Moviegoers arriving at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater for some recent screenings have been treated to a preview available nowhere else in the city: a picket by members of IATSE Local 306 asking patrons to boycott. The union, which represents projectionists in the five boroughs and neighboring counties, claims Two Boots is the only 35mm venue in town that does not employ union members.
“They claim poverty, but we tried to make a deal with them,” says Joel Deitch, secretary-treasurer of the local. According to Deitch, the standard wage for his members is between $13 and $30 per hour; filmmaker and Two Boots co-owner Doris Kornish says she’s paying within that range. “I grew up in heavy union country in the coal fields of West Virginia. I have a clear understanding of what’s good about unions and why they are necessary. But I don’t really see what the benefit is to us being a part of the union,” she says.
Job security and benefits for her employees, for starters. Leafletter and union member Damon Nankin, who screens films at theaters around the city, adds that “somebody who has many years of experience, whose life depends on that job, is going to make sure they do a good job.”
Despite relentless automation, wage reductions, and a resulting decline in membership, the union has maintained a strong presence in the city, although in some of the larger theaters, managers can show films during shifts when no union member is on duty. Kornish and her life and business partner, Phil Hartman, planned to run the equipment themselves when they opened a year ago but have since taken on additional staff. (The theater was briefly closed last month because of a problem with the building’s certificate of occupancy; both sides agree that the labor dispute had nothing to do with it.)
“They’re picking on the wrong target,” Hartman insists. “They’ve been victimized by the rise of the multiplex. But we’re trying to do something good. No other theater’s like us — a single-screen, 99-seat, independently owned and operated theater.” Deitch says the pickets and leafletting will continue on selected nights until the union wins a contract.