Since 1952, The Animation Guild (IATSE local 839) has represented animation artists, writers and technicians. The Guild functions as a traditional labor organization — it negotiates wage minimums and improved working conditions such as employer-paid pension and health benefits, and acts as an advocate for its members. The Guild’s goal is to provide members a range of benefits and the strength of a collective voice for artists across the animation industry.
The Animation Guild further supports its members through member-run committees. The Guild’s many committees provide an opportunity for members to express their concerns, connect with Guild communities, and bring their recommendations to the Executive Board. There are a broad range of dedicated committees, like the Young Workers Committee, People of Color Committee, and the Communications Committee.
To learn more about the role and impact of these committees, we interviewed Kristin Donner. Kristin is the Chair of the Family and Membership Committee, which is dedicated to supporting caregivers within the Guild.
What is the role and purpose of the Family and Membership Committee at The Animation Guild?
The FAM Committee exists to provide a supportive community for members in every stage of life. While the committee is sometimes referred to as the “family” committee, it isn’t exclusively for parents. We feel that it’s important to acknowledge diverse forms of family and different dynamics of caregiving. Some of our members may not be parents, but they may be caring for an elderly loved one, supporting a sick partner or friend, or seeking to practice self-care. Regardless of how our members define their families, or what kinds of responsibilities they have in their personal lives, they can find support in the FAM Committee.
The FAM Committee has several subcommittees which cater to specific communities. We have a Playdate Subcommittee, which organizes family-friendly park playdates (pre-pandemic!) and socially-distanced and virtual events during COVID-19. We also have an Autism Support Subcommittee, through which neurodiverse members and parents of autistic children can connect. And there’s a Meal Train Subcommittee, which plans to organize meals for members who could use the support, like new parents for example.
The committee also advocates on behalf of caregivers within the Guild and across the industry. For example, initiating conversations about paid family leave, spotlighting the importance of flexible schedules to ensure parents can return to the workforce, and supporting legislation that supports these initiatives.
How was the Family and Membership Committee created?
The FAM Committee was born out of our last contract negotiations through The Animation Guild (IATSE Local 839). For those negotiations, Kyle Neswald (now Co-Chair of the FAM Committee) and I created a proposal for paid family leave. As part of our research for the proposal, we spoke with Guild members about their experiences with bereavement, personal days, and family leave.
Through those conversations, we realized that members needed to be heard. There was no inclusive place within the Guild for members to talk about their responsibilities and pressures outside of work. This was especially the case for caregivers. Many Guild events were being held after work hours, and for members who are parents or caregivers of any sort, attending events outside of work hours can present a challenge.
In creating the proposal for paid family leave, Kyle and I recognized how essential it was that we have a safe space for ongoing dialogue about family, caregiving, and wellness needs. The committee was created, and we continue to advocate for best practices in the workplace.
What kinds of events and activities does the FAM Committee hold for members?
Before the pandemic we actively held in-person events, such as a Canines & Caffeine meet-up, a family-friendly morning stretch session, and a holiday card decorating party to send cheer to industry retirees living at MPTF’s Wasserman Campus. Since we began sheltering in place, we’ve shifted to virtual gatherings. We’ve hosted virtual playdates and draw-alongs, and held virtual support group meetings for parents and caregivers. In June, we presented a seminar on home office ergonomics. We partnered with Providence Health & Services to have a physical therapist certified in ergonomics assessment lead the seminar. She walked everyone through a presentation on ergonomics for animation, and answered questions from our members.
In October we held our first socially-distanced in-person event, a Family Halloween Drive-Thru! This multi-IATSE-local event was hosted at the Costume Designers Guild, with safety measures in place. Our volunteers dressed in costumes, socially distanced, and wore protective masks and gloves. Families could drive through a maze of Halloween decorations, collect prepackaged goodie bags, and pause for an in-car photo op. It was such a joyous occasion to have an in-person event again. Virtual events are great, but they’re not a perfect substitute for in-person ones.
Shout-out to our Playdate Subcommittee Chair, Katya Bowser for conceptualizing the drive-thru and coordinating with our sister IATSE locals to make it happen!
Are there other ways that the FAM Committee is supporting Guild members?
Absolutely! Much of our role is to listen to what Guild members have to say about their experiences. We think it is important to create this space for listening and connecting with each other. But FAM is also dedicated to creating tangible and meaningful change. We listen, and then we do something about it.
The committee actively drafts proposals that are presented at our annual IATSE District 2 conventions, our general membership meetings, and our contract negotiations. The proposals are brought forth in response to issues and concerns discussed amongst our members. At the moment, we are working on proposals to include autism care in our health plans and to expand parental leave beyond just job protection.
FAM recently began a collaboration with Women In Animation. Could you tell us about this new partnership?
We recognized long ago that Women in Animation could be a great ally for the FAM Committee. WIA actively supports women in our industry, they’ve announced a goal to achieve gender equality in the workplace, and they’ve expressed a desire to show support for working caregivers. We had met with WIA’s leadership prior to the pandemic to talk about collaborating, but it wasn’t until we were all locked down that it really came to fruition.
This new WIA+TAG collaboration is super important because it has given us the opportunity to reach a broader network of animation professionals. Our union, The Animation Guild, covers working artists, writers, and technicians but it doesn’t currently include anyone on the production side of animation. WIA’s membership includes professionals from all aspects of the production line. Therefore, this collaboration allows us to foster a more open discussion within the industry.
So far, WIA+TAG has highlighted the experiences of working caregivers through social media campaigns on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and co-hosted a virtual panel discussion which encouraged attendees to ask for what they each need in order to succeed personally and professionally. I’d like to recognize WIA’s President Margaret Dean, TAG’s Director of Communications & Content Alexandra Drosu, and our WIA+TAG group of advisors for being so instrumental in making this collaboration a reality.
Can you tell us more about these WIA+TAG initiatives?
One of our first joint initiatives was a virtual panel discussion titled, “Just Ask! How To Communicate What You Need In Order To Succeed.” WIA+TAG put together a panel consisting of a literary agent, a career coach, and a labor & employment attorney, in addition to members of our industry, so that the discussion would provide a well-rounded perspective. Attendees from the Animation Guild and Women In Animation were welcome to ask any questions they had relating to working in the industry and achieving their personal goals.
Some questions centered on communication. For example, one member asked about how to avoid looking like an opportunist while expressing a desire to advance at work. Another member asked when in an interview process is the right time to share personal requirements, like flexible hours for managing childcare. Other questions touched on mental health, work/life balance, maternity leave, and more.
In the animation field, there isn’t a strong sense of job security. Creative work tends to be hourly and project-based, so we don’t necessarily have the sense of security that an ongoing or salaried corporate position provides. Some Guild members land positions that last decades, while others jump from studio-to-studio following available work. We can’t always count on employers to guide us through career development or show support during life events, such as the birth of a child.
Through the WIA+TAG collaboration, we are able to extend the reach of our respective communities and create a space for professionals across the animation industry (and future young workers, through WIA’s student membership) to connect and support each other wherever we are.
What kind of impact do you hope the WIA+TAG collaboration will have on the animation industry in the future?
I hope the WIA+TAG collaboration will lift up our working caregivers and raise awareness of the benefits of maintaining a healthy, diverse, and inclusive workforce. Some studios are already stepping up to show support during the pandemic by offering additional paid days off for self-care and family care, stipends for childcare and home office expenses, flexible work schedules, and virtual resources for employees and their families. These are great first steps.
Want to see the other resources that The Animation Guild’s Family and Membership Committee provides? You can learn more on the Animation is Family blog.