Marvel Studios VFX workers move to unionize amid Hollywood labor unrest

The Marvel Studios logo
The Marvel Studios logo on display at Comic-Con International.
(Phillip Molnar / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
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Marvel Studios visual effects workers have taken a significant step toward unionization, in what would mark a first for a sector that has historically lacked guild representation.

Crew members at the Walt Disney Co.-owned superhero film and TV studio have filed for a union election, marking the first move of its kind for the VFX industry.

A supermajority of Marvel’s more than 50-worker visual effects crew has signed authorization cards indicating they want to be represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union said Monday.


The unionization effort comes as Hollywood contends with a rising tide of pro-labor sentiment, with actors represented by SAG-AFTRA and screenwriters represented by the Writers Guild of America on strike simultaneously for the first time in more than 60 years.

WGA and the studios met on Friday for the first time in three months, but there are diminished expectations on either side of a breakthrough that would resolve the months long strike.

Aug. 4, 2023

“For almost half a century, workers in the visual effects industry have been denied the same protections and benefits their coworkers and crewmates have relied upon since the beginning of the Hollywood film industry,” said Mark Patch, VFX organizer for IATSE, in a statement. “This is a historic first step for VFX workers coming together with a collective voice demanding respect for the work we do.”

IATSE, which represents a variety of technical jobs on film sites, has been trying for more than a decade to extend union benefits to visual effects workers that are shared by their colleagues in the rest of the industry. Workers already represented by IATSE include costume designers, hair and makeup artists and script supervisors.

Marvel workers who voted to unionize have contributed to productions including the series “Loki” and the upcoming film “The Marvels” and work in New York and Atlanta.

VFX workers said that it’s been challenging because protections given to other unionized workers don’t apply to them, such as protected hours or overtime pay. Visual effects crew members are outliers among Hollywood’s below-the-line workers, the majority of whom are unionized.

The VFX industry has been plagued with long, grueling hours amid the demand for big-budget, digital-effects-driven productions on streaming services and in theaters, workers say. Marvel in particular has faced criticism for its alleged treatment of VFX workers.


“The move signals a major shift in an industry that has largely remained non-union since VFX was pioneered during production of the first Star Wars films in the 1970s,” IATSE said in a press release.

Workers in film and TV, most of whom are pro-union, have been trying to make ends meet amid a dual strike of Hollywood actors and writers.

July 24, 2023

The National Labor Relations Board will now perform due diligence and is expected to later set a date for the union election, in which eligible workers will vote on whether they wish to join the union.

A Marvel spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

As SAG-AFTRA members join writers on picket lines, the fallout will disrupt Hollywood film and TV productions worldwide. ‘There’s going to be blood in the water,’ said one analyst. ‘This will not end well.’

July 16, 2023

The union election announcement comes as many productions have shut down in the midst of the two Hollywood strikes by film and TV actors and writers. WGA members have been on strike since early May, followed by film and TV actors who walked out in mid-July. Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are demanding higher streaming pay and protections against artificial intelligence.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented wave of solidarity that’s breaking down old barriers in the industry and proving we’re all in this fight together,” said IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb in a statement. “That doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Entertainment workers everywhere are sticking up for each other’s rights, that’s what our movement is all about.”