I don’t know if I’m fully qualified to explain the guild in its entirety. I’m no historian! BUT I am a proud member, and I think that there isn’t enough talk on these parts about the Animation Guild or what it does on tumblr and among people who aren’t working in LA in major union studios. It’s a great thing to ask about! Also, I am super pro-union politically (with a couple exceptions), so I am going to take the opportunity to get on a bit of a soapbox, here.
What is the Guild and who is in it?
The Animation Guild is the USA animation industry’s only thriving union (to my knowledge). Most of the major studios you hear about are obligated to have all their in-house productions be union productions (think Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, WB, Disney, etc.) Sometimes it varies by production (for example I don’t think Starburns is usually a union studio, but recently Rick and Morty became a unionized production thanks to the hard work and bravery of the artists who won the right to be unionized).
Even workers at studios that aren’t union benefit from the unionized productions being nearby. To stay competitive and not lose their workers, companies end up having to live up to a reasonable standard. Animation in LA isn’t perfect, but without the guild’s presence, LA animation’s industry standards could very easily be a race to the bottom, simply because there is so much eager talent out there that can be exploited (I’ll come back to this point).
What does the Guild do?
The union offers medical insurance, a route to a 401k savings account (though studios are not required to match/contribute), gives workers a route to speak up about unfair labor practices (though due to the small size of the industry and how fast reputations travel, people in my experience don’t take that route lightly. That’s another topic, I guess). It also establishes minimum wages for every job in the pipeline and provides transparency for industrial average wages.
The union makes sure we in the industry are paid living wages and receive benefits that reflect the value we bring the companies we work for! Animation makes a ton of money for studios by providing them with libraries of entertainment, and beloved characters to merchandise. The union sees to it that we are fairly compensated for our valuable work even in an environment that is very competitive.
What’s the catch?
It’s mandatory for all artists working on a union production (if you can call that a catch). Also, your employer has to file paperwork for you to get in. I think, as evidenced by Rick & Morty’s recent unionization, that if you organize your whole crew and petition a non-union employer to join, you can as well.
You also have to pay an intitial fee to join (it’s quite substantial– often thousands– and depends on how much money you’re making in your first guild job). It seems like a lot at first, but you pay it down in installments. After that, there are modest quarterly dues. It’s very fair, in my opinion, considering that it covers the health insurance and upholds fair industry standards. With fair industry wages, you can afford to pay it (and to live in Los Angeles, which has a pretty high cost of living).
You can find out more info here!
Not bad! Wait, almost no other industries have this. How did it happen?