The unionization push in Hollywood continues, now extending to Marvel Studios’ in-house visual effects department. On Monday, over 50 Marvel visual effects artists filed for a union election through the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). The union said these employees, who work directly for Marvel out of Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York, had signed cards indicating their desire for IATSE representation. This effort does not include the thousands of visual effects artists that work on Marvel films through third-party studios. Marvel has not yet voluntarily recognized the unionization attempt, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Marvel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The visual effects (VFX) industry has largely been non-union since the modern era of VFX began with Star Wars in the late 1970s. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) believes the time is overdue for a major shift towards unionization in the VFX landscape. A decade ago, the VFX industry explored unionization following the bankruptcy of Rhythm & Hues after completing Oscar-winning work on Life of Pi, but the effort never materialized. More recently, a new unionization push started up, with today’s Marvel Studios announcement being the first group to come forward. It’s unclear currently which IATSE local these artists would join, or if a new local would be formed.
“For almost 50 years, VFX workers have been denied protections and benefits that their colleagues in Hollywood have relied on since the film industry began,” said Mark Patch, VFX organizer for IATSE. “This is a historic first step for VFX workers joining together to demand respect for their work.”
While the labor movement in Hollywood has demonstrated its power by largely shutting down the entertainment industry, showcasing the strength of union organizing, other factors are likely at play as well.
This unionization effort comes after tumultuous months in the VFX field. In March, Marvel fired Victoria Alonso, who oversaw VFX at Marvel, though her departure was unrelated to those duties. Marvel also faced negative headlines from anonymous VFX artists complaining about unsustainable conditions like long hours and seven-day work weeks.
Isabella Huffman, a visual effects coordinator at Marvel who worked on Hawkeye, said in IATSE’s announcement that conditions were difficult for VFX workers.
“Turnaround times don’t apply to us, protected hours don’t apply to us, and pay equity doesn’t apply to us,” she stated. “Visual effects must become a sustainable and safe department for everyone who has suffered far too long and for all newcomers who need to know they won’t be exploited.”
This unionization attempt comes amid a backdrop of labor unrest in Hollywood and a broader rise in unionization efforts across companies like Amazon and Starbucks. It also comes as unions enjoy their highest public approval rating since the 1960s per Gallup polling.
IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb said, “We are seeing an unprecedented wave of solidarity breaking down old barriers in the industry and proving we’re all in this together. That doesn’t happen randomly. Entertainment workers everywhere are standing up for each other’s rights, that’s what our movement is about. I congratulate these workers on taking this important step and using their collective voice.”