The staff of Outfest, a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that promotes LGBTQ+ stories and filmmakers, has announced its intention to form a union with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 9003. The union, named Queer Filmworkers United (QFU), is seeking voluntary recognition from Outfest management and board of directors within 24 hours.
Why Outfest Staff Wants to Unionize
According to the QFU’s mission statement, the staff of Outfest wants to unionize to improve their working conditions, pay, benefits, and workplace culture. They also want to have more say in the organizational direction, priorities, staff hiring, growth, and resource allocation. They claim that they feel unsupported and overworked in their current work environment, where they have to deal with “scope creep”, or the addition of extra tasks and responsibilities that are not part of their original job description. They also want to hire more seasonal staff to help with the various events and programs that Outfest runs throughout the year, such as the Outfest Los Angeles film festival, the Outfest Fusion festival, the Outfest Sundance activation, and the annual Legacy Awards gala.
The QFU organizers say that they are dedicated to making Outfest’s mission a reality, which is to build visibility for LGBTQ+ stories and to uplift queer storytellers. They believe that by forming a union, they can strengthen the organization and make it a model for the film industry that they seek to re-imagine. They also hope that Outfest management will do the right thing and recognize their union without any opposition or delay.
How Outfest Staff Organized Their Union
The staff of Outfest decided to organize their union in partnership with the CWA Local 9003, which represents workers in the media, entertainment, telecommunications, and public sectors. The CWA Local 9003 has helped other film non-profits in Los Angeles to unionize, such as the Academy Foundation Workers Union and the Documentary Workers United at the International Documentary Association.
The QFU organizers say that they have a “near-unanimous” support from the 11 staff members who are eligible for union representation, and that they have signed authorization cards to indicate their desire to be represented by the CWA. They have sent their mission statement and their request for voluntary recognition to Outfest executive director Damien Navarro and the executive committee of the board of directors on Tuesday, September 26, 2023. They have given them a deadline of 24 hours to respond, otherwise they will pursue a formal election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
What Outfest Management and Board of Directors Have to Say
Outfest management and board of directors have not yet issued a public statement or response to the QFU’s unionization effort. However, according to some sources, Outfest has laid off five employees after the staff voted to unionize, and that Navarro has taken a leave of absence. The board has denied that the layoffs were due to unionizing, and that the organization is “severely impacted” by industry strikes.
Outfest is one of the oldest and largest LGBTQ+ film festivals in the world, and has been operating since 1982. It showcases hundreds of films and documentaries every year, and also provides educational and mentoring programs for emerging queer filmmakers. It has a budget of about $2.5 million, and relies on donations, grants, sponsorships, and ticket sales for its funding.