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News :: Labor : Media
Kendall Square Cinema employees join union
by Pete Stidman
Email: pstidman (nospam) yahoo.com
31 Jul 2005
After only three months of organizing at the Kendall Square Cinema, the Landmark Theatre chain's biggest theatre, employees voted 17 to one to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) local 791 on July 30.
“Kendall Square cinema is now 100% union,” yelled a cinema employee as movie-goers left the theatre, “wall to wall union!”
The vote comes as a result of recent management changes, a wage freeze, lack of full-time status even for employees who average over 35 hours per week, small and sporadic raises, and a starting wage of $7.25 that hasn't changed since 2002, according to employee and organizer Lauren Ryder.
"I've worked here for two years,” said Rhyland Gillespie, “and the new employees that I'm training earn as much as I do."
The UFCW represents around 6,700 employees of the Shaw's/Star supermarket chain as well as the Excel Case Ready Beef plant in Taunton, MA. The Kendall is their first organized theatre and it may be the only union-organized theatre in the country.
“Many of our organizing drives have been met with stiff resistance,” said Russell Regan, president of UFCW 791, “they outspend us 10 to one to keep their businesses union-free. It reenergizes me to see how much solidarity these kids have, how much they know about labor, and the huge amount of community support here in Cambridge.”
Theatre management hired an anti-union company called Labor Relations Solutions (LRS) to convince employees not to join the union. Their http://lrs2win.com website boasts a 98% union prevention rate.
“Our firm is staffed with proven talent,” said the website, “including former NLRB officials, former Federal Mediators, former Union Organizers, Industrial Psychologists, and Human Resources professionals.” The LRS strategy is based on holding weekly meetings that ply employees with “the negatives” of union organizing.
The LRS representative, known to employees only as “Alex,” attempted to turn the employees against each other and to recruit assistant managers as anti-union agents.
Nancy Campbell, a former assistant manager of the theatre, was told to “gently dissuade people from joining the union.” She promptly quit.
“I resigned so I could support the staff openly,” said Campbell. She immediately received a flurry of job offers from other independent theatres, and accepted a position at the not-for-profit Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.
According to many of the employees and customers that gathered outside of the theatre in support of unionization, the battle is as much about increased wages and benefits as it is about preserving a location for showing independent films.
Two years ago Landmark Theatres, the chain that owns the Kendall, was acquired by 2929 Entertainment, an entertainment holding company owned by Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner. The company owns all of Rysher Entertainment, Landmark Theatres, and Magnolia Pictures Distribution, as well as an interest in Lions Gate Entertainment. They produce films for art house distribution through 2929 productions and films for High Definition Television through HDNet.
Cuban has gained notoriety not only for owning the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, but also for bold capitalistic statements such as, “I love to fuck with people, and I love finding ways to make more money," printed in the April 2005 issue of Wired magazine.
“He's very up front about the fact that all he wants to do is make money,” said avid Boston film-goer Brian Tamm who showed up to support the union, “all the top management here have been brought in from AMC theatres, and they've shown a lot of contempt for the employees and the customers. This isn't the kind of theatre that it used to be.”
Attempts at organizing Landmark-owned theatres have been made in at least one other city. Employees at the Uptown Theatre, the Lagoon Cinema, and the Edina Cinema in Minneapolis attempted to unionize back in May of 2004 with UFCW local 789, but the vote failed.
Employees of the Kendall will now benefit from the right to grievance and arbitration, the right to bargain collectively and other benefits. The union waived initiation fees, as the UFCW does with any new shop, and modest union fees will only be introduced after a contract is won for the employees. Employees are extremely hopeful for the future.
“We're doing something to improve the conditions here,” said employee and new union member David Greene, “if not for us, then for other people who come to work here. Nobody really needs to be treated like the dirt under somebody's shoe.”
Theatre manager Howie Sandler declined comment for this article.
Mark Cuban did not answer emails for this article.
Website for Landmark employees who want to organize:
Commentary site about Mark Cuban:
Minneapolis organizing attempts:
UFCW 791's website:
Labor Relations Services website:
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