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Frequently Asked Questions

Table of Contents

Common Concerns

Union Formation Questions

Union Dues Questions

Union Structure Questions

Negotiation Questions

Common Concerns

Will forming a union mean the studio will just send work to another location?

There are many reasons why the Canadian studios brings in work, and the company can't just close the studio and shift all of the work to another location.

Work is likely to stay here for a number of reasons:

A collective agreement can contain language which limits a studio's ability to send work to another location, keeping jobs at the studio. For example, the Titmouse collective agreement contains language which means that the studio cannot move work when it has staff at the studio who can perform that work. This means that even if they do move the work, they would have to keep that artist employed.

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.

Does forming a union mean we will have to go on strike?

No. While striking can be a powerful tool for negotiation, it is the last tool at the bargaining unit's disposal for coming to an agreement with the company. Both the bargaining unit and the company recognise that striking can be disruptive to the industry, and therefore want to avoid a strike if at all possible. Most issues in bargaining are resolved without even coming close to a strike.

For example in BC, if an employer and union can't come to an agreement, a third party, neutral arbitrator appointed by the BC Labour Board can be brought in to resolve the dispute.

Strikes can only occur when the collective agreement is being negotiated after collective bargaining has taken place, and can not occur during the term of the agreement. The majority of employees in the bargaining unit must vote to agree to a strike. A strike notice will be given to the company 72 hours before the strike takes place to give them time to respond.

We would not go on strike on behalf of another studio, site, or other group unless we include a clause to allow us to take such an action in our collective agreement.

A strike is only ever authorized by a vote of the workers who would actually be going on strike. If the workers don't want it, it doesn't happen. Note that in BC, even if you want to, you can't legally go on strike for problems negotiating a first collective agreement.

Life is already busy enough. Will I be forced to participate in union meetings, committees etc?

No - if you support workers forming a union, then all you need to do is sign a confidential support card. While the union is worker-run at every level, you can be as involved or as uninvolved as you like. There are a whole host of opportunities to participate in bargaining, join or launch committees, and more. However, if you prefer to let others handle all of that, that's totally fine.

I'm not a VFX artist and I'm working directly on shows. How will my needs be represented in this union compared if we were to join a different union?

SITE employees make up roughly 10% of the employees eligible for the union. They make a comparatively small group on their own. By joining this union, they would be negotiating their needs into the collective agreement with their fellow employees, who will be much more sympathetic to their situation than the company would be if they were negotiating with them as their own bargaining unit or as individuals without a union. Furthermore, IATSE tells us that the various provincial labour boards prefer employees to form under a single union.

Some of our benefits are already pretty good, do we risk losing them by forming a union?

No - nobody will lose pay or benefits from forming a union.

In fact, in British Columbia, once the union is certified DNEG would enter into a freeze period. The employer can't change the terms and conditions of employment of the employees for 12 months after the union is certified or until a collective agreement is reached (whichever is earlier). During this time, changes can only be made if the union agrees or the Board gives its permission.

We know that there is a lot to like about working at the company, but there are also many things that we can improve.

With the current situation the industry and economy is in, we wouldn't be looking to do anything to make our situation worse.

That's why the first priority is to lock in the things we like and then over time improve the things that need some work. We would be in charge of the bargaining process and, we would not agree to having our benefits stripped back.

Without a union, the company can remove the benefits we enjoy, as we have continued to see, especially over the last few years, with no notice or consultation with employees. That isn't possible when we are protected by the terms of a collective agreement.

Union Formation Questions

What is the goal of the union?

Everyone will have individual wants and goals, but long term we're all looking to make VFX a sustainable, healthier industry to work in. While we are forming unions company by company, ultimately we want everyone in VFX to get a better deal.

Why now?

This was in the works before the current pay cut discussions. Getting the union together takes time. After that there's the process of us figuring out what we want our collective agreement proposal to include, then there's the negotiation process.

