In Big Win for VFX Workers, DNEG Vancouver Employees Win Union (Exclusive)

Visual effects workers at DNEG Vancouver have won union representation in the International Association of Theatre and Stage Employees (IATSE). The news was announced today in a letter sent by IATSE to the workers. [In the letter, obtained by Cartoon Brew, IATSE told the workers. "Today we submitted an application for certification to the BC Labour Board to form a union at the DNEG. We want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who signed the cards, came to the lunch Q&A, asked great questions, and ultimately believed that the best way to improve our working conditions was to work together"


We first reported last month on efforts to unionize DNEG studios across Canada. According to British Columbia labor laws, 55% of eligible workers were required to sign unionization cards. This group of workers includes artists (including department leads and supervisors), production, CG/DFX/VFX supervisors, production technology, and part-time workers. With today's announcement, the threshold has been reached.

DNEG Vancouver has provided VFX and animation for recent Hollywood productions such as "Dune 2," "Oppenheimer," "Haunted House," "Bullet Train," "Uncharted," and "Stranger Things" Season 4; DNEG Vancouver workers are, become members of the newly created IATSE Local 402 for VFX workers in British Columbia.Cartoon Brew reached out to IATSE for comment, but had not received a response by the time of publication.

The mission to organize Canadian VFX studios has been an ongoing effort for many years, and DNEG Vancouver's breakthrough has occurred largely due to DNEG management's mismanagement in recent months. After the company told workers in September that it planned to cut workers' salaries and offer "loans" in lieu of pay, there was a tremendous backlash from workers; IATSE took advantage of employee dissatisfaction to stress the value of having a union for workers.

IATSE also runs the powerful Animation Guild Local 839 in Los Angeles, which says that by organizing a union, it can collectively represent workers' concerns and demands. include:

DNEG has a few days before next week's BC Labour Board hearing; DNEG employees will see posters around the studio and emails indicating that applications have been submitted.

The BC Labour Board could still order a vote, depending on DNEG's response to IATSE's application. If such a vote were to take place, it would be conducted by a third party and the outcome would be kept secret. That vote would likely take place within the next week; Cartoon Brew reached out to DNEG for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

In a letter sent to DNEG workers, IATSE warns that the following claims may be seen from DNEG and what responses to these claims may be:

- Promotions will be based on seniority

[20 never be based on seniority. If seniority is set in the future, as with all decisions, it will be determined by democratic vote by the workers of VFX Union Local 402. Promotions would continue to be based on skills, experience, and factors currently in use.

- Salaries will be bracketed

The union will bring in a wage floor table, not a wage ceiling. The wage floor table is implemented to protect workers from being sold cheap or taken advantage of by fledgling juniors, and to raise the bottom line so that sustainable wages can be achieved gradually to help the longevity of VFX careers.

- Workers will no longer be able to negotiate their own contracts

Workers will continue to be able to negotiate their own contracts because union collective bargaining agreements only specify standards of benefits and protections for workers above the normal ESA standards. Anything above these benefits will continue to be negotiated as it is now, based on skill and experience.

- If DNEG unionizes, jobs will go to countries with cheaper labor

Many industries in Canada and BC are unionized, including the VFX field workers at Local 891. They have been unionized for decades and the work keeps flowing; Titmouse Vancouver, a member of the Canadian Animation Guild Local 938, which will be unionized in 2020, has been the only one in the animation industry in BC to continue to be employed despite the extremely high instability that people are facing these days. Titmouse Vancouver is one of the only studios in the BC animation industry that continues to employ people despite the extreme instability that people are facing these days. When a workplace becomes unionized, Canadian labor law provides a "statutory freeze period" to protect workers from retaliation, such as being fired for union support.