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Animation Industry Podcast 147: Rachel Gitlevich Shares How Titmouse New York Unionized In 2022

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This episode features 2D Character Animator, Rachel Gitlevich who also headed up the unionization of Titmouse New York. In this chat Gitlevich shares the history of unionizing animation and how it came to be at Titmouse as well as resources and information for others interested in unionizing their animation workplace. Besides all this, Gitlevich has over ten years experience in character animation working on projects for Netflix, Disney, Cartoon Network, YouTube, and of course Titmouse.

Tune in to Ibele and Gitlevich to hear:

*Ten questions to ask your coworkers to gauge their interest in unionizing

*Exactly what it means to unionize an animation studio (the pros and cons)

*The two (out of three) skills animators need to master in order to get ahead in their careers

Social Links:

*Check out Rachel’s work on Vimeo: vimeo.com/gitlevichr

*Read: Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson, by Tom Sito

*Link to the Animation Guild: animationguild.org/

*Check out Amaze.org: amaze.org/

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In 2018 I took a year off of college to pursue a job offer, and in that time there was a teachers' strike that meant that many of my peers couldn't get the education they'd paid for for something like five weeks. Several of my professors didn't really care about the politics of the thing, but they *had* to strike because it was mandatory to for them be in the union to get work at the school. And so, they weren't allowed to teach the classes they wanted to teach, to the students who wanted to learn, disrupting the rest of the semester (they had 7 weeks to teach 12 weeks' worth of material), and in the end, the school didn't budge - the teacher's didn't get paid a cent more, and it was all for naught. Since then, I'm skeptical of anyone selling unionization as a miracle cure to anything.

Obviously animation is a whole other field, but it bothers me that any cons of unionization seemed to be hand-waved away with "it's all propaganda and lies!" said half-jokingly. I've heard the someone-who-needs-to-be-fired-is-protected-by-the-union story too, and I don't think every instance of that happening is fake.

I guess what I'm getting at is that there seems to be another side to the whether-or-not-to-unionize issue that's totally getting neglected here! Something that really set off some alarm bells for me was this bit at 42:00: "You're going to vote in your own self interest... it's the people who want a union out of the goodness of their hearts that are easier to sway to the employers' side. It's the people acting out of their own self interest who ultimately make most of the progress for unions."

Why might that be? I don't know what's going on there, but I certainly won't be pro-union with that question unanswered!

For the sake of not coming off like an evil villain, I'll say that I'm all for combating employee-abuse, and I've heard plenty of horror stories in that vein, especially from blockbuster VFX houses. But if the reason for unionizing isn't to fight US labor-movement type abuse, and is instead more about how working in the animation industry isn't quite the creatively liberating work I thought it would be and now I want as much money as possible so I can live comfortably in the second most expensive city on Earth, you might have some other options that won't risk everyone's jobs getting auctioned off to South Korea!

I'm willing to be wrong about any or all of this - I'd just like to hear the other side I guess!

terryibele responds:

Interesting response and thanks for writing that all out. In the US - most animation is unionized which has created standard rates for things like storyboarding, script writing, animation, etc. (stop motion isn't unionized) - you can find all the rates here: https://animationguild.org/contracts-wages/.

For example, if you want to hire an animation writer, you must pay them a minimum rate of $48.65 USD/hour.

In Canada, animation is largely un-unionized. That means you can pay someone whatever you like Some people are underpaid and overworked and some are paid really well. Really depends on the studio, project, etc.

The intention with unionizing is to create standards for things like pay, benefits, time-off, lay-offs, etc. across all studios so that studios can't undercut employees. In a perfect world, everything would work out great, but as you pointed out, there are always two sides to every coin.

It sounds like you already know some details to the other side of the story. If the topic of unionizing comes up again in one of my chats, I'll definitely remember this comment and try to flush out both sides more.

As for the South Korea comment, a lot of animation is already outsourced to Canada from the US, because we're highly skilled and it's cheaper to produce here (lower pay, government tax relief, subsidies, etc.). I personally would rather take higher pay for the career I've chosen regardless of the risk of outsourcing, and if more animation gets outsourced to South Korea, it wouldn't be great here (although we'd adjust, just like the US has), but I would also I see that's as a positive thing for the animators pursuing careers in South Korea.

I view the industry as a gigantic community and have been trying to bring on more international voices to share their stories. I think if Canada ends up unionizing animation - I would hope the overall effect would be positive and lift the tide for all boats. Hopefully it may inspire people around the world, like in South Korea, to fight for better standards as well.

Thanks again for listening and taking the time to write your comment :)