Ratify 2022: Committee Statements

Following are statements by members of TAG’s Negotiations Committee about aspects of the new Memorandum of Agreement and ratification of the 2021-2024 Local 839 contract.

Ratify 2022: Committee Statements

  • Steve Kaplan, TAG Business Manager

    TAG’s tentative agreement with the AMPTP on May 24th marked the completion of what I believe have been the longest 839 Master Agreement negotiations in the Local’s history. This was only possible because of the hard work and dedication to the negotiations process that the Negotiations Committee showed. The official Negotiations Committee first met in January of 2021, but the work of its members started much earlier. Each one put in hours and hours of volunteer work in order to make the agreement, and therefore the working lives of all 839 members, better. It was incredible to work with this team of dedicated member leaders, and I feel we achieved the most progress we could have made because of them. 

    In these negotiations, the Negotiations Committee included members from TAG’s craft and community committees who brought proposals that attempted to make changes that would benefit those groups, as well as members who may not necessarily have written a proposal, but instead wanted to gain experience with the negotiations process and generally support contractual gains. Including a majority of members who came from the committees meant the proposals benefitted from engaged groups who took the time to put in the work of surveying their groups and proposing meaningful changes to the agreement. The Negotiations Committee members remained respectful to each other, open to discussion and debate, and committed to the democratic process of making decisions on how to move forward. This led to lengthy meaningful discussions about how we should respond to various employer positions and responses throughout the negotiations. 

    The Negotiations Committee members also benefited from being able to connect back to their various craft and community committees with questions about an employer response. This helped include more members than were on the official committee in the decisions on how we responded. This level of member participation was aided by the fact that our negotiations were spread out over the various other negotiations the AMPTP had scheduled alongside ours, and that we were negotiating through Zoom meetings and not in-person at the AMPTP offices in Sherman Oaks. 

    In these negotiations, we showed the AMPTP an increased level of member engagement they may not have seen before. Our craft and community committee-led social media campaign slogans were echoed by the employers during the discussions, and the New Deal For Animation rally absolutely made an impact.

    While I feel we made as much progress as we could during these negotiations, I realize that we did not achieve all of the goals and objectives that the committee began the discussions with. In order to do better in 2024, member engagement has to increase. 

    TAG-TAG was formed to help spread the word to all active members to support the IATSE Basic Agreement locals should they have to strike to achieve their priority proposals, and succeeded in reaching a third of our membership in a short period of time. TAG-TAG must continue the work of engaging the membership on our priority issues so that members can be informed and aware of how we need their support. TAG-TAG can only do that work if a team of members is willing to put in the time and effort to participate. Please help us keep member engagement high and join TAG-TAG by emailing mobilze@tag839.org

    I am pleased to share that the Negotiations Committee and the Guild’s Executive Board have overwhelmingly voted to support the ratification of this agreement. Please support the work of the committee by committing to casting your ballot in the ratification vote in support of ratification. Then, email mobilize@tag839.org or reach out to the craft or community committee closest to your job role, passions, and beliefs, and give your time and effort to preparing us for the 2024 negotiations. Growing our strength as a community gives us more power at the negotiations table. 

    In Solidarity,
    Steve K.

  • Andy Garner-Flexner, Queer TAG Committee Co-Chair

    To My 839 Kin,

    I come to you all as a colleague fortified with knowledge and experience gained as an appointee to the Negotiations Committee, the IATSE DEI Committee, and QT Committee as chairperson.

    Before I go any further, I want to give my recommendation to vote YES to ratify our negotiated contract.

    This year, we accomplished excellent goals in our negotiations with the studios, and it will set us up to gain much more next round. Most importantly, we did not lose ground. Although we did not get everything we fought for, we came away from negotiations stronger than ever before.

    We achieved higher wages for craft-specific proposals, greater studio accountability to the Union via the Labor-Management Cooperative Committee, a pathway for Union-covered remote work, and much more. The tireless work and success for the Union toward these victories cannot be overstated and should not be discounted. Despite being in a particularly vulnerable position due to the volatile state of the economy and uncertainties due to COVID, we left negotiations with far more power, influence, strength, and benefits than at any point in our Union’s history. To that point, I must again stress my recommendation for a yes vote, which will edify our recent gains, and allow us to build the Union to ever greater heights.

    I will be clear: what we fought for and did not win is not an effective indicator of what the Union prioritizes or how we view those who are most impacted by those losses. When I entered into negotiations with AMPTP, my aim was to achieve as many of our goals as possible for the benefit of the Union and its constituent members, especially those most impacted by systemic and institutional racism, ableism, and cisheteropatriarchy.

