Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk in “Avengers: Endgame.”
Disney | Marvel
Hollywood, already gripped by two strikes, has some new union members.
Marvel Studios’ visual effects workers unanimously voted in favor of unionizing with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, IATSE announced Wednesday. This marks the first time a unit of solely VFX workers have unionized with the group.
VFX artists have faced increased workloads and tight deadlines to complete some of the industry’s biggest budget franchise films in recent years, leading to tension between these workers and studios.
In particular, Disney, which owns Marvel Studios, required immense special effects work in the last three years to complete a massive slate of superhero films for the big screen and television shows for its streaming service Disney+. The Marvel Studios VFX crew has more than 50 workers, according to IATSE.
“I grew up dreaming of working on Marvel films, so when I started my first job at Marvel, I felt like I couldn’t complain about the unpaid overtime, the lack of meal breaks, and the incredible pressure put on VFX teams to meet deadlines because I was just supposed to be grateful to be here at all,” Sarah Kazuko Chow, VFX coordinator at Marvel, said in a statement.
Representatives for Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
The push for unionization comes at a time when Hollywood is dealing with dual labor strikes from its writers and actors.
Like those striking, Marvel’s VFX artists are interested in a labor contract that offers fair pay, health-care benefits and “a safe and sustainable working environment,” said Mark Patch, VFX organizer for IATSE.
They aren’t the only VFX team looking to unionize. In late August, Walt Disney Pictures’ VFX staffers filed with the National Labor Relations Board to host an election to unionize.
Now that the vote is official, Marvel VFX workers must engage in collective bargaining negotiations with Marvel Studios executives in order to draft a contract. However, with the studio already locked in talks with Hollywood’s scribes and yet to address contract concerns with striking actors, it could take time for the VFX artists to get to the table.
“Today’s count demonstrates the unprecedented demand for unionization across new sectors of the entertainment industry is very real,” Matthew Loeb, president of IATSE International, said in a statement.
IATSE represents 170,000 industry workers, from studio mechanics to wardrobe and makeup artists. In late 2021, the union faced off against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to negotiate a new contract.
The union authorized a strike but was able to come to terms with the studios. Its three-year contract included clauses that enforced a 10-hour turnaround between shifts, 54 hours of rest over the weekend, increased health-care and pension plan funding and a 3% rate increase for every year for the duration of the contract. Stiff penalties were also put in place if these break periods were not adhered to.
Loeb told Marvel’s VFX artists that it has the backing of IATSE, telling those who voted to unionize, “Your fight is our fight.”
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is a member of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The AMPTP is currently negotiating with striking writers and actors in Hollywood.