Finally: Stagehands at Oregon Shakespeare Festival have their first union contract

In a show of solidarity, union stagehands and supporters gather on the lawn outside a theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
In a show of solidarity, union stagehands and supporters gather on the lawn outside a theater at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

By Don McIntosh, Associate editor

Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has reached agreement with IATSE on a first-ever union contract for a group of 70 stagehands. Ratified June 13, the collective bargaining agreement raises wages and greatly improves job security.

The agreement covers seasonal stagehands who run backstage operations during the nine months of the year that shows are being rehearsed and performed. On June 10, 2015, they voted 37 to 25 to join International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). Then, after fending off legal maneuvers by the employer, they began contract bargaining Sept. 28.

OSF-IATSE-BugThe resulting contract provides immediate raises for workers whose pay is less than it’s supposed to be under a new unified pay scale. That’s followed by annual raises of $0.25 to $0.50 $0.75 to $1.50 an hour. The contract expires Nov. 15, 2019, a date which coincides with OSF’s budget year.

The contract also results in greater gender pay equity: By the end, all the master-level workers will be earning the same hourly wage — traditionally-female wig-masters will earn the same as their traditionally-male counterparts who handle electrical equipment, for example.

The agreement maintains current health care benefits, and locks in current paid holidays and a 4 percent employer match to 401(k)-style retirement savings accounts.

It also contains a number of job protections:

  • Only union members can do the work of union members.
  • Workers can’t be terminated except for just cause, and will have the right to a grievance and arbitration process to challenge unfair discipline.
  • After a worker’s first season, considered a probationary period, they become permanent employees and automatically return for subsequent seasons.
  • Most of the unit will be guaranteed at least 40 hours a week; others 35 or 30, depending on classification.
  • Shifts will be at least 2.5 hours long for those who change sets between shows.

The union worked to remain positive throughout. That spirit is reflected in the contract’s preamble: “Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Union are committed to a relationship of mutual respect, trust, accountability, and communication; to work together to create an environment which allows and encourages every employee to do their best work and every patron to have the best possible experience.”

Management of non-profit OSF opposed the union effort, but never resorted to the kind of scorched-earth tactics many employers use to keep unions out. The tentative agreement was reached in an all-night negotiation session that wrapped up at 4 a.m. June 7. OSF made a number of late-breaking concessions after union stagehands and their supporters, wearing union t-shirts, assembled publicly outside a theater before a performance.

The crew will now officially be members of IATSE, and will be part of brand-new IATSE Local 154. The number 154 was chosen because it’s the number of sonnets William Shakespeare wrote in his lifetime.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story reported erroneously that OSF would be contributing 0.5 percent of payroll to the accounts for workers who’ve been there 10 years, and 1 percent after 15 years. That was part of an earlier proposal, but was not part of the final agreement.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.