Our goal is to have a collective agreement in place by the time that work comes back in and the company is in a position to offer us more than they can now.

There's never a perfect time, but also the best time is now. The more we wait, the more the company will lead us down an unsustainable path where we lose out. We might be limited in what we can change right now, but it'll put us in a better position for the future.

What are 'Union Support Cards'?

A union card is the worker's way of indicating that they would like to be represented by a union. In British Columbia, these union cards expire after 6 months. In Ontario and Quebec the cards are valid for 1 year. To obtain a card fill out an IATSE VFX Union Card Request. Within a few days you'll be emailed a form via Adobe Sign. You can also sign a paper card if you prefer.

Whether or not a worker has signed a card is kept completely confidential between the worker, the union, and the Labour Board. It is illegal for union cards to be disclosed to an employer at any point in the unionization process. Employers are also not allowed to ask workers whether or not they've signed a card.

Do I have to join the union if the studio unionizes, even if I didn't sign a card?

Yes - once a union is certified at and the collective agreement is ratified, everyone eligible who works at the studio will need to be a member of the union. Anyone who joins the company at a later date will have to join the union as a condition of their employment. This is the law in Canada.

Workers who did not sign a card will have all the same rights, benefits, and obligations as those who did sign. They will still have the opportunity to contribute their ideas about what our bargaining proposals should be, and can even participate in committees and other activities at the union should they wish to.

Who is eligible to join the union?

Union members can be anyone who does not have direct decision making in hiring or firing. They can not have access to any personal or financial information of other employees. For example: VFX supervisors are allowed to join, but HR or finance employees can not. If you are unsure if you qualify, please reach out to an IATSE Contact for clarification.

Ultimately the decision of who is eligible is made by the Labour Board.

Would part time workers (for the ones taking the 3 days/week option) remain eligible?

Yes! Part or full time doesn't matter, both can join. Folks who are on temporary leave can sign a card as well.

Union Dues Questions

Are there fees? What are the union dues?

Union dues are the regular payments made by members to maintain their union membership. By paying union dues, workers are pooling their resources and investing them to ensure that members are protected and are getting all of the benefits of their collective agreements.

Union dues are tax deductible, meaning that you get a sizable portion of your dues payments back during tax season.

Union dues are set by the members of the union executive board (which are DNEG employees). They are calculated by using a fixed rate or as a percentage of the employee's salary. The exact numbers have not yet been determined as they are decided upon after the union is formed and are voted on. Generally speaking though, there are two types of fees:

The annual dues and working dues are pooled together, and a small percentage of that pool goes to the IATSE international to pay their employees, lawyers and organization efforts. The remaining percentage goes to the members of the union to allocate however they want.

Understandably we want to know "how much", but at this point we can't give specifics because we ourselves haven't decided yet on the due amounts. However we can look to other IATSE locals to get a very rough idea, for example Titmouse has a $320 annual due and a 1% working due. But these amounts were set by their union members who had specific goals which may differ from our own. So please don't assume our dues will be the same.

A lot of people interested in this union want to make sure that the working dues are as low as possible. There are a lot of benefits that we have that we wouldn't need a union to provide at this time. We're also not interested in wasting money on any frivolous spending. We need to do an assessment of what the union costs are going to be and then work out what percentage it will need to be. We also need to make sure we're being transparent with where the dues are being spent.

Why do we have to pay dues?

Funds collected via dues payments contribute to all aspects of running the union. Dues fund the staff and resources provided by the Union to help. They also fund all kinds of other items like training and legal support for members, and through economies of scale allow the Union to provide a host of other benefits not normally available to non-union workers.

Ultimately, the democratically elected board of the local union makes the decisions about how its funds are spent, as directed by the members. Unionized workers generally enjoy higher wages and better benefits than non-union ones, and are well protected by the union in case anything goes wrong.

When would we pay the dues?

The dues would not start until the union has formed and after the first contract is in place.

