More Shakespeare Festival workers unionize


A group of 16 scenic and prop shop workers at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has joined their fellow production workers as members of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 154. The newly unionized workers workers produce the scenery and props for OSF plays at a facility in Talent, Oregon. 

The union organizing campaign was fast-paced. Local 154 filed for representation just before Thanksgiving, ballots were mailed Dec. 21, and a unanimous 11-0 vote was recorded by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Jan. 14. It also came during a jam-packed few weeks when workers were preparing to open a winter show during the holiday season.

“All of the things that could have been a giant obstacle for this bargaining unit, they were like, ‘We got this. Next,’” said Amanda Sager, president of IATSE Local 154.

Sager estimates the new members bring Local 154 to just under 100 members. Numbers have fluctuated during the pandemic, as some workers left the industry altogether.

Chartered in 2016, IATSE Local 154 is built on the organizing of OSF’s “run crew”—employees who run the shows backstage, including the lighting, hair, makeup, sound, stage ops and video departments.

During that campaign, OSF management actually proposed that the bargaining unit cover more employee classifications, including costume shop, scenic and prop shop employees. That would have created a unit of 147 employees, a much bigger unit to have to win than the 62-employee unit proposed by the union. Ultimately, NLRB sided with IATSE and allowed the smaller bargaining unit of just the run crew, and a 37-25 majority of the covered employees voted to affiliate with IATSE. 

Since then, there has been occasional momentum to bring the other departments into the union. A 2018 campaign to unionize the costume shop failed 21 to 25, and that department remains non-union. Sager said there was also union interest in the scene shop in 2018, but it didn’t generate a campaign.

Then came pandemic-related mass layoffs in 2020.

“Entertainment, live theater just stopped, in a matter of a day,” Sager said.

Because of their contract, the layoff triggered immediate bargaining over terms of layoff and recall, Sager said. When it came time to recall workers back to the job, the union agreement lays out criteria for bringing workers back in a certain order.

Sager said the emergency highlighted stark differences between having union representation or not.

Local 154 is currently bargaining its first successor contract for the OSF run crew, whose previous contract expired in 2019.



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