Comic Book Workers United Is Now America's First Comic Book Union
Yesterday, the newly formed comic-book union Comic Book Workers United released the following statement;
We're beyond thrilled to announce that today we, Comic Book Workers United, have WON our union election, making Image Comics the FIRST unionized comic book publisher in the United States.
All 12 Image staffers submitted ballots, leading to a 7:2 result in favor of the union. At this time, three staffers' ballots are subject to a frivolous legal challenge on eligibility, thus their ballots were not opened. Although these three ballots were not opened, their challenge had no impact on our supermajority win. CBWU and the CWA continue to push for their inclusion in the democratic process.
Winning this election is only the beginning — as always, we are #drawninsolidarity and are eager to continue working together with CWA on the next steps towards securing a strong, fair, and exemplary first contract for comic book publishing workers.
We want to stress how crucial it is for all workers to know they are worthy of respect, fair treatment, fair compensation, and recognition for their time and effort. The NLRB, NLRBGC, and the CWA have been a boon of resources on how to get started on the path to unionization.
It is our sincere hope that today's win inspires our peers to organize for a democratic voice. CBWU is ready to stand with you to help create a better and more equitable comics industry for all.
- Emilio Bautista
- Ryan Brewer
- Leanna Caunter
- Marla Eizik
- Drew Fitzgerald
- Melissa Gifford
- Chloe Ramos
- Tricia Ramos
- Jon Schlaffman
- Erika Schnatz
Comic Book Workers United did not respond to subsequent press inquiries, especially regarding that note about "frivolous legal challenges" but Image Comics representatives issued Bleeding Cool with the statement "Earlier this morning the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and National Labor Relations Board vote results were tallied, 7 – 2, in favor of unionization. Everyone at Image is committed to this process and we look forward to continuing to work together on this." This does seem at odds with Image Comics' previous refusal to voluntarily recognise the union before going through the full legal route, but you play the cards you are dealt.
In November 2021, Image Comics staffers stated that after voting in a supermajority, they were forming a union, Comic Book Workers United, to represent employees in the comic book industry, with a series of goals. This focussed on publisher staffers rather than comic book creators, who are traditionally freelance workers and this, under the current interpretation of US law, unable to form a union under anti-cartel legislation. This does not hold in other countries and, in the last year, The Society Of Authors has been making great strides in recruiting comic book creators in the UK to their trade union, partially as a result of publicity gained by Comic Book Workers United in the US.
There has been a lot of reaction across the industry, and over the last few months, Bleeding Cool has been hearing of both support, envy, and a willingness to join in from employees at other publishers as well. Image Comics made a small non committal press response, before going down the full legal route. These were the initial demands or goals of the union
- To foster a more competitive industry as a whole, through salary and workload transparency for all existing and proposed job titles. Employees industry-wide should know what they and their peers are working for and what they can expect from future employment.
- Improve staff morale through annual staff and management reviews to assess performance, workload, and whether there is a clear need to expand a department, craft a new role, or increase compensation for employees who have taken on a larger quantity or more complex suite of tasks.
- The creation of a more transparent company culture through monthly all-hands meetings, so all staff can better understand both the current and future priorities, responsibilities, and workloads of other departments.
- Increase knowledge retention through the implementation of detailed record keeping and procedure documentation for all tasks deemed essential to any given role. These documents are to include detailed and explicit descriptions and instructions for all expected job duties.
- Improve career mobility for all staff through stricter adherence to the company's stated intent to offer open positions up to qualified existing employees prior to opening them up to the public.
- The continuation of remote work for any employee who requests it and the creation of a detailed policy outlining how the company provides reasonable accommodations and supplies for remote employees. The pandemic has removed the necessity for the company to pay for a central office space, utilities, etc. With employees in some cases now shouldering one hundred percent of costs that should be shared by the employer, costs such as internet, power, furnishings and other office supplies, computer hardware and related maintenance costs to work from their own personal devices, the company must outline an equitable arrangement for sharing a reasonable percentage of those costs.
- Better overall product through the immediate addition of staff, particularly in Production and Marketing departments. Our creators, retailers, and readers can expect white glove attention for all the books we publish; books which will go to press with fewer errors, fewer delays, and a more robust marketing presence due to a more strategic approach to staffing, in reasonable proportion to the actual quantity of output we generate.
- A long term, actionable plan to address the overall lack of diversity in both general staff and management. The authors, artists, and readers who bring comics to life have never been homogenous and the stories we publish can only be improved by staffing our organization in a way that more accurately reflects the demographics of our creators, our readership, and the nation as a whole.
- Renewed commitment to company values through the addition of a collective voting option to immediately cancel publication of any title whose creator(s) have been found to have engaged in abuse, sexual assault, racism and xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, ableism, etc. until such time as said creators have engaged in meaningful reparations toward affected person(s).
Talking to industry commentators, staffers, and executives across the industry, many saw the goals as admirable and desirable, for companies as well as employees, noting the increased willingness for employees to quit for better jobs elsewhere rather than even try and improve their current positions. However, the final goal, seemed to be a sticking point too far for many, handing editorial control to the rank and file over the publication of creators with a problematic history, as something that other corporate comic book publishers would entirely balk at. Bleeding Cool has been led to understand that it was earlier, now-cancelled plans for Warren Ellis to return to Fell with Ben Templesmith at Image Comics that may have seen the impetus for this union to exist in the first place, but there was also a lot of internal unquiet over John Upchurch previously returning at Image Comics for a number of titles.
Image Comics Talent Liason Marla Eizik tweeted "Lots of excitement today. WE DID IT!!! I hope this shows that unions help everyone, and everyone is entitled to a union. Let us know if you need help starting your own. ALSO this doesn't mean it's all over, it's really just the beginning. We're excited to move forward with Image in good faith." Specialty Sales Coordinator Jon Schlaffman added "I work with amazing people and I'm so lucky to be a part of this". While Accounting Analyst Leanna Caunter concluded "Just a little history-making in the first week of 2022, nbd. Onward and upward! #drawninsolidarity". How Image Comics – and other publishers – react through 2022 may be one of the bigger comic book stories of the year.