Author Topic: Play nice with other unions, or don't get involved?  (Read 3255 times)

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NomieRae

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I was once in a sticky situation, and was wondering what everyone's tactic would be if they had this problem.

Worked a small regional theater which happens to have an IATSE crew, I'm an AEA SM. When I published the tech schedule for our production, I was asked by my boss to remove someone from the e-mail distribution because they were "no longer on the show." That person, it turns out, is the IATSE steward for the theater. They were very much still the steward for that space.

So, I reached out to the steward to find out (surprise, surprise) there is a very long and tense history between producers and IA.  I decided to still be in communication with the steward because it best served the crew who I had to work with on a daily basis. I  removed them from the general distro, but sent them schedules so they were still in the loop about crew hours/calls.

In my opinion it is ethically responsible to be forthcoming with other unions, even if my management is not. However, this may sour any future employment with me and this company in the future (which doesn't really bother me).

I know labor disputes are very common, especially with small companies. Do you often just choose to not get involved? I know if this was a SDC or designer dispute I would feel weird about it, but for some reason because it is IATSE crew that I worked with 8 shows a week, I felt the need to keep in communication.

Thoughts? 
--Naomi
"First, I honor life, and with it my life in theatre." -- Jacques Burdick

SMrose

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Re: Play nice with other unions, or don't get involved?
« Reply #1 on: Sep 09, 2014, 10:16 am »
You have to keep your crew informed of schedules.
 Your producer wouldn't appreciate unnecessary overtime because you aren't communicating with the IATSE Steward.  In my experience, the Steward is the go to person.

ejsmith3130

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Re: Play nice with other unions, or don't get involved?
« Reply #2 on: Sep 09, 2014, 12:11 pm »
I believe that I would have done the same in your situation. And in terms of future employment, if the company is not playing by one Union's rules, what makes you think that they will continue to follow Equity's rules as well? And in that case, do you really want to work for a company that disrespects the people and rules that govern our safety? The strength of the union is it's people, and making sure that rules are followed for everyone's safety and wellbeing.

When I was in the Philly Market, there were some rather high profile strikes of IATSE crews at one of the theatres, but what you didn't hear about in the news was the turn over of the Stage Managers as well. They ended up hiring a non-equity and giving an equity contract to them, but that only lasted one season, and they were again specifically advertising to hire a non-equity stage manager and give an equity contract. It seems to me that they want to  have someone with less experience with the union and the rules so that they can take advantage. Now I know this is based on speculation and some hearsay, but when you think about it, it makes sense.

In my personal experience, your job only gets easier if the IATSE crew is on the same page, and having an organized steward helps eliminate problems, and makes the production run much more smoothly.


KMC

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Re: Play nice with other unions, or don't get involved?
« Reply #3 on: Sep 09, 2014, 02:03 pm »
Stage Management is tough in that you're middle management in what can sometimes be a polarizing labor environment.  It's good business on your part to toe the company line (in this case, to the degree that is ethically sensible); but from a practical sense you also need to get the show up every day, which involves working very closely with folks whose direct job requirements don't necessarily require a symbiotic relationship with upper management.  That isn't meant to be condescending, this is obviously a familiar concept from reading your post. 

If you were challenged by management as to why you did an end-around and gave the information to the IA Steward, what would you have said?  I probably would have asked the producer for his/her proposal to hold a successful tech rehearsal without IA knowing when said rehearsal was scheduled...

I think you walked the fine line between management and staff about as well as you can in this situation.
Get action. Do things; be sane; donít fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

MatthewShiner

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Re: Play nice with other unions, or don't get involved?
« Reply #4 on: Sep 09, 2014, 11:42 pm »
The red flag is your boss told you not to do something and you did it.

The beef is between the union and the producer and not you.

There might have been other work-arounds other then go against your boss to get it done.

There might have been a bigger reason NOT to include the steward that you were not made privy to.
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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

NomieRae

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Re: Play nice with other unions, or don't get involved?
« Reply #5 on: Sep 11, 2014, 04:33 pm »
Thanks everyone for your thoughts - it is a really fine line, and an on-going issue at this particular venue. I'm generally not one to go behind management's wishes...

It turns out several electricians, the TD, as well as our ME/programmer also forwarded him the schedule so at the very least it's not as if our tech calendar and calls were top secret information. The venue has many grievances filed against them for not following their IA contract, and the steward is keeping a very close eye on their hires/calls.

Quote
If you were challenged by management as to why you did an end-around and gave the information to the IA Steward, what would you have said?

Likely a similar answer to yours, in the vein of that a IATSE steward needs to be informed of call times the same as any other crew head to properly account for hours and to avoid overtime.

If only this was the sole issue at the venue, but unfortunately it was just the tip of an iceberg of internal problems. Learned a whole lot about how I like to work, and things I will not do in the future. In retrospect I wish I had directly asked management why the steward was supposed to be off the distribution, but hindsight is 20/20...
--Naomi
"First, I honor life, and with it my life in theatre." -- Jacques Burdick

cdavisnyc

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Re: Play nice with other unions, or don't get involved?
« Reply #6 on: Sep 13, 2014, 05:11 pm »
The big question for me, here, is who is responsible for setting the crew's schedule? Not the SM, and not the Steward. Who approves their timesheets for payroll?

