IBEW Or IATSE? The Power Is Yours

Potential VFX Union logo? eh maybe not.

This past Sunday, the IBEW held another meeting to discuss the formation of a VFX union.

I salute the 40-50 artists who showed up to have their voices heard. Regardless of how we feel about unions, you are all true VFX Soldiers who want to bring change to our industry.

I’m also happy to inform you that the the IATSE, the parent union of The Animation Guild, has also been working on the creation of a VFX union that covers vfx artists working on films, television, and commercials.

I know it’s a bit confusing but the way I look at it, this is like choosing between different cellphone services that are essentially offering the same plan:

  • Both offer the same health, retirement, and pension plans.
  • Since the plan is the same the costs of employer contributions into the plan are generally the same.
  • Both are forming a VFX Union that will be governed by VFX artists for VFX artists.

If the employer is already paying health and retirement benefits for their vfx employees, the union plan would replace those benefits.

Since about 60% of the plan is already paid by studios through residuals, the vfx facilities may actually save a lot of money going this route. I write about that in this article.

What Will Unionization Cost You?

The VFX employees will be responsible for membership dues.

Those dues are only to be used for the Union administration, not the health and pension trust fund benefits the employers and studios pay into.

Union members usually pay an initiation fee when they first join, and then monthly or quarterly membership dues.

All of these dues are tax deductible and replace the current health insurance premiums they pay for an employer sponsored plan.

For example, a PPO insurance premium can cost $1100/year for an individual plan and $4800/year for a family plan at Digital Domain.

Every year, each union must give the Department of Labor a financial statement called an LM2 form.

It lists everything from salaries, assets, and membership dues. You can search for the info yourself by following these directions.

What’s nice is you get immediate accountability for what your union dues are paying for.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ve posted a link to the LM2 forms below and copied those dues so you can compare and the main difference between the IATSE and IBEW.

IBEW Local 40

Rates of Dues and Fees
Dues/Fees Amount Unit Minimum Maximum
(a) Regular Dues/Fees .25%-2% OF WAGES per MONTH .25% 2%
(b) Working Dues/Fees NONE per
(c) Initiation Fees 20 HOURS OF WAGES per
(d) Transfer Fees NONE per
(e) Work Permits .575%-2% OF WAGES per MONTH .575% 2%

IATSE Animation Guild Local 839

Rates of Dues and Fees
Dues/Fees Amount Unit Minimum Maximum
(a) Regular Dues/Fees $76.50-$101.11 per QUARTER $76.50 101.11
(b) Working Dues/Fees NONE per
(c) Initiation Fees $1,675.04-$3,130.64 per $1,675.04 $3,130.64
(d) Transfer Fees NONE per
(e) Work Permits NONE per

About Membership Initiation Fees and Dues

Initiation fees by the IBEW and IATSE are generally waived for employees at a facility that goes union.

To encourage people to sign rep cards and get their employer to become a part of this, the IATSE has expressed interest in waiving initiation fees for an extended period of time.

So if you would like to avoid paying the initiation fee, I suggest you and your fellow co-workers get the ball rolling on unionization.

However, in the event that you do have to pay an initiation fee, you generally don’t have to pay it all at once. You can pay it over a year or more.

Secondly, if you have the leverage, you can ask that your employer give you a signing bonus to cover those initiation fees when you are hired.

Facilities like Disney and ImageMovers Digital have paid the union initiation fees for many new members that they hired.

My Choice

So given this information what do I think?

Well first off, you have to give credit to the IBEW for stepping up to the plate. Even though they don’t know much about VFX, as soon as they step through the door, they already have health and retirement benefits that are better than what the best VFX companies can offer at a lower price.

However, The Animation Guild offers the same benefits at a much lower price over the long run and you don’t have to pay dues when you are unemployed or working for a non-union studio.

There are currently over 1000 vfx artists in TAG that are already working at Disney, DreamWorks, and the closing ImageMovers.