    In the areas where negotiations overtly fell short for the Union, such as the QT proposals I and my committee brought forward including the push for gender-neutral restrooms at all studios, and the mandatory use of truenames over deadnames, we were able to compromise for a covert win. For example, the Testing, FAM, POC, and QT committees, along with a few other committees, put forth their proposals into the creation of the Labor-Management Cooperative Committee, which gives us a unique opportunity to have the studios’ ears at least twice a year, where we can inundate them with your voices, your wants, and the data to back it all up. This is just one way we apply pressure and take full advantage of the time between negotiations to build the strongest cases possible for the things our Union members want, need, and desire. In this way, we turn an AMPTP “no” into a “not right now,” which keeps Union needs and wants on the table and gives us an avenue to keep fighting for our goals.

    With that said, I am compelled to dispel some confusion and distrust in our Union’s governance and leadership processes, especially where negotiations and Union business are concerned.

    Ultimately, the goal of Union leadership is to maximize benefits, conditions, wages, and opportunities for members, at the least risk to members. There are countless tools to this end, but not every one of these tools is effective or appropriate for each point of disagreement or loss in negotiations. During this round, the Negotiations Committee discussed using the strike option, but after weighing the risk to members and their livelihoods against the chances for success, it was decided that the strike was not the appropriate remedy. Among the factors that contributed to this decision were relatively low Union membership engagement and the socioeconomic impact and uncertainty of the COVID pandemic. Speaking for myself, I did not feel comfortable taking what is effectively the final “nuclear” option today, when fighting again and organizing better tomorrow seemed like the more sensible and effective solution. The risk to our members’ well-being seemed too great, since we have only assessed about a third of our total membership’s readiness for such a drastic step—one of which is an option that can very well result in a small gain. It is not a matter of trusting the membership to turn out, but rather a responsibility to consider the members who are most impacted by this move, and to move forward in a more tactful approach.

    To that end, we need to build stronger relationships with our members to increase engagement and turnout. Our efforts to sway studios in our favor depend on our Union being firm against the volley of “no’s” AMPTP is likely to throw our way. We do this by ensuring robust resources, processes, and community to survive the worst of it. If you want to get involved with the Union and our Local, then I would encourage you to do so at the capacity that you comfortably can. If you find your friends and colleagues have similar goals—talk with them and garner your ideas into proposals and missions. You have the Union behind you to help you get your ideas realized.

    Please check your emails, and please let your Union kin know to do the same. Also, please vote! The one minute it takes to have your voice heard impacts the Union for years. We need you! Either way you feel, voting is necessary, so please vote and tell others to vote.

    If you have any questions please reach out to anyone in the Union. You can reach out to me as well, and I will do my best to answer your questions. Thank you and have a wonderful week.

    All the best,
    Andy Garner-Flexner

  • Mairghread Scott, Writers' Craft Committee Co-Chair

    Parity. That was the rallying cry of 839’s Writers’ Craft Committee. We told the world that we were just as talented and vital as our WGA counterparts and that we deserved the same treatment. Most of our members make a fraction of what their WGA counterparts get for the same work. We didn’t have our own job category. We had no wage progression. Freelance-only rooms have been exploiting our members for the same work at half the pay. And writers were struggling to get access to the H&P benefits they deserve.

    It won’t shock you to learn we didn’t get parity, despite our insistence. But with your efforts we did make real change for writers in 839. You showed up online and made our anger known by using our hashtags. You showed up to our rally to show that our movement was more than tweets. And that showed the studios that animation writers were a priority they could not ignore. 

    We have a job code now, that treats us as separate from board artists. So, we can stop the abuses of misclassification that ran rampant. We now have a ladder of progression that ends in the highest minimums in the Union. We achieved increases on weekly rates, up to 22% for writers in a supervising role. We got a significant increase in the H&P hours for features and raised rates for every unit over 7 minutes by at least $550. We got rid of New Animation Writer rates. We raised health and pension on bibles, and we set pilots at a minimum of 25% above the appropriate unit, further bringing the development process under Union protections. 

    The Writers’ Craft Committee whole-heartedly endorses the ratification of this agreement. We feel confident we have gotten the very best deal we can with the leverage we have. But while these gains are huge in comparison to what we’ve gotten in years past, they are not the New Deal 4 Animation that our members deserve. There is so much more strength we can bring to bear against the AMPTP. We’ve only just started our organizing efforts. We’ve already begun to break down the geo-fence around our Union. Our craft committees didn’t exist four years ago. And with your help as volunteers, as shop stewards, as organizers, we will achieve so much more. The first, critical step is to vote for this contract. It’s vital every union member votes to prove how engaged our membership is. 

    We have two years before we face the AMPTP again. Let’s give ‘em hell. 

  • Roger Oda, People of Color Committee Co-Chair

    This round of negotiations, the People of Color Committee brought forth a proposal to establish a Labor Management Committee with each signatory studio in AMPTP. The foundational concern of the People of Color Committee was to reduce harm to our Union kin. After a period of research, outreach, and discussions, an LMC was seen as a way for us to directly address members’ issues in the workplace under the Guild’s protection.

