There is a thrill and an exhilaration to organizing workers, standing up to corrupt employers, and fighting for the values of our union. Every picket line is a new opportunity to meet new people and learn their stories. It reinforces why the work that we do is so important, especially when an employer chooses to single out a single group of underrepresented people and deny them the respect of a living wage and humane working conditions.
Some of you might already be familiar with the story of the Atlanta Opera. This historic organization has been embroiled in controversy since the women working as hair and makeup artists voted to organize under the jurisdiction of IATSE Local 798. Historically, the women working in this department have been classified as independent contractors, with no right to organize or bargain to seek better terms of employment. In the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, these women decided that it was time to stand up and demand what they were owed: a living wage, safe working conditions, and (most importantly during a global health crisis) healthcare benefits. Incidentally, the Atlanta Opera is an IATSE house when it comes to their stagehands, but apparently hair & makeup was a bridge too far. The opera declared the vote invalid, slashed the wages of those working in the hair & makeup department, and appealed their case to the federal National Labor Relations Board office in Washington D.C. The organization publicly declared that they didn’t have the money to pay their workers appropriate wages and benefits while privately reporting that their fundraising had tripled since the start of COVID and that they had emerged from the pandemic “stronger than ever.”
So on April 29th, Communications Director James Delhauer and I flew to Atlanta to stand in solidarity with Local 798 and the workers at the Atlanta Opera. The protest was held on opening night of the opera’s new season, and we wanted the patrons to know what sort of establishment they were supporting; that the opera doesn’t respect the talents of the workers who bring their performances to life. We were joined by representatives from Local 600, Local 479, Local 52, the Teamsters, the IATSE International, and even the AFL-CIO in support of Local 798. International President Matt Loeb and Vice Presidents Mike Miller & Phil LoCicero made appearances, standing side-by-side with us as we spoke with workers and patrons of the opera to discuss the situation inside.
(But the most important attendee, by far, was Scabby the Rat, who loomed over the proceedings with the sort of stoic determination that only an inflatable balloon can have.)
I came back to California, reinvigorated in Local 695’s mission to support the lives and careers of Production Sound, Video, and Projection workers. I’m eager to continue our fight for living wages, sustainable futures, humane working conditions, diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect. It is important to celebrate our achievements so far, but also to recognize that we have much left to accomplish.