MGM’s Anti-Union Creation of the Academy Awards

We are in the middle of Awards Season—the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys, ESPYs, and even the SAG-AFTRA Awards. According to some, the origin of the Academy Award’s sponsor, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is anti-union. The Academy (which awards the preeminent Oscars award) was founded in 1927 by Metro Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM) studios in an effort to prevent unionization in the film industry. As an invitation-only professional organization, it was meant to be a more prestigious alternative to unionization. It had separate branches for producers, actors, writers, directors, and technicians, and settled workplace disputes without the need for unions. Essentially, from 1927 to 1933 the Academy functioned as a company union controlled by the producers. But in 1933, two years before the enactment of the National Labor Relations Act, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) unionized Hollywood. SAG would later merge with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists to form the SAG-AFTRA union. Once the NLRA was enacted, company unions like the Academy were outlawed, but the Academy still has select membership. The competition between the Academy and SAG-AFTRA has resulted in both entities having their own motion picture awards ceremonies—one union, one nonunion.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at