Union fights to keep City Cinema jobs

NEW YORK – Just blocks from Times Square and minutes from half a dozen theaters, the members of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 306 are at a cross-roads with City Cinemas Theaters, a cinema chain here.

According to Joel Deitch, Local 306 business representative, “City Cinemas no longer deserves our respect.” City Cinemas is attempting to eliminate city-licensed union projectionists jobs and replace the union members with in-house personnel like house managers, ushers and candy attendants.

This comes after a long round of cutbacks by the union. In September 2001, in an attempt to help City Cinemas recuperate from financial losses, the union agreed to lower its presence in certain theaters and shorten the hours of work by union members.

And again in August 2002, IATSE agreed to provide even more reductions of union operating hours. While dialog continued in good faith for awhile, City Cinemas has now “changed the tone of negotiations,” said Deitch.

“They went into a phase of regressive bargaining. And basically told the union, ‘we are gonna do it different from now on,’” said Deitch. “No other company has pushed us into this position and City Cinemas isn’t gonna be the first.”

City Cinemas wants the union to accept pay cuts, shorter hours and less union presence. They are also trying to eliminate holidays and shorten vacation packages.

While, according to Deitch, “they’ve been claiming poverty” in negotiations with the union, City Cinemas has sought to purchase Clearview theaters for an estimated $50-$60 million.

Local 306 also questions where City Cinemas concerns lie. “The projectionists’ job hasn’t disappeared,” said Deitch. “What City Cinemas wants to do is give that work to non-union people.”

Local 306 is also concerned that non-union projectionists would be unable to look after the safety of the theater patrons, in case of fire or other emergencies. “The projectionists’ job is a craft and a profession. Projectionists are trained to protect viewers in the event of an evacuation,” said Deitch.

The union represents 1,500 division ushers, doormen, ticket takers and projectionists. “This is about families and saving jobs,” said Deitch.

Moviegoers are being asked to boycott Angelika Sixplex, Cinema 1,2,3, Eastside Playhouse, 86 Street East Quad, Sutton Twin and Village East, and to contact City Cinemas Vice President of Business Affairs Ellen Cotter at 212-871-6828.

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org