process than can last months. Both sides trade proposals back and forth until an agreement is tentatively reached. Next: workers vote on the agreement, and if there is a majority in favor, the new union now has its first contract.
Are we done?
Nope! Even after a union is formed and a contract signed, organizing continues in two forms:
- External: To bring new members into the union.
- Internal: To engage existing members in efforts to continue to improve wages and benefits.
Both are crucial because a contract is not static. At regular intervals determined by the contract, TAG and the employers return to the bargaining table.This is the way to make sure wages, benefits, and working conditions continue to meet workers’ needs.
Organizing and union facts.
- As union membership declines, inequality rises. Organizing combats this. It makes sure top earners’ share of the wealth is more equally distributed.
- When it comes to union membership rates compared to middle class income, as one declines so does the other.
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers are paid between 15%-25% more than non-union workers in the same job on average.
- When a large portion of an industry is unionized, improved wages and conditions trickle out to those non-unionized workers in the same sector.
2021 animation industry facts.
- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021, there are 58,900 animation workers and specific effects artists.
- 6,000 of these workers are TAG members.
- 52,900 of these workers are not represented by a union.
- This means the industry has 10% union density.
- As our union density increases, so too will an improvement in wages and conditions of unrepresented workers.
How you can help.
There are far more unrepresented workers than staff organizers. Our organizers have to rely on and empower workers to volunteer with organizing efforts. Without volunteers, growing TAG would be impossible. You can get involved by joining The Animation Guild–Member Engagement (TAG-ME). Use this QR code to learn more.
Want to learn more about bargaining and organizing? Allison recommends the following books:
Playing Against the House, by James D. Walsh
Axioms for Organizers, by Fred Ross, Sr.
Offensive Bargaining: Negotiating Aggressively in Contract Campaigns, by David Rosenfeld