The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said Wednesday that 75% of a group of 76 VFX artists who work on James Cameron’s “Avatar” film series through Lightstorm Entertainment have voted to unionize with the below-the-line workers guild.
The vote marks a major step in IATSE’s efforts to unionize visual effects artists, who are among the largest group of non-union workers in the entertainment industry. This is the first time that a group of VFX artists who work for vendor companies hired by companies have voted to unionize. The artists’ best-known work has been on “Avatar: The Way of Water” and its upcoming 2025 sequel.
“Thanks to the courage of these workers and others, we stand at the cusp of a new era in VFX. An era where every worker’s contributions and value are recognized, and they can win the same rights and protections their union co-workers already have,” IATSE president Matthew D. Loeb said. “As we move on to discuss negotiating a fair contract with management in good faith, let this moment serve as a beachhead for the entire industry.”
“I could not be more proud of my fellow visual effects workers on the ‘Avatar’ sequels for standing together to secure our right to collectively bargain for more equitable compensation and benefits,” post-visual coordinator Patrick DeVaney said in a statement.
After years of stalled efforts, IATSE has gained momentum in its VFX organizing efforts with the rise in union support nationwide since the COVID-19 pandemic and especially during the WGA/SAG-AFTRA double strike last year.
The “Avatar” vendor team is the fourth VFX group to vote to unionize in the past six months, joining in-house VFX artists at Walt Disney Pictures and its subsidiary Marvel Studios, as well as artists at the Vancouver offices of VFX company DNEG.
With this unionization vote, “Avatar” artists say they hope to secure healthcare, pension plans, and other union benefits that have been enjoyed by other crew workers through IATSE.
“I now have hope that with this union, my fellow artists and I can work together to make LEI better and stronger for everyone. There is hope that our words can now be put into action because our united voices cannot be ignored,” kabuki lead Jennifer Anaya said. “I hope that our efforts will empower others at studios around the world to strive for fair and equal pay, better benefits and sustainable work conditions. And for the first time in my career, I have hope for my future…because I finally have a say in it. What was once thought of as a pipedream is now a reality, and I hope the legacy of this union will benefit future VFX artists for years to come.”
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