    The function of the LMC is to be able to meet with studios individually on a regular basis and to discuss issues involving our members on the ground, in non-binding and therefore, hopefully, more honest and candid discussions. This will result in an ability to effect change one studio at a time, where it has proven impossible to achieve with the larger AMPTP.

    An LMC is not a solution, it is a tool. It is one more avenue for the Guild to push for our members’ needs without resorting to the longer drawn-out processes of negotiation once every three years, or lawsuits. This new committee will only be effective if we have participation from you. This will not be a job for just our staff. The goal is to create systems of support at every studio and reach every production under our agreement. It will require a coordinated effort from our stewards, craft reps, members who hold supervisory positions, and every member who is willing to look out for each other. Let’s support the people you work with everyday. Let us establish the trust and communication to know what is going on within our workspace walls, virtual and physical.

    In solidarity,
    Roger Oda

  • Erica Smith, Testing Committee Co-Chair

    I joined the Guild in 2019.

    During the peak of the pandemic I needed some semblance of community, so I figured I might as well attend a few Guild committee meetings. It was weird to join virtually since everyone in the space seemed to know each other and already had business to attend to. I was “trying The Guild on” to see if it fit, if I fit, and how it felt. I quickly felt welcomed and that my voice mattered even if what I was saying had already been discussed or if I was learning on the fly. After a weird beginning I found belonging. A few months later I joined the Negotiations Committee with no understanding or expectations of what was to come. All I heard was a call to action.

    This past year (I guess it’s been over a year since the Negotiations Committee formed) has been tough. The conversations were difficult at many points. Arguments arose, emotions of all kinds came out, but at all points there was respect. Because we were all TAG members, and no one’s experience outweighed or diminished the other. I never felt like I really had anything to offer the committee. I joined because I was told it would be helpful, and that’s generally what I strive to be. I didn’t have any understanding of what was happening (like at all), the procedures, the topics being discussed, the very system of negotiations and how they run/operate. I was new to everything, and all I had to offer was a few meager years working in animation and no education regarding unions.

    I felt like I was sitting among titans. This Zoom room was full of people who have helped lead this Union for decades, along with members who are young but possess all of the understanding and wisdom beyond their age and experience. To my right were folx who unflinchingly demanded growth for all people, and to my left were members who have families and have led many different lives before coming to where they are now. The room was full of people from all areas of our industry, of all different ages, with all different backgrounds and beliefs. There was no one type of person in this room, besides being a Union member. And I realized that’s all I needed to be, just a TAG member.

    Strong unions are not built on the backs of the few, but of the many. I found my voice by joining committees. Now I’m a shop steward, a committee co-chair, I’ve been to Districts and the Quadrennial Convention, I helped plan the #NewDeal4Animation rally, and I’ve served on the Negotiations Committee. I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m doing something and I’m using my voice. Though I didn’t have much to say in Negotiations and mostly asked questions, I recognize that those questions matter because all members matter. If you feel you don’t have a voice within the Guild, I am here to say you do and it’s imperative that you use it.

    Look, our Guild is not perfect and we have a lot of growing to do, but it is growing and it’s up to each of us to shape how it grows. Your voice needs to be heard no matter if you feel like it does or if you’re worthy of sharing it.

    Take me as proof. Listen. Learn. Vote.

  • Teri Hendrich Cusumano, Color Designers Committee Co-Chair

    For the last 5 years, Color Designers have been actively fighting to be paid equitably alongside the rest of their design peers within a studio system that does not believe in equality. Our path to pay equity began in 2018 with a title change and a shortened wage schedule. This year we traveled further down this path thanks to your solidarity, with the inclusion of a guaranteed rate of 15% above Journey minimum for Color Design Supervisors and by narrowing the pay gap between Color Designers and the rest of the design crafts by 1/3. Additionally, at the producers’ request, the first semblance of a job description will be added in writing by outlining that anyone who applies color to a background must be paid the Background rate. 

    Furthermore, the Negotiations Committee maintains that the placement of the Color Designer category under the Ink and Paint section of the contract is outdated and does not reflect the reality that Color Designers work in tandem with the other design crafts who are listed under the Animation Section of the contract. The producers agreed to move the Color Designer category out of Ink and Paint, but further discussions will need to take place to confirm where exactly their new home will be once the contract is printed.

    I want to end by saying that I hesitate to frame these gains for Color Designers as “increases.” This isn’t about a pay day for members in one craft. This is about restitution for wages that have been withheld from a category of worker in our Union because of their identity. And I’m proud that our Union is finally taking meaningful strides in correcting this long-standing injustice.

  • Hannah Nance Partlow, Color Designers Committee Member

    Hi All,

    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.

