Volume 75, Number 6 | June 29 - July 5, 2005

Union is projecting its issues on new IFC Center

Villager photo by Doug Meszler
Prrojectionists union members have been picketing outside the IFC Center on Sixth Ave. with a giant rat, their symbol of nonunion labor.

By Lauren Dzura

The curtain was raised on the IFC Center at W. Third St. and Sixth Ave. only two weeks ago, but the place has already become a flashpoint of debate. Members of Projectionists Local 306 have been picketing outside the theater for several weeks because the new independent film house and center has hired nonunion projectionists to work in their theater, rather than Local 306 projectionists.

All three of the movie house’s theaters are equipped to show 35-millimeter and high-definition digital video on projectors currently operated by two nonunionized projectionists. The use of the nonunion labor shocked and outraged Local 306, which claims they were led to believe that the IFC Center, which is owned by Cablevision, would hire their union members.

Michael Goucher, president of Projectionists Local 306, said they had spoken to an assistant manager at the film center when the theater first started getting its equipment in and she had discussed setting up a meeting, which, however, never happened.

“Someone above her thought differently and shut down communication,” Goucher said of the IFC Center’s decision.

In a June 8 article in The Villager, the IFC Center pledged to be a good neighbor in Greenwich Village. However, they have cut off any talks with Local 306, according to Goucher. The IFC Center would not comment for this article.

Although it’s not against the law to hire nonunion projectionists in New York, it is illegal to hire unlicensed ones. Goucher says he checked with the Department of Consumer Affairs and found that one of the hired projectionists at the IFC Center was, in fact, unlicensed. Goucher suspects the projectionist in question may have become licensed by this point. Yet, he noted, hiring an unlicensed projectionist is punishable under New York State Law, though it’s the institution that does the hiring, not the individual, that faces penalties.

Projectionists Local 306, affiliated with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, has supported independent cinema in the past, Goucher said. Local 306 workers are employed at the Angelika Film Center on W. Houston and Mercer St.

“Our support for independent film cannot be made an issue,” Goucher said. “Many of our members are filmmakers.”

Nonunion workers have not been trained the same way as those in unions, Goucher said. Union projectionists are guaranteed to have taken technical classes or have had courses given by the manufacturing companies of the audio/visual equipment to learn their craft.

As far as the picketing goes, about 10 to 20 members of Local 306 have been standing outside the IFC Center passing out fliers to inform and educate the community about the issue.

“We’re not out there to put 300 people on the street and block Sixth Ave. and make a ruckus,” Goucher said of the picketing.

The community response has been quite supportive of Local 306. State Senator Tom Duane has written a letter to the theater mentioning a Bob Dylan song, “Talking New York,” about unions and beseeching the theater to talk with the union, according to Goucher. He also claims that some theatergoers, who had already purchased tickets, after learning more about the Local 306 protest, have turned around and gone back to the box office for a refund. The union projectionists do not plan on giving up any time soon.

“This was the most rewarding and encouraging response seen from the public,” Goucher said. “We think with this kind of support we will triumph.”

The IFC Center opened June 17 after a four-year renovation of the old Waverly Theater space. Although the IFC Center is the only film center in Greenwich Village not to employ Local 306 projectionists, hiring nonunion workers has become more of a problem, especially in Uptown cinemas, said Goucher. The troubles are mostly with major national corporations that come in from out of town.

“Broadcasting entities [like Cablevision] think they can come in and refuse to bargain with anybody,” Goucher said.

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