Cinema workers: strike first, union later

Living Room Theaters workers gathered outside the downtown Portland theater on Jan. 10 during an unfair labor practice strike. | PHOTO BY DON McINTOSH


After holding a six-day strike that shut down the business for two days, Living Room Theaters workers announced a campaign to unionize with a new labor organization, United Cinema Workers.

Located at 341 SW 10th Avenue in downtown Portland, Living Room Theaters offers a lounge-style movie-going experience.

The unrest began with the firing of a worker Dec. 29. Living Room Theaters employee Audra Sweetland says the worker was fired for taking an extra minute on a smoke break. That’s aggravating, Sweetland says, because managers often take far longer breaks. Workers were frustrated and started talking about a wider set of workplace complaints. Then Sweetland says she was brought into a meeting with Chief Operating Officer Nick Cruz, who told her not to discuss working conditions with coworkers, and asked that she spread that message to her coworkers.

That’s a violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which protects workers’ right to talk about work and take action together. Citing that conversation, workers filed an unfair labor practice charge Jan. 5 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The company hired anti-union law firm Littler Mendelson.

To discuss their grievances, workers tried to meet with management, showing up at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 6, at the company’s corporate offices in the Pittock Block building across the street from the theater. When they arrived, they were told nobody would meet with them, so they waited in a conference room in the office … for eight hours. The next day, they took their strike outside for visibility, and seven out of the theater’s nine workers picketed. The business remained open with a bare-bones crew and managers staffing it but closed Jan. 11 and 12, explaining on its website that the closure was “to give our staff a much needed break.”

On Friday, workers ended their strike, and returned to the corporate office to announce their union campaign. They also filed paperwork asking the NLRB to hold an election, which would cover all 11 non-management workers at the business.

Reached Jan. 13, Living Room Theaters CEO Steve Herring declined to comment on the NLRB filing, saying the business had not yet received all the information from the agency.

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