Workers at New York’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema have voted to unionize after the ‘Barbenheimer’ blockbuster boom ‘pushed them to the brink’.
In July, the same-day release of Barbie and Oppenheimer generated record-breaking ticket sales. In their first weekend, Barbie’s domestic total rose to $162 million, while Oppenheimer took in $82 million.
Although “Barbenheimer” was great at the box office, movie theater workers say demand has pushed them to the breaking point — and now they’re unionizing.
The Manhattan Alamo Drafthouse voted to unionize on Thursday. They joined Alamo employees at the Brooklyn theater who voted to become part of Local 2179 on September 29.
“After years of calls to management for better corporate support – for example, new or replacement equipment, wage increases and adequate staffing – employees are tired of hearing that Alamo’s budget doesn’t have room for the most profitable location,” That Brooklyn organizers said in a statement Deadline.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn voted to unionize on September 29. They demand better wages and support for staff
Theater workers say ‘Barbenheimer’ pushed them to their limits and they are now unionizing
The Alamo location in Manhattan voted to unionize on Thursday. Employees at the location say ‘Barbenheimer’ pushed them to the breaking point
“That (Barbenheimer) really pushed us to our limits,” said Maggie Quick, guest clerk at Alamo Drafthouse in Manhattan.
“It was just the constant understaffing and the emotional exhaustion.”
“People were waiting longer than normal for their food and that made them short-tempered and impatient,” said Tyler Trautman, shift leader.
‘We are the ones who deal with customers. It takes a toll, a mental toll, to be yelled at by guests because their drink has already taken an hour.”
Quick, Trautman and their Manhattan film colleagues teamed up with United Auto Workers Local 2179 and voted by nearly two-thirds in favor of forming a union.
“We are very excited to move forward in solidarity with Brooklyn. We are strong in numbers and hope for real change,” Quick said.
An Alamo spokesperson said the company would decline comment.
Labor action has spread from Hollywood writers and actors throughout the entertainment industry, and now movie theaters themselves are forming unions.
Over the past two years, employees have formed or attempted to form unions at the Film Forum and Anthology Film Archives in New York, the Amherst Cinema in Massachusetts and Alamo Drafthouses in San Francisco and Austin, Texas, home to Alamo’s headquarters.
Barbie fans packed theaters when the movie came out. Cinema officials said the influx of viewers and short occupancy caused long wait times
People stand outside the TCL Chinese Theater on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Experts say ‘Barbenheimer’ mania will bring people back to cinemas after the pandemic
For some, the transition to a union shop has been smooth. The owners in Amherst voluntarily agreed to recognize the union and a contract was signed earlier this year.
Film Forum employees, who unionized in 2022, agreed last summer to a five-year contract that increases salaries by an average of 12 percent. Employees of Anthology Film Archives went on strike for a day last year, but have now reached an agreement on the terms.
“Overall it was pretty peaceful,” said Olga Brudastova, president of UAW Local 2110, which represents the Film Forum and Anthology Film Archives unions.
In a statement, Film Forum general manager Chad Bolton said the contract was reached through “a thorough and thoughtful process.”
At Alamo, however, some workers speak of continued resistance from the company and accuse them of trying to destroy the union.
According to images and audio recordings obtained by The Associated Press, Alamo management in New York has distributed flyers urging employees not to unionize and has brought in speakers from Texas, including Alamo co-founder Tim League.
“We appreciate everything you do for our venue and believe we can better work together to resolve issues without a third party, such as a union, coming between us and charging you dues,” a flyer said .
Ahead of the union votes in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Alamo held meetings that acknowledged staff dissatisfaction but said the problems could be resolved without a third party.
League said he understood why Hollywood writers, actors and auto workers were striking, but said an Alamo union would be a communications blockade. He also shared his own support for several Democratic Party candidates, such as Bernie Sanders.
This summer was filled with Hollywood strikes. WGA members and SAG-AFTRA members came together until the WGA reached a contract agreement on September 26
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Radio and Television Artists joined the Writer’s Guild of America in strike this summer, bringing the entertainment industry to a standstill
“I fully recognize my own personal bias here,” he said. “I don’t think forming a union is the right solution for Alamo, that’s my personal opinion. I’m afraid a union will drive a wedge between us.”
“Personally, I strongly believe that introducing a union between you and me and the team hinders that goal. “That’s why, even after all the work, the hard work that has gone into getting to this point, I ask you to vote ‘no’ on forming a union.”
Workers in Brooklyn voted in favor of a union by a margin of more than 2 to 1.
“For years, Brooklyn Alamo workers have attempted to resolve issues through dialogue with management, to no avail,” the union said in a statement. “Now Alamo Drafthouse needs to meet us at the negotiating table.”
According to Gallup Data shows that support for unions has increased in recent years, with two-thirds of Americans approving of unions
Since early September, more than 330,000 American workers have participated in strikes across the US.