Council keeps pressure on ZACH Theatre over labor rights

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ZACH Theatre, the only professional theater in town, has been dogged by complaints of union-busting for the last couple years.

It looks like City Council is set to approve $60,000 to help the nonprofit cover some maintenance costs. As it did in 2016 when it authorized more than $200k to the organization, Council will approve a resolution requiring the theater to abide by a “labor peace” agreement that says management will not try to dissuade workers from unionizing.

The Council resolution also says that the city gets its money back in the event of a labor law violation. Last year, Adler was the only one to vote against these provisions (Troxclair was absent and Alter abstained), arguing that a labor law violation seemed way too vague and open-ended to justify full revocation of funding. It will be interesting to see how he votes in the midst of campaign season. I’m sure the measure will pass easily.

I know somebody who works at ZACH (but not as a stagehand) and insists that there isn’t much support for a union among the stagehands there. I don’t find that assertion impossible, but I do find it curious.

Like film production, theatre is a heavily-unionized industry. Just about every non-management employee involved in a Broadway play is represented by a union, including actors, musicians, and everybody behind the scenes. For those who work in backstage jobs, joining the union is often the necessary first step of one’s career because that’s where you get training and assigned to jobs with theaters that have agreements with the union.

Granted, things are different in Texas. But this is Austin, and there is a local of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. IATSE Local 205 has collective bargaining agreements with Ballet Austin, Austin Opera and the Long Center, among others. If those workers are getting a much better deal in terms of pay/benefits/working conditions, then it shouldn’t be too heavy of a lift to get ZACH workers to unionize. In contrast to, say, Walmart employees, ZACH stagehands would presumably have a much higher awareness of their rights to unionize.

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