Sightlines: IASTE Local 13

Article by Bill Devins, IATSE Local 13

Current IATSE Local 13 President Bill Devins is a predecessor of mine as Technical Director at the Jungle Theater and currently the Head Electrician at the Orpheum. Many excellent people who are now at the top of their craft made their days for the Union Referral List and learned the trade at the Jungle under Bill. Curious about a history of organized stagehand labour (there’s more than Local 13 in our past!), I approached Local 13, and was kindly pointed towards my old boss. - Wu Chen Khoo

In January 1894, fourteen men joined together to form Local 13 of the National Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes. When our neighbors to the north joined in we became the International Alliance. Are you ready for the full name? Take a deep breath:

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians,
Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, its Territories, and Canada.

That’s the IA for short.

In 1994, the Locals in Minneapolis (13) and St Paul (20) celebrated their 100th year of existence. At the time, I was President of Local 13 and had this to say in our Centennial Book:

…What dreams do you have for our Local? I dream of having a Stagehand from Local 13 in every position, at every performance, in every shop, in every venue in our jurisdiction. Can you imagine the strength we would bring to the bargaining table? There are a number of Theatres in our area who do not come close to paying our rates. These are some of the places where workers need us most. We must strive to protect the stagehands at the ninety-seat Jungle Theater as well as in the twenty-eight-hundred-seat Orpheum Theatre.

How far along are we in achieving that dream and, equally important, how have we arrived where we are? The simple answer is work. Work, training, work and more work. Work that other people wouldn’t, couldn’t or didn’t want to do. In the beginning most training was on-the-job. In many venues, especially music venues, our skills at rigging got us in the door and our other stagehand skills kept us there. New techniques were developed; ever wonder who started using a split 15 basket for high rigging? Local 13 had members out on the road for years. The experiences boiled down to what works best in Twin Cities’ venues.

As for reaching toward the dream, we have a collective bargaining agreement at the Jungle Theater and have just won, by unanimous vote, a representation election at the Varsity Theatre. We are on our way to a Small Theatre Area Standards Agreement to go along with our regular Area Standards Agreement. We are educating the workforce, members and non-members, about the perils of our craft; in the workplace and beyond, at the bargaining table.

The entertainment industry is rife with misclassified independent contractors. Local 13 is on a mission to correctly classify workers as employees whenever possible. Misclassified employees working as independent contractors enable employers to save substantial amounts on FICA, Workers Compensation and withholdings paid on behalf of employees. Naïve young workers oftentimes do not realize they are entitled to protections as an employee and the financial burden of an independent contractor.

One hundred and five years after their humble beginnings, IATSE Local 13 Minneapolis and IATSE Local 20 St Paul merged together along with Theatrical Wardrobe Union 781 (TWU) to form what we now know as IATSE Local 13. Stagehands and Wardrobe in Minneapolis, St Paul, St Cloud, Brainerd, St John’s University/College of St Benedict, Mankato, and Little Falls. The ranks of Local 13 has swelled to over 360 members. We represent workers at eighteen+ venues across the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

 Following are some highlights of IATSE 13 History:

Vaudeville opened the Orpheum Theatre and the Pantages Theatre on Hennepin Avenue, Local 13 staffed it.

Minneapolis Stagehands were in a bitter labor dispute in 1927. The Stagehands wanted one day rest in seven, “All we ask is what is given horses and cattle”. The situation was finally settled with the involvement of the International Alliance President and the Department of Labor. The day of rest was abandoned in the contract in favor of a seven dollar per week raise throughout the term of the contract. The day of rest issue returned to the bargaining table during the next contract negotiations.

In 1948, Local 13 Business Agent Bill Donnelly was elected Regional Vice President for the IATSE. Several years later, in August 1952, the 41st International Convention was held at the Minneapolis Auditorium.

Local 13 was working the stage of Northrop Auditorium for the first season of the Minnesota Symphony, now the Minnesota Orchestra. We worked on innumerable concerts at the old Met Center and the St Paul Civic Center.

We were there when Tyrone Guthrie’s great regional theatre experiment opened. There were three scenic carpenters in the shop and a stage carpenter, electrician and sound. Now with costume, wardrobe, scene shop, lighting and audio departments, prop shop and run crew there are over 50 jobs that grew from the original six.

As with rigging in previous decades, the foot-in-the-door skill for the 21st century is AV, operating projectors, switchers, power-point presentations and the like. Corporate theater is big across the country, largely driven by advances in AV. There are four “A”s in AV; they are proper Attire, Attitude, Attitude and Attitude. Local 13 is preparing AV workers to become Certified Technology Specialists.

The Entertainment Technician Certification Program (ETCP) established certifications in Arena Rigging, Theatre Rigging and Entertainment Electrician from within the entertainment industry. Local 13 has recently welcomed ETCP certified trainers to present education to interested parties and the effort has been rewarded by new Certificants in Rigging and Electrics.

By providing representation to workers Local 13 fulfills its mission, as stated in the Local Constitution:

This Local is dedicated to the principles of trade unionism. Its objects are to unite all workers within its jurisdiction for the following purposes:
(a) To improve their wages and hours of work, to increase their job security and to better their working conditions.
(b) To advance their economic, social, and cultural interests.
(c) To establish peaceful and harmonious relations between its members and their employers, and to increase the stability of the industry.
(d) To assure full employment

It should be noted that “all workers” are the object, not only union members but all workers.

New venues and new events are the very real future for IATSE Local 13. We are striving to provide all workers in the Minnesota entertainment industry a safe workplace environment, training to improve their skills and better their situation, and health & retirement security for their future.