EXCLUSIVE: The International Documentary Association’s shrinking staff are considering unionizing, Deadline has learned.
The other 11 full-time staff below the senior executive level voted unanimously to organize as Documentary Workers United, under Local 9003 of the Communications Workers of America. They sent a statement to IDA Executive Director Rick Pérez on Monday morning informing him of the decision. , and gave him 24 hours to grant “voluntary recognition” of the union.
The organizing push “comes as staff face unprecedented challenges within the organization,” IDA staffers wrote in a statement obtained by Deadline. “Since December 2021, almost 50% of staff have left the organisation, many in protest at the fact that many concerns raised by staff remain unaddressed.”
As Deadline reported, four senior executives left IDA in early January after filing a lawsuit against Pérez accusing him of regularly engaging in abusive behavior. The complaint also criticized actions taken by IDA’s board of directors, which officials say undermined the nonprofit’s stated mission to support diversity, equity and inclusion. in the field of documentaries. IDA has continued to lay off staff in recent weeks: Trent Nakamura, head of awards campaign and strategic partnerships, resigned on March 8, and Susan Q. Yin, whose responsibilities included managing communications, design and digital projects, resigned March 3.
Cassidy Dimon, associate director of programs and public events, resigned last month, saying “the current atmosphere within the organization, which I and many other staff have experienced as hostile and intimidating, has made it untenable to stay”.
The organizing effort is aimed at stemming the tide of departures, the other staff members said in their press release.
“We hope there will be no organizational resistance to this move” to unionize, the statement said, attributing the quote to “a DWU organizer who has chosen to remain anonymous.” The staffer added: “However, we are prepared to pursue a formal election in accordance with US law if we encounter opposition.”
The DWU drafted a mission statement, which it said it sent to Pérez this morning. It said, in part, “We have come to the conclusion that we need the structure and power of a union to defend ourselves in an environment where we feel largely unsupported. To that end, we, the staff of the International Documentary Association (IDA), have chosen the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 9003 as our spokesperson. We partner to create a safe and fair workplace and to negotiate a legally binding contract that meets the goals we have collectively defined:
- “Priorize staff concerns and set reasonable deadlines/benchmarks for the organization, rather than fixing IDA’s public image.
- “Continue to respect the authority of the IDA employee handbook.
- “Create a clear process for reporting issues to management in good faith, without fear of repercussions.
- “Create accountability for situations where IDA leadership diminishes current and former staff (foul language, aggressive outbursts, sharing confidential information, etc.) in both private and public settings.”
The mission statement included additional bullet points, including a call for “a fair and competitive pay scale for all staff” and “the protection of the executive authority of staff over their organizational duties as outlined in their job descriptions.
Pérez assumed the top job at IDA in May 2021, becoming the organization’s first BIPOC and an openly gay leader. The board has stood by him amid the current turmoil; it released a statement in late January saying it had hired an “independent investigator” to investigate the allegations of the four senior executives who filed their formal complaint late last year. The board said: “…[T]his investigator concluded that the allegations were unfounded.
The board statement also noted that “Rick Pérez has the potential to be a stellar executive director of IDA,” and suggested that the staff departures should not be considered unusual. “It is also important to note that change, in any organization, can be difficult and it is not uncommon for change to occur when new leadership steps in, for a number of reasons.”
The board has attempted to contain reputational damage to IDA by hosting virtual sessions with leading figures in the documentary field to “learn and maintain a space for deep listening and reflection on the IDA from community members as we move forward.” One such meeting took place last week; another is scheduled for March 21.
Board treasurer Marcia Smith told Deadline earlier this month that the dispute between IDA staff on the one hand and the executive director and board on the other was not about “substantive policy” issues. But she added: “There are differences in authority and power. And there are differences on the proper process and procedure.
The new Documentary Workers United cited as inspiration the successful effort to organize several other workplaces within the creative community, including Jigsaw Productions, the company run by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney. As Deadline reported last year, WGA East organized Jigsaw producers, showrunners, APs and other freelance employees.
“We stand on the shoulders of our union colleagues at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Film at Lincoln Center and Jigsaw Productions – among many others – as we embark on this fight for a workplace. fair,” an anonymous DWU official said. organizer” commented in the IDA staff press release. “We seek the solidarity and support of our peers as we work towards a documentary ecosystem that serves the community – including us workers – in the fair and equitable way that we deserve to be served.”
By joining the Communication Workers of America, IDA staff are joining “one of the largest and most diverse unions in America,” as CWA calls itself. “We work not only in the communications and information industries, but also in the news media, airlines, radio and cable television, public services, higher education and health care. , manufacturing, high tech and more.”
The Documentary Workers United also announced the creation of a number of social media names for itself, including @IDAWorkersUnion on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, “as well as the hashtag #StandWithIDAWorkers”.