Workers at Outfest, the LGBTQIA+ non-profit arts organization known for its annual Outfest Los Angeles film festival, have announced their intention to unionize with the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

A nearly unanimous group of 12 Outfest employees eligible for union representation voted this weekend to be recognized as an organized labor body by management under the name Queer Filmworkers United (QFU), CWA Local 9003.

As part of the QFU’s mission statement, the group wants a better work-life balance; regulations that protect from “scope creep,” in which other job responsibilities seep into their own; seasonal staff to help run the many additional events thrown each year; higher wages to meet the cost of living in Los Angeles; and more say in budget decisions and organizational vision.

“We are dedicated to making the mission of our organization a reality, which is why we are
forming a union — to strengthen it,” said a QFU organizer who chose to remain unnamed. “Our
goal is to create a culture of sustainability at Outfest so we can do our jobs better and deliver
the high-quality experience we owe to the artists and community members we serve.”

They’re asking Outfest management for voluntary recognition of what they hope will be a new union, and they’re giving a short window of just 24 hours for management, including Outfest executive director Damien Navarro and the Outfest Board of Directors to respond. If the union is not voluntarily recognized, the workers will vote with the National Labor Relations Board for the right to be represented.

“We are hopeful that Outfest management will do the right thing and recognize our union,” said
another unnamed QFU organizer. “No matter what, we are strong, we are a majority, and, if met
with opposition, we are prepared to pursue a formal election in accordance with US law.”

Reps for Outfest did not immediately respond to IndieWire’s request for comment.

Outfest’s labor movement comes at a massive time for labor across the country and entertainment, including Marvel VFX employees just winning the right to their union, workers at Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthouse demanding representation, United Auto Workers going on strike against The Big 3 automotive companies, and of course, the WGA just reaching a tentative deal with the AMPTP.

But it also comes at a time when Outfest has seen big growth and, as the group argues in its mission statement, a staff that hasn’t kept pace with that expansion. The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which launched in 1982, hosts its flagship Outfest festival but also the Outfest Fusion festival in Los Angeles dedicated to queer BIPOC storytellers. The group also has an activation at Sundance and hosts an awards gala, the annual Legacy Awards, which this year are scheduled for October 22. Outfest also hosts other year-round member screenings, artist development programs, and more.

The CWA is the same union that represents non-management employees as part of the IDA, or the International Documentary Association, which unionized last year under the name Documentary Workers United and reached a tentative agreement on a first collective bargaining agreement back in June. CWA also represents the Academy Foundation Workers Union.

Below is the QFU’s mission statement in full.

Dear Damien Navarro and the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of Outfest:

We, the staff of Outfest, have decided to collectively exercise our rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to organize a union, Queer Filmworkers United, in partnership with CWA Local 9003. This union will make Outfest stronger and better able to fulfill its mission to build visibility for LGBTQ+ stories and to uplift queer storytellers by empowering and protecting the Outfest staff to demand necessary improvements, build solidarity across departments, and negotiate fair and equitable working conditions for pay, benefits, and workplace culture.

To succeed in our mission to build a more just and equitable film industry, we must first build that for our organization. By guaranteeing a safe workplace with a focus on transparency, equity, and the well-being of its staff, we can be a model for the industry we seek to re-imagine, and can move forward in solidarity with a renewed clarity of purpose. We seek a say in decisions about organizational direction, priorities, staff hiring, growth, and resource allocation so that we may hold our work and all aspects of our organization accountable to our mission. We have concluded that we need the structure and power of a union to advocate for us in a work environment where we feel unsupported. In pursuit of this, the staff of Outfest has chosen the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 9003. We are partnering to create a safe and equitable workplace and to negotiate a legally binding contract that addresses the goals we have set forth collectively:

  • To build a culture of respect for staff wellness, including their mental health, by protecting against an exploitative work/life balance.
  • To protect against scope creep—when staff are asked to perform work outside of that which is stated in their job description. With proper understanding of our departments’ functions and roles, we can build a more communicative, healthier, and more inspiring workplace culture, which will lead to more successful and effective programs and events.
  • To build a culture of trust and transparency surrounding the budget that the staff needs to successfully build world-class programming and events.
  • To ensure that seasonal staff are hired with adequate time and support so that they can successfully execute their job responsibilities, and allow year-round staff to support their work within the scope of their own job descriptions.
  • To ensure that artists and vendors are paid within the promised window in order to uphold best practices and professionalism, support queer artists, and protect our staff and organization’s reputation in our community as reliable and trustworthy.
  • To prioritize the mental and physical well-being of the staff and volunteers, especially during the organization’s tentpole festivals, by providing adequate meals, craft services, child care, financial access to public transportation, breaks, and time off—during and after the festival—to prevent staff burnout and undue financial burden.
  • To ensure that all staff are treated with dignity and respect, and to protect against favoritism that occurs when scope creep grows, job duties blur, and the chain of communication and departmental structure is disrespected.
  • To ensure that all staff, including seasonal and part-time staff, are paid a wage commensurate with the cost-of-living in Los Angeles County.
  • To establish a work-place status quo predicated on job security, financial transparency, and a culture of respect so that the staff is not working in an atmosphere of perpetual unknowns.
  • To build a work culture that values and budgets for the professional development of its staff.
  • To ensure that union staff has a seat at the table in determining budget allocations, organizational direction, and an understanding thereof, so that we may avoid the perpetual “wait-and-see” approach.

We believe unionizing is the step that we need to take to make these improvements a reality. We all believe passionately in the work that we do at Outfest, its mission, and its potential to pave the way to a more just and equitable film industry and culture. But in order for Outfest to prosper in an uncertain present and future, its working conditions and environment must radically improve. We take this step to continue to fight for Outfest’s mission, its future, its community, and its reputation as a leader in queer film.

We want Outfest to voluntarily recognize all Senior Managers, Managers, Coordinators, Assistants, Designers, Senior Programmers, Programmers, Producers, and seasonal staff of our Union. We would like a signature or response to this request within 24 hours.

In Solidarity,

Queer Filmworkers United
CWA, Local 9003

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