Over 50 visual effects (VFX) employees at Marvel Studios have filed for unionisation through an election with the National Labor Relations Board. This marks the first occurrence of such an action in the studio’s history.
This Monday (August 7th), a significant majority of these workers penned authorisation cards indicating their desire to be represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). IATSE represents over 168,000 professionals in the art, media, and entertainment sectors in both the United States and Canada.
VFX employees are often subjected to extended and demanding work hours, which is one reason that justifies their request for equal rights and safeguards akin to those enjoyed by their unionised peers within the film sector.
Bella Huffman, a VFX coordinator said in a statement, “Turnaround times don’t apply to us, protected hours don’t apply to us and pay equity doesn’t apply to us. Visual Effects must become a sustainable and safe department for everyone who’s suffered far too long and for all newcomers who need to know they won’t be exploited.”
Among the various groups in film and television production, these VFX workers stand out as one of the few that are not unionised. Roles such as production designers and makeup artists have traditionally been part of the IATSE union. Though recent efforts by the IATSE to organise VFX employees were unsuccessful.
Is AI the cause once again?
Marvel’s VFX staff is pursuing unionisation at the same time as Hollywood screenwriters and actors are engaged in their first joint strike in over 60 years. The strikes are mainly centred around higher pay and the integration of AI in production processes.
For now, it’s hard to conclude whether the US is having a labour resurgence, given that its union membership rate was recorded at 10.1% in 2022. However, Hollywood employees find themselves in a distinct position thanks to the rapid advancement of generative AI.
The rise of AI has led to VFX and Hollywood workers to question their significance within the industry, as studios increasingly adopt the nascent technology.
“We are witnessing an unprecedented wave of solidarity that’s breaking down old barriers in the industry and proving we’re all in this fight together,” Matthew D. Loeb, IATSE’s president, said in a statement. “That doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Entertainment workers everywhere are sticking up for each other’s rights, that’s what our movement is all about.”