Union Structure Questions

Why are we creating two IATSE Local union branches, 401 and 402? Why not just one?

Local 401 is a national VFX one. The reason why we need a Local 402 for British Columbia is because BC Labour Laws require a local to be based out of BC.

Can the union provide health benefits?

It's possible, the union could provide health benefits that cover us when we are out of work. This could be an important part of building some additional stability for those in non-permanent positions.

If this is something that we want, we are able to get this from IATSE.

Having access to this plan via IATSE could mean that we could access benefits whether we are working at a union studio or not. We could even get benefits while we are not working at all.

Negotiation Questions

Do I lose the ability to negotiate my own contract if I join a union?

You are free to negotiate the terms of your contract with the company whenever you choose. Your only constraint is that you must negotiate terms that comply with the conditions set in the collective agreement. For example you could not negotiate to have more vacation days in exchange for a reduction in pay if it meant that your pay would fall below the wage minimums set in the collective agreement.

The union cannot represent you in the negotiations of your own contract. However you can continue to make use of union lawyers and resources to help you make informed decisions in this process.

Will the union help negotiate my contract?

No. The union does not help in individual contract negotiation. They do not participate in individual negotiations to get you higher wages, more benefits, etc.

The union can offer courses to teach people how to negotiate but the union can not interfere with personal negotiations of their members.

The union can assist in things such as grievance handling if a member files a complaint at the workplace against another member. The union can also send a representative if the employer does something that goes against the collective agreement. The union can also help answer worker's questions about their collective agreements.

How does bargaining/negotiating a first contract work, and how do workers provide input for the contract negotiations?

Collective bargaining is a worker-led and run process from start to finish. Once the union is formed, employees establish a Bargaining Committee that is made up of employees. This is unrelated to the current organization team if anyone wants to be part of this later on. The Bargaining Committee will send out surveys and have meetings with workers to discover what things people want to include in bargaining. These might be things that we need to keep the same, things that need to change, or even problems without an immediately obvious solution.

IATSE representatives and lawyers will then assist the Bargaining Committee to create bargaining proposals from those priorities.

The Bargaining Committee will then go to bargaining with the employer. They will have a series of meetings together to negotiate the first contract. It is us as workers who sit across the table from the employers to bargain the new contract, with IATSE reps and lawyers playing a supporting role.

Once a tentative agreement is reached, all the workers at the studio will vote on whether to ratify it or not. If a majority of workers agree, then the agreement is ratified. If they do not ratify the contract, then the Bargaining Committee and the employer go back to negotiations to fix the things that need fixing.

The reality of the current VFX situation is that we likely won't be asking for much to start with. But forming the union will put us in a good position to negotiate in the future, and help move the industry into a healthier, more sustainable position.

What kind of things are guaranteed in a collective agreement?

There are no guarantees at this stage as to what ends up in our collective agreement. The contract depends on 2 things:

It will also be heavily dependent on us getting work back into VFX.

However, an example from the Titmouse agreement, helped by IATSE's decades of experience negotiating collective agreements both in animation and in other similar industries. Some examples of what was achieved at Titmouse:

What it will mean is that nobody will have to be on their own and they will always get support to deal with work contracts. We are also guaranteed to have a voice on the things that impact our daily lives. It will avoid the company making unilateral decisions that affect our contracts.

How does having a collective agreement improve wages?

A collective agreement would include a wage grid which sets the minimum pay scale for each position. Nobody's wage will go down as a result of workers forming a union. This would only set minimums, and each employee would be able to negotiate their compensation the same as they currently do. Likely, not everyone will see the same increase to their wages; those who currently make more may not get as much of an increase as those who are currently paid the least.

A collective agreement can also secure predictable annual wage increases. The company already has an annual increase structure, but as seen this year they're able to delay it without honouring back pay to the original date. This would need to be negotiated with us on any changes/deferrals.