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Nickelodeon animation production workers become latest group to push for unionization

Four characters from the show "Big Nate"
A scene from the Nickelodeon show “Big Nate.” Workers on the show and others have voted to join the Animation Guild.
(Nickelodeon / Paramount+ )
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After a long day working on Nickelodeon’s popular show “Big Nate,” 25-year-old Claire Norris gets home to the Glendale apartment she shares and looks for dog walking and pet sitting gigs in her free time to cover her bills and finance the training she needs.

Despite working for one of Hollywood’s biggest animation studios, her $25-an-hour pay as a production coordinator does not go far in Los Angeles.

The University of Texas film school graduate still relies on family financial support to afford working the job she loves, said Norris, who joined Nickelodeon in March 2021.

“I’m just disappointed that Nickelodeon is using our passion against us and using our passion to exploit us because I love my job,” Norris said in an interview. “I want it to be a sustainable career that people can grow with and have families and support themselves.”

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Norris is among 177 production workers at Nickelodeon who voted last month to unionize under the Animation Guild, IATSE local 839, in a bid to get higher pay and more affordable healthcare, the union said in a statement.

More than 65% of production workers signed cards saying they would like to be represented by the guild, Alexi Drosu, a spokesperson for the Animation Guild said in a statement.

“We have been collaboratively working with the Animation Guild regarding a path forward for this group of employees, and we expect our long-standing, positive relationship with the Guild to continue,” David Bittler, spokesperson for Nickelodeon, said.

It’s the largest single group of animation production workers to vote to join the guild, it said. The union represents animation workers including artists at Walt Disney and Dreamworks Animation.

The union, which has about 5,600 active members, has been working to expand its coverage of workers in the animation sector which, unlike other parts of the film and TV industry, is not heavily unionized outside of L.A.

Nickelodeon has yet to voluntarily recognize the bargaining unit, which could force the group into a protracted election, union officials said.

The Animation Guild already has a collective bargaining agreement with Nickelodeon that applies to about 400 artists, writers and technicians, which it was poised to renegotiate. While the union wants the agreement to cover production workers, Nickelodeon seems to want them to have a separate contract, which would not have the same rights and protections, the union said in a statement.

“The company is choosing to put that relationship in jeopardy by forcing us to go to the [National Labor Relations Board] and possibly take escalating action to achieve our goal of the inclusion of the production staff,” Steve Kaplan, business representative for the animation guild, said in a statement.

The Animation Guild has been working to extend the reach of its Nickelodeon contract since it was first put in place in 2004.

Earlier this year, workers at Titmouse New York studios overwhelmingly voted to join the Animation Guild, becoming the first animation workers outside of Southern California, and the first production staff, to join the union.

If Nickelodeon production workers join the local, it will bring the total number of production workers in the union to 500.

“Nickelodeon is still an amazing place to work,” said Abigail Bokun, another production coordinator at Nickelodeon who is one of the organizers of the group. “The community that I have made in this effort to bring artists and production together under the same contract has made our love for the cartoons that we make even stronger. I just hope that Nickelodeon can join us in that sense of community by voluntarily recognizing us.”


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