Rallying Cry for Staff at Lower Manhattan Cinema: Remember the Alamo
The staff at the Alamo Drafthouse cinema at 28 Liberty Street (the building formerly known as One Chase Plaza) voted on October 12 to join Local 2179 of the United Auto Workers (UAW). Notwithstanding the name of its organizational parent, Local 2179 represents thousands of direct mail, garment and textile, warehouse, retail, movie theater, air cargo, office, and professional workers in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Employees at the Alamo Drafthouse voted by a majority of 65 percent to affiliate with the UAW. The trades represented by the new bargaining unit (which calls itself NYC Alamo United) include approximately 100 full- and part-time employees—among them waiters and waitresses, line cooks, bartenders, box office personnel, custodians, and dishwashers. (Alamo employs this broad range of workers because it specializes in serving high-quality food and drinks to movie guests.) These employees initially petitioned the federal government’s National Labor Relations Board in September to set a date for a vote about whether to unionize.
The push to gain union protections for Alamo workers in Lower Manhattan follows a similar drive at the chain’s location in Downtown Brooklyn, which led to a similar vote (with an identical outcome) in September. These two locations have become, respectively, the first and second outposts of the Alamo chain to unionize. Alamo is the 12th largest chain of movie theaters in America, with 39 locations. (In March, 2021, the company filed for bankruptcy, but quickly reorganized and resumed operations.)
Among the issues that catalyzed workers at the Lower Manhattan location to seek union protections, according the UAW, were understaffing and unpredictable scheduling. These concerns came to a head when movie attendance spiked this summer, during the simultaneous releases of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.” Alamo patrons (who pay a premium for an enhanced movie-going experience) packed the theater, but were frustrated when sparse waitstaff could not quickly fill orders, and sometimes became verbally abusive, according to the union. Grievances were not limited to overwork, however: Because many Alamo workers rely on tips for a substantial portion of the compensation, unhappy customers translated into lower take-home pay. (A representative for Alamo did not respond to a request for comment.)
“For years, Alamo workers have tried to solve problems through dialogue with management, to no avail,” a spokesman for UAW Local 2179 said. “Now Alamo Drafthouse must meet us at the bargaining table.”