Unionization Emerges in Response to Strains on Movie Theater Employees

by Michael Nguyen
Unionization in Movie Theaters

For cinema proprietors nationwide, the simultaneous premiere of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” this past summer signaled record-breaking box office revenue, affirming that audiences still yearned for big-screen experiences.

However, for several employees at Manhattan’s Alamo Drafthouse, this blockbuster event—nicknamed “Barbenheimer”—served as a tipping point.

Maggie Quick, a guest attendant, stated, “This was the catalyst that pushed our patience to the limit, mainly due to persistent understaffing and emotional fatigue.”

Shift leader Tyler Trautman noted, “Longer waiting times for food orders resulted in irate and impatient customers. As front-line staff, the mental strain of dealing with customer dissatisfaction is significant.”

These sentiments prompted Quick, Trautman, and many other employees at the Manhattan location to initiate unionization efforts. Collaborating with United Auto Workers Local 2179, the staff voted this week to unionize, with approximately two-thirds in favor. They now join the workforce at Alamo’s Brooklyn location, who unionized last month.

“We are enthused to progress in unison with our Brooklyn colleagues,” Quick said after the vote, “We anticipate meaningful changes due to our collective strength.”

The company’s spokesperson chose not to comment on the matter.

During an era when labor movements are gaining traction not only in Hollywood but also within the movie theater industry, efforts to unionize have noticeably increased. Over the last two years, initiatives to form unions have emerged at several other establishments including Film Forum and Anthology Film Archives in New York, as well as Amherst Cinema in Massachusetts and Alamo Drafthouse locations in both San Francisco and Austin, Texas.

In some instances, the transition to unionized workforces has occurred without much resistance. For example, Amherst Cinema owners voluntarily acknowledged the union, and a contract was ratified earlier this year. However, at Alamo Drafthouse, a chain renowned for its unique film selections and in-theater dining, employees report persistent opposition from management.

According to documents and audio recordings acquired by The Big Big News, Alamo’s management in New York disseminated flyers discouraging unionization and even brought in speakers from Texas, including co-founder Tim League. Internal meetings were held to address employee grievances, though management stressed that these issues could be more effectively resolved without union involvement.

Tim League also discussed the company’s history and his own political leanings, stating that while he understands the necessity for unionization in other industries, he believes it would create a barrier within Alamo Drafthouse. Despite his appeals, employees at the Brooklyn location voted overwhelmingly in favor of unionization.

Public sentiment appears to support the labor movement. Although union membership has dwindled from 35% in the 1950s to a mere 6% today in the U.S. private sector, public approval for stronger unions stands at 67%, according to Gallup.

The management at Alamo Drafthouse now faces the imperative of negotiating with the newly formed union, as the Brooklyn staff noted, “Dialogue with management has failed to resolve our concerns. Alamo Drafthouse must now engage with us at the negotiation table.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Unionization in Movie Theaters

What is the main focus of this article?

The article primarily focuses on the growing trend of unionization among employees at movie theaters, with a particular emphasis on the Alamo Drafthouse chain. It explores the factors that have led to these unionization efforts, such as understaffing and emotional stress, as well as the resistance from management.

Why did employees at Alamo Drafthouse decide to unionize?

Employees at Alamo Drafthouse cited persistent understaffing and emotional fatigue as the main reasons behind their decision to unionize. They believe that unionizing would empower them to collectively address these and other workplace issues.

How has management at Alamo Drafthouse responded to the unionization efforts?

Management at Alamo Drafthouse has expressed resistance to the unionization efforts. They have disseminated flyers discouraging unionization and held meetings to persuade employees that issues can be better resolved without a union.

Is the unionization trend limited to Alamo Drafthouse?

No, the article mentions that the trend of unionization is broader and has been seen in other movie theaters and venues like Film Forum and Anthology Film Archives in New York, and Amherst Cinema in Massachusetts.

What is the public’s view on labor unions, according to the article?

According to Gallup polls cited in the article, public approval for stronger unions stands at 67%. Although union membership in the U.S. private sector has decreased to 6% from 35% in the 1950s, public support for labor movements appears to be on the rise.

What steps have other theaters taken in regard to unionization?

Some theaters, like Amherst Cinema, have voluntarily recognized unions and reached contract agreements. Others, like Film Forum, have also successfully unionized and reached multi-year contracts that include salary increases.

What is the current state of negotiations at Alamo Drafthouse?

The article notes that employees at Alamo Drafthouse’s Brooklyn location have voted overwhelmingly in favor of unionization. Now, the management at Alamo Drafthouse faces the imperative of engaging with the newly formed union at the negotiation table.

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Linda Harris October 14, 2023 - 5:47 am

Finally someone’s talking about emotional stress at work. People think serving popcorn is easy. It ain’t when you’re short-staffed and customers are fuming.

Sara Williams October 14, 2023 - 8:20 am

ugh, understaffing is a real problem everywhere it seems. not surprised it pushed the Alamo staff to this point.

Mike Jenson October 14, 2023 - 10:27 am

Wow, never thought I’d see the day when movie theater employees unionize. But considering the state of things, it’s high time they did. Good on them.

Robert Thompson October 14, 2023 - 10:45 pm

It’s so ironic. Alamo co-founder supports Bernie and progressive ideas, yet resists unionization in his own company? That doesn’t add up.

Tim Reynolds October 15, 2023 - 12:08 am

Didn’t Alamo file for bankruptcy? Where’d they get the money for all these anti-union flyers and Texas speakers lol.


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