In my venue, Production Management sets the crew hours. The Steward tracks hours as well, and we file separate reports with IATSE, and those reports should match. 

From a manager's persepective, I much prefer if an SM goes through me, because I can keep an eye out for O/T hours, meal penalties, short turnarounds, 7th day fees, etc. If your crew has departments, that's another layer of complexity.

Now, in my venue, I don't mind if an SM distributes schedules (heck, they are posted on the callboards), because my crew understands that if there is a conflict, they are working the hours that I (or one of my coworkers/managers) set for them. In your venue, it sounds like management & labor are not playing nicely, but it's not your job to choose a side. And it is definitely not your job to spend the theater's money on stagehand labor. It's your job to coordinate schedules with the person who sets the crew's hours, and only that person. It's really that simple.

I'll extrapolate to my venue, here:
If a stage manager inadvertently changed my crew's schedule, I would have a problem, (a) with the stage manager who overrode my schedule, and (b) with the crew chief who didn't approve a change with me. And, then I would have to choose to either not pay the crew for hours that, as far as I am concerned, they worked voluntarily, or pay them and then find that money somewhere else in the budget. So I either anger the crew or my boss, and either way I am angry with the SM. And I will tell them not to distribute schedules to the crew.

Let's say for the sake of argument, that the working hours didn't change, but assignments did. So now, I was planning on putting two people on a lobby installation, but the SM has them running followspots. Now what do I do? Once again, I will find the best solution in the moment, and then I'm going to insist that all scheduling go through me.

Let's go even further and say that the schedule didn't change and assigments didn't change. Verbiage is also important. The words "dress rehearsal" cost more money in my venue, but you wouldn't know that. And you don't have to. That's my job. (Well, my current job; I am also an AEA SM, so I wear both hats.) 

Likewise, I would never tell your actors what their call time is.

IATSE and AEA have a great relationship, so you don't have to worry about our unions. No one will think less of you for doing your job properly. Management, however, may think twice about rehiring you if you cause cost overruns in the labor budget.

If this company and IATSE are having contract issues, you could make the situation worse even though you have good intentions.

That's my take, but I'm extrapolating the situation into my venue, and I'm imagining reasons why I would tell a SM not to give a schedule to my crew, so I may be missing a significant piece to this puzzle.

-Colleen

NomieRae

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Re: Play nice with other unions, or don't get involved?
« Reply #7 on: Sep 15, 2014, 11:21 am »
Thanks for your post Colleen - what you said definitely makes a lot of sense and I figured I would clarify:

I never set the crew calls, I was just asked to distribute the full tech schedule (that includes crew calls, work calls, transportation, actor calls, etc) in one long form schedule.

This theater is also unique in that there is no production manager, there is no technical director, there is no actual lighting or sound supervisor. There is the artistic director. He generates the entire tech schedule and calls, has the PSM look over the actors side to make sure it fits in their  AEA LOA/COST agreement and then relies on stage management to distribute to the crews as well as designers and cast.

I am never allowed to change any part of the schedule without his approval - because of things you mentioned such as O/T, meals, etc etc.

I chose to share our long form schedule with the shop steward even after being told he was no longer on the show. The steward does help them fill their electrics calls, and this week when they told him they no longer needed his help, they understaffed the call and we lost 4 hours of staging time with actors because focus wasn't complete on schedule. Expensive lesson.

There are larger issues in this space (obviously) that are beyond my governance to try and fix, and at the moment we are all just trying to ride it out until opening night and then run like the wind. (I am only on contract as PSM until opening night, then a local PSM takes over due to budget constraints)

I appreciate everyone's insight. Sometimes I can find a soap box and think I'm doing a greater good, where here I probably would have less headache if I just kept my nose out of it and practiced some self preservation so I can leave here feeling confident I did my job the best I could.

All things considered, I will not be returning to work at this venue again by my own choice.

--Naomi
"First, I honor life, and with it my life in theatre." -- Jacques Burdick

cdavisnyc

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Re: Play nice with other unions, or don't get involved?
« Reply #8 on: Sep 15, 2014, 02:39 pm »
I feel you. Losing 4 hours of actor time hurts.

Also, being in a bad situation hurts. The phrase "riding it out until opening night" just hurts my soul. Having an Artistic Director act as Production Manager probably hurts him and the cast and the crew. And the Steward & crew are just stuck.

It's an unhealthy situation all around. Budget-wise and morale-wise.

As a stage manager, we want to fix it. It's a pathological urge, but it makes us good at what we do.

So, never give up that urge to FIX IT. It's what makes you great. You're also doing a great job at sorting out what you can fix and what you need to let go. That will serve you well, in my opinion. You're doing great. Keep it up.