CMU School of Drama

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Stagehands at ZACH Theatre ask city to step into wage fight

Austin Monitor: Although they’re used to being behind the scenes, the stagehands from ZACH Theatre are going public with their requests for more equitable pay.

On Sept. 1, representatives of the stagehands asked City Council to put stipulations on cultural organizations like ZACH Theatre requiring that they pay fair and stable wages. This is the first campaign for a newly forming stagehand’s union at the theater. At the heart of their fight, they say, is Austin’s creative community’s struggle to secure a stable living so it can afford to stay in the rapidly growing city.

7 comments:

Kelly Simons said...

This article made me incredibly angry. The fact that a theater is refusing to pay their employees a living wage is absurd. Oftentimes stagehands are in the theatre for more physical hours each week than any administrator, and are still getting paid less. The administration claims that they’re open to a salary negotiation but then appear to fire employees or take them off of a job, lowering their salary again by cutting hours. It seems like if any employee actually tried to sit down with an administrator to speak with them about salary they would be fired, and since the theatre doesn’t have to tell the why they can fire their employees over salary disputes. I’m glad the stagehands are bringing in extra ammunition by asking the city for help. With more backing hopefully this issues will be resolved and the stagehands will receive a living wage.

Sarah Boyle said...

It’s bad enough that the stagehands at the ZACH aren’t being paid close the wages of other theatres, the management decided to pay wardrobe even less than that. Since, as the article states, wardrobe is predominately females, it would be easy to claim that the wage gap was different jobs, not gender discrimination. While a theatre is a cultural investment, it is being run as a business. With that in mind, I think that the government funding should, as the stagehands are advocating, come with strings attached to follow payroll policies like any other contractor. And really, the account of a manager saying that unions take the creative soul out of theatre? It’s overdramatic. Although, a lot of disgruntled employees would definitely hurt creativity I hope that the city’s financial influence, and a bit of bad press, helps the ZACH stagehands get higher wages. Honestly I am surprised they aren’t also calling for some changes in the ZACH’s management.

Liz He said...

This article is actually outrageous to read. The unbelievably opposite version of the story from the stagehands and the theatre manager is making things even worse. It is disgusting to see that ZACH is paying their employees way less while its managing director has the nerve to say things like "We are constantly seeking ways to increase compensation and benefits", and discouraging stagehands from forming a union while saying "We have always worked effectively with our employees, without them having to pay union dues". I'm always amazed how people could just lie when they are doing the exact opposite things. The fact that ZACH pays wardrobe crew the least is also unacceptable. I wonder if the only reason that this theatre could get away with taking advantages of its stagehands is that no one stepped up and exposed it to the public. Referring back to the other article I just commented on, unfair payment is typically unhealthy company culture that will stifle creativity, crush passion, and eventually drive employees away. I'm really glad to see the newly formed union of the stagehands at ZACH is asking for a higher pay and exposing the unfair labor practice of the theatre. However, I wondered why NLRB didn't get involved earlier and helped the employees form their own union to negotiate for higher wage.

Aubrey Sirtautas said...

I do not think it’s totally absurd that the stagehands aren’t being paid well. I hate it, but let’s all be honest with ourselves that we have all at some point said “at least it’s a job” and taken something that pays less than we want. I do think that the discriminatory nature of their salaries and firing decisions are appalling, but again, I don’t even think that it’s original. Something we need to stand up against and prevent? Yes. The stagehands are clearly trying to do so by unionizing. The point with ZACH theatre that I take true issue with is the fact that they have tried to actively prevent their stagehands from representation. Actually, I’m pretty certain that if the stagehands can prove it, the action is completely illegal. Everyone has a right to labor representation if they desire it, and even though Texas is a right-to-work state, a company cannot prevent their workers from joining a union, which would protect their salary and benefits at the very least. I am glad the stagehands have gone to the City Council asking for them to take action in the ongoing discussions.

Rachel said...

I’m not sure how I feel about the stagehands approaching City Council about ZACH’s funding. If the ZACH has discouraged organizing in any way, especially if it has affected their hiring/firing that’s an enormous problem and absolutely makes them subject to Labor penalties. So, why doesn’t the article indicate that the stagehands have filed an objection with the NLRB? The lack of an attempt to report to the Labor Board makes me feel like the obstruction claim is either unsubstantiated (or can’t be proved) or that the real reason the employees are lobbying the City Council is for the wage increase and not the obstruction. And if the Zach is paying their employees lawful (though not ideal) wages, it would be unwise for City Council to intervene. You can’t start penalizing business for lawful wages because it opens the door to all kinds of exceptions and favoritism. If you want higher wages, you have to legislate it.

I feel for the ZACH’s employees and I DO hope they unionize, if that’s what they want, so they can secure higher wages. And, though I don’t have any factual information or proof, there is something disparaging in the tone of the quotes coming from management. But you HAVE to file suit through the appropriate channels.

Cosette Craig said...

My sister currently works at Zach Theater and was speaking to me about this recently. We hypothesized that the reason Zach can get away with this is because they are the only union house in the city and the premier theater in Austin. If you're going to work anywhere in Austin in theater, then Zach is your best bet, there's not much else. However, while dollar amounts may seem low compared to north eastern cities, $12 an hour for being a stagehand is not too shabby for a Texan (this is coming from personal experience). With that said, Zach is suppressing their stagehands and restricting them from having a voice. I also think it was smart to involve the city. Austin is very interested in building their cultural reputation especially with cities like Dallas and Houston so close) so the city would probably see these angry workers as a red flag.

Ben Vigman said...

Yikes, sounds like there is a little bit of a toxic environment at ZACH Theatre. For such a "high profile" and long running theatre, I am surprised they have not unionized and joined IATSE by now. What they are getting paid now is certainly far below the IATSE base pay rate. Additionally, the management discouraging their employees from unionizing is a huge no-no, and it will be interesting if any action is taken against them for that. Like Rachel said, I am surprised nobody has contacted the NLRB, as this seems like a pretty textbook case, if the allegations are true. I am also interested in what steps the city will take, if any, to help resolve this dispute. I suppose the city does have a lot of leverage in this scenario due to ZACH's financial ties with the city. Unfortunately, on the other hand, if the money isn't there, it just isn't there. So if the stagehands do unionize and join IATSE, it is likely that the theatre will be forced to reduce the number of stagehands it employs. It certainly is not a free lunch to demand and force higher wages.