Documentary Workers Union Ratifies Groundbreaking Contract With International Documentary Association

UPDATED from original 12:21 p.m. story with statement from DWU co-founder Hansen Bursic: Progress on one labor front in the media industry.

Documentary Workers United announced its membership has voted unanimously to ratify its first ever contract with the International Documentary Association, capping months of negotiations.

“Our contract, our union, and our victorious ratification is a labor of love and care that would not have been possible without the continuous work of IDA workers, past and present,” DWU said in a statement. “We are workers who defied the odds and who, despite continued challenges, have stayed committed to our union’s mission of equity and justice.”

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Terms of the two-year contract call for:

  • An average of a 20-30% wage increase, with a baseline minimum of $30/hr
  • A guaranteed annual rate increase
  • Differential pay for additional labor
  • A comprehensive reproductive health policy

DWU, which is part of the Communications Workers of America local 9003, covers non-management employees of the IDA, a nonprofit that provides grants to nonfiction filmmakers and advocates for the documentary community. The unionization effort came in the midst of a period of intense turbulence at the IDA during the tenure of former IDA executive Rick Pérez, who ran the organization for a year and a half before resigning in December 2022. By one estimate, 21 of 23 IDA employees, including management and non-management staff, departed during Pérez’s time in office, many of them making no secret of their displeasure with his leadership style. Many who left also complained about the IDA’s board, which fully backed Pérez as relations between the ED and employees deteriorated.

“We believe DWU is the first step in building true collaboration and trust at IDA. So today, we ask the filmmaking community to stand with us as we fight to have a seat at the table where decisions are made, create an inspiring workplace, and invest in sustainable careers for all arts nonprofits workers,” the union said in its statement. “We ask that you continue to work with IDA and continue to support us, the workers behind the institutional collaborations. Stay allied to us because we need you. We need you to lovingly hold us and our leadership accountable for the promises we make and the values we claim to hold.” 

Ken Ikeda was appointed to replace Pérez as executive director on an interim basis. After a tentative contract was reached with DWU in June, he issued a statement that said, “The bargaining process has been invaluable for IDA, requiring us to navigate a steep learning curve around unionization and allowing us to negotiate and align around shared values.”

DWU, in its statement, saluted founders of the union, all of whom have since departed the IDA for positions elsewhere.

“We’d especially like to recognize and thank the founders of DWU – Bedatri Choudhury, Eddie Hustleby, Hansen Bursic, and Kristal Sotomayor – who organized with compassion and bravery, and whose vision for a better IDA sparked them to exercise their right to unionize on March 14, 2022,” DWU said. “We would not be here without them. Because of their work, we have a Union that allows us to be formally acknowledged with structural and legal protections.”

Bursic, now with Outfest, provided a statement to Deadline that said, “I am so proud of the historic contract ratified by DWU yesterday. It represents years of work and the power of the coalition we built between cultural workers and the documentary community to demand better of our nonprofit institutions. This contract is not just a win for IDA workers, but a blueprint for a more just and equitable industry.”

Choudhury, who now serves as Arts & Entertainment editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, posted a tweet today, writing, “I’m so proud of the @IDAWorkersUnion members who just had their contract ratified in the face of the worst anti-union tactics I’ve seen. When @hansenbursic called and asked ‘Want to start a union?’, we didn’t imagine this day would ever come.” Bursic responded by tweeting, “I’m forever grateful that you went on this journey with me!”

DWU’s statement expressed solidarity with workers in the entertainment industry who remain on the picket lines.

“With the simultaneous SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, now is a time of industry-wide collective action,” DWU commented. “Along with our actor and writer union siblings, we must stand beside film workers at all levels – projectionists, cinema workers, programmers, festival workers, and film administrators, alike. Now is the time for documentary filmmakers, funders, and supporters to show up for documentary film workers at all levels of the field, as we are vital to the success and sustainability of this industry.”

The statement continued, “We implore film institutions across the board to take note. Now is the time to make our field a place that champions its laborers. The world is watching. Our collective fight is only beginning.”

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