    In solidarity,
    Hannah Nance Partlow

    *Further reading:

  • Nora Meek, Young Workers Committee Chair

    “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.” -W. Edwards Deming

    What is a “structure test?” It’s a method by which unions may assess their own strength. Unions undertake structure tests to both build and maintain a tight ship composed of ranks of people who can communicate effectively with their ship-mates to properly steer a boat—our Union—where it needs to go. This begs the question: where does the ship need to go? For 839 members well-versed in our Union’s current culture, it may feel taboo to talk about, but we need to start the conversation: the biggest strength a collective of workers has to effect change in the workplace is to put the boss in crisis.

    Our Union has begun thinking outside of the box. When is the last time you remember animators having a rally, making signs, or painting their cars with pro-union slogans? The change has been fast. I can still recall asking about strike preparedness during the last Union election, and being met with many “no’s.” Now we have a Readiness and Defense Fund. I remember when you had to move to Los Angeles to make any kind of living in animation. Now we have unionized studios in New York and Canada. Change is coming fast to our Union, and our members clearly want to get ready to do what it takes to put the producers in crisis mode.

    What kind of exercises can we undertake to help strengthen our structure and form a network of communication within our Union? Our solution cannot be to ask everyone to join or form a committee. Having 5,000 committee members is not tenable. We wouldn’t get anything done. Our Union is already a committee—a collective of people who swear an oath to work together for each other. And if you’re taking the time to read this statement, that means you’re playing an active role in that collective.

    We have re-thought a lot of what it means to be in a union, both as this Local and as Americans during the biggest revival of unionization in recent history. Being a Negotiations Committee member now and being able to participate in the discussions in “the room” this cycle gave me a very different view of bargaining, and I now realize that if we want real, substantial change—change to our wages, the ability to work from home anywhere, a cut of the merchandise we make so popular—we have to rethink our system and structure of negotiating, too.

    In many ways, we undertook more structure tests in 2021 and 2022 than we have ever seen before. It’s given us a good picture of what years and years of not undertaking these tests will do to a union: we have many members who are checked out, apathetic, or frustrated with a lack of progress. But we have to meet members where they are. Instead, what happened was our membership worked hard to meet us where we were. When we asked you to show up for a last-minute rally, you listened, and showed up in droves. When we asked you to form a network of activists who can lead their co-workers through the next steps in escalation, you listened, and you joined TAG’s Tactical Action Group. Then, when you asked: “What are the next steps? What can we do to prepare for a strike?” we were silent. Despite all these tectonic shifts in mobilization happening underneath our feet, we, the negotiations team, were not ready to utter “The S-Word.”

    Despite my pleas again and again in 2021 for us to plan our steps in advance, so our committee could move smoothly from one to the next and weren’t scrambling for new ideas at a crisis point, I was told that “we can’t predict how negotiations will go” and that we would decide what we’d walk over when we were in the room. The result was our structure tests being ad-hoc and born of necessity. Our bargaining system was designed to get the results it gets.

    Let’s re-imagine negotiations together. Let’s imagine a bargaining cycle where you don’t have to sacrifice your free time to a committee in order to get a summary of what’s going on in the negotiations room. Let’s realize that our Union doesn’t have to agree to a media blackout before bargaining. Let’s acknowledge, together, that you cannot have a coalition of mobilized members without communicating with them about what’s going on.

    On June 20th, our Union approaches the biggest structure test of this cycle: the contract vote. If you think the Negotiations Committee should rethink its assessment of your strike-readiness, vote this contract down. Tell us unequivocally that you need more than incremental gains; that you’re ready for radical change, and you’re ready to give us the power to return to bargaining with a supermajority voter turnout. Because every system is perfectly designed to produce exactly what it’s producing right now, and if you want it to make something different, you have to change the system.

    Inform yourself by asking questions until you know what our tentative agreement entails, and then tell every single one of your co-workers and supervisors what you think, and to vote. No matter which way our membership decides to go, I will never stop trying to change our Union’s system, to make these processes more transparent, and to give our membership the power and knowledge to make fundamental shifts that better put us in a place to leverage our power for the good of our co-workers’ lives.

    Solidarity Forever,
    Nora Meek

  • Paula Spence, Foundation Committee Co-Chair

    This Local has made great strides since I first started participating in negotiations ten years ago. Our team is made up of engaged, informed members who put in the time to train and understand how negotiating with an opposing force works, and then brought proposals and priorities straight from the workplace to the bargaining table. It’s gratifying to see some of the people who first woke up to their Union after the last negotiations now playing an active part in fighting for what they and their co-workers want.  And while it’s tough to be satisfied without getting everything we all fought for, I believe we won far more than the producers wanted to let us have . . . and they know The Animation Guild will be back in force to get more in the future.