Berkeley projectionsts
protest lock out

by John Hess

from Jump Cut, no. 9, 1975, p. 35
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1975, 2004

In Berkeley, California, Local 169 of the International Alliance of Theater and Stage Employees has been picketing in front of a United Artists Theater Circuit movie house for several months while the established contract grievance procedure is put in operation. Union projectionists have been locked out by the bosses who have employed scabs to project the films. The conflict is now in binding federal arbitration.

At issue is the growing speedup requirement around the country that projectionists tend more and more projectors as single screen theaters become twins, four-plexes, and even six screen theaters. In some cases projectionists shuttle between several fully automated theaters. Reduced projection quality is a side effect of this move to multi-screen automated theaters. Because the film projection is automated, there is no possibility for the projectionist to make minor corrections on the machine until the entire film has been shown. The whole film is on one huge reel or platter and the single projector can't be worked on without stopping the film. Managers seem to be taking a customer-be-damned attitude.

In other places around the country, when the projectors are in the same booth, the projectionists welcome the automation and speedup because it means higher pay for them. They seem unaware of the rapid proletarianization of their work which used to be skilled craft and is being reduced to that of button pusher. In the Berkeley case the booths are four stories apart and the projectionist must walk through the auditorium to get from one booth to the other. When the theater added two more screens this spring, the regular projectionist was an older man who had worked the theater since it began 43 years ago. When he refused to work the two booths and tried to begin the grievance procedure, management kicked him out and began the lock out. Even though the union offered to pay for a second projectionist during voluntary arbitration, the bosses locked out the union and brought in scabs. The union has finally forced the case into binding arbitration and is optimistic of the outcome. They also report the picket has been a big success, substantially reducing the theater’s business.