There are also 1000s of vfx workers that now work for non-union studios in LA that were former workers at TAG signatory facilities.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to let artists know how great my experience was being a part of them.

I suspect it would be tough on those artists to have to repay initiation fees if they have to go work at an IBEW vfx signatory facility.

I know we want them to come to us, but TAG is administratively a small guild run by about 6 people. We can easily go to them by signing a rep card.

At $404 a year we would be getting probably the best health insurance and great retirement benefits. Now granted there are other locals in the IATSE that have very high initiation fees and dues so we ultimately have to decide how we want to fund a new union if we chose to do that.

Would I be willing to pay extra dues to be a part of a union? Sure but that depends on what we get for it.

Some unions use their funds to lobby legislatures. I’ve talked much about the harm subsidies have done to our industry here in California, perhaps we could lobby for reform. Or if I’m in the minority on that issue, perhaps VFX artists would like to use the funds to lobby for competitive subsidies in California. The reps at the IATSE have worked with legislators on issues before.

Some union members pay dues to help fund award shows which I wouldn’t be interested in. While the VES isn’t a union, members get to pay dues to pat each other on the back and win what we VFX artists call “The Skully“! (I kid, I kid.)

Where Is The IATSE?

The truth is the IATSE has been planning to roll out a VFX union for months. They have been in talks with various members of our community to get a better understanding of the industry.

Just to show you how serious this is to them, they have hired an entertainment lawyer with 40 years experience negotiating with the big studios. He will be dedicated to organizing VFX artists full time.

They also recognize that we are potentially the future stars of Hollywood and while I think The Animation Guild is great, some VFX artists want their own guild that we can govern ourselves.

They will probably be holding meetings similar to the IBEW soon. Also, they are interested in meeting artists individually or in small groups at a time and location of your choosing.

I recommend you contact them and maybe have them take you out to lunch or dinner:


I can’t help but be amazed. No less than one year after Lee Stranahan’s Open Letter To James Cameron, we have potentially 3 unions offering to organize VFX artists. I suggest those of you who showed up this past Sunday to talk to your fellow co-workers. If you know anyone you work with that has worked at IMD, Disney, or DreamWorks, ask them how they felt when they were with the guild and then ask them if they would like to help bring those benefits to the rest of the VFX facilities.

Soldier On.


39 Responses to IBEW Or IATSE? The Power Is Yours

  1. Hopefull says:

    I agree that TAG seems to be the better fit with more experience in this area. But like I mentioned before, and you hinted they’re going to do, they need to start getting out there and courting people.

    It would be VERY VERY bad in my opinion if we ended up with two separate unions. And possibly worst if we ended up with a union who didn’t have at least a fundamental knowledge of our industry “I have no clue what you guys do” (rep from the IBEW).

    Things can snowball quickly and start heading in the wrong direction if the choices aren’t made carefully. And people should understand there are choices. So Hustle up TAG and throw together a meeting or presentation somewhere. Like mentioned in the IBEW meeting, somewhere on the west side where most of us are located.

    • vfxsoldier says:

      Yes I can see the problem with 2 unions. It would be like a SAG AFTRA situation where the studios pit the 2 unions against each other leading to contract competition.

  2. Tom says:

    I worked for Disney for several years in the union. I must say, comparing the amount in dues I pay to what some companies are making the employees pay. The comparison is like comparing apples to oranges. I paid about $400 in dues. Health, dental, vision, all paid. The co-pays are using $25. And the best part is I banked enough hours to have coverage for about 18 months after I leaving Disney.

    The union is a very good thing. Nothing but happy artists will come of it. Especially ones who want to start a family or god for bid retire…

  3. NoneType says:

    I was just let go by Disney recently and have been incredibly grateful for my TAG benefits. Since the VFX house I just started working for brought me on as a contractor I have been grateful to TAG for keeping me under MPI instead of being forced to pay a fortune to COBRA. Being fully insured while I was unemployed and still being fully insured while I work as a contractor has taken a massive weight off my shoulders. I absolutely loved TAG and have zero complaints about it.

