An interesting conversation on twitter came up this week. Animation artists from across Canada started talking about the state of animation work in this country. Pay discrepancies, credit, and overtime. The conversation kept coming back to the fact that Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, or Montreal don’t have an animation or vfx union.
I have to admit that I’ve been a bit skeptical that union would change much. I believed the line that if Canadian animators were to unionize that the work from LA studios would get up and move somewhere else. That by not having a union we remain competitive. There is little evidence that creating an animation union will have long term negative effects on work availability in Canada. It doesn’t take into account that there are many existing trade unions in the film and television business.
I think we’ve grown skeptical and distrusting of unions. Rates of unionization are falling in Canada. A trend that seems to be catching up with us. I’ve been skeptical that the added bureaucracy of a trade union would make animation better. I was worried that rules could negatively affect innovation and creativity. I’m worried about good intentions having unintended consequences. The power of unions is collective bargaining. By negotiating as a group the workers have more equal position to the employer. Unions advocate for making fair working conditions. Setting fair wage minimums, paid overtime, and ensure labour rights.
The real power of unions could come from the sense of community. The investment in skills development, and hopefully more career longevity. I’ve started to like the idea that an animation union might improve productions in Canada. If we lose some productions that studios and artists will need to become more resourceful. My vain hope is that a little outside pressure could spur homegrown productions that compete because they have to compete.
There’s a conversation starting. The Art Babbit Appreciation Society is a pro union group working in Vancouver. And conversations are starting in Toronto. It’s exciting because a conversation and community can lead to interesting things. Organizing unions will take time. It’s not certain that this is the solution to the issues we face. It’s one potential option for making animation better.
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