  4. fxVet says:

    A couple of things.

    TAG has great benefits because its partially funded by dvd sales.

    A vfx union will have no such luck (or revenue to draw upon)

    I worked at ILM for quite some time and witnessed the union dissolve before my eyes.

    If failed for a number of reasons. (here come my opinions which I’m sure many will dispute)

    The union ( Local 16 ) really never understood the business of VFX. They didn’t understand that artist talent was varied and their pay should also be varied.

    The union established minimums that had no bearing on the actual pay of the majority of employees. The union often fought to keep lesser artist employed due to their seniority. So, a great number of artists (and the management, of course) saw the union as an impediment to a meritocracy, which they desired.

    I, like others, liked the union health benefits (way worse than what TAG offers), but they were steadily eroding. The trust that administered the health plan kept hiking copays while gradually increasing employee contributions. This wasn’t all the unions fault. Health care costs are quite a national problem. In the end, the amount of money the company would contribute to the health plan per employee became the chief hurdle to the renegotiating the collective bargaining agreement.

    I won’t get into motives or specifics, but in the end, the union went away, health costs for employees went up, but very little else changed. But that’s ILM. The tend to treat their people much better than the rest of industry.

    I’m afraid that the time for a VFX union was about 10 years ago. So much work is being done around the world, I’m not sure how a union will work to preserve work conditions in the U.S. The work may simply go elsewhere.

    To me, the crisis of the fx artists is really one larger than that of employee vs. company. It’s a crisis of company vs. studio. Big studios are pitting company vs. company in order to drive down bids (and in turn, our wages and conditions.)

    I’m saddened by the lack of leadership at a company level. Why no one has stepped up and created an industry organization to look after the interests of the industry is beyond me. I chalk it up to constant competition and insecurity.



    • vfxsoldier says:

      I agree with a lot of the points you mention. While I was not at ILM at the time the Local 16 went down there are lessons to be learned about what many of us would not like to see.

      Here is what will be different:

      – The new VFX union members will have access to Motion Picture Health and Pension which will be funded by residuals from DVD sales.

      – we do not want a union that dictates who gets jobs and who can lose jobs.

      Here is a copy of the contract ILM had with Local 16

      If I’m not mistaken, and let me know if I’m wrong, ILM seems to pay some of the lowest rates now after getting rid of the union and those minimums.

      I’m for a trade organization to represent the facilities but they have absolutely no intent to do that.

      It would have been great if a union was created 10 years ago but I can’t change the past. Sometimes the most important decisions in history are made during the worst of times and for our industry that time is now.

  5. […] news in context by citing recent overtures from the IATSE’s Animation Guild as well as the IBEW to get more representation for the VFX […]

  6. […] news in context by citing recent overtures from the IATSE’s Animation Guild as well as the IBEW to get more representation for the VFX […]

  7. Lifer says:

    As a family member of, and owner of a post production company with over 50 years of experience in Sound, 38 years as a Teamster, and formerly IBEW Local 40 member..(Father was past president, brother EBoard), I have only one thing to say about choosing a union.
    The companies that truely own the companies we work for or will work for are global in thier holdings. The IBEW is international. On your behalf, they can in effect bring the “hammer down” anywhere in the world. The IA is a small club, with some influence in the 30 mile zone around Hollywood. The choice is self-evident. Choose wisely.

  8. Freddy says:

    Actually the IA is an internationa union as well. However, the individual locals are painfully useless at labour relations and collective bargaining, which is about 99% of the strength of the union. IBEW knows how to be a union and protect it’s workers, it has global influence and has people who really know what they are doing throughout the organization, not just a single lawyer or person who might have time to deal with you. I would agree the IA is a club maybe even a clique, not a union.

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