Friday, January 4, 2013

About Our Labor Practices

Dear New Parkway Lover:

As some of you may know, the New Parkway Theater was picketed on our first weekend of business by the projectionist union.  I shared a lot about this on our Facebook page, but we're clearly still getting questions so I'm sending out this note out to the email list for anyone not on Facebook or who didn't take the time to digest the main points.  I won't belabor you all with too many specifics, but here's a bit of the overview.

I'll start by saying that we were quite surprised to be picketed, especially right at the start.  We had received a couple of emails from the union and the tone seemed to be that they were offering their services, much in the same way that hundreds of others offered their services to us along the way.  I replied that we were not employing a projectionist, and that it would be a very small part of one of our manager's job.  With digital projection, the growing trend is to not employ projectionists since it's such a small slice of theater operations post-35mm.  This is not to say that projectionists are no longer needed or not nice to have around.  We just had decided to structure our staff in a different way, and obviously we'll see how that works out over the long run. So, I basically said "thanks but no thanks", not realizing that we would be picketed a few months later. 

When the picketers came, we tried to be very cordial to them, especially since they were out in the rain for a good part of two days.  We didn't enter into dialogue with them on day one as we were both in a bit of shock, and we were a bit dumbfounded by their literature encouraging our patrons to not go to the New Parkway but instead to go to the AMC's and to other theaters that employ union projectionists.  I think we took this a bit too personally since we know that what we're paying our staff, especially our line staff, is significantly more than what these other theaters are paying, and that we have some very progressive labor practices like paying a living wage, profit sharing, and free movies/food/drink for all.  And we also knew that we were creating thirty new jobs and that the ownership of the business--if we can call the 56 investors that--were all pretty small time local folks who just wanted to see this theater reopen.

On the second day, we invited the union in for discussion and really tried to get to the bottom of what would work for them and for us.  They realized that we were not hiring a projectionist and really were steering more towards providing us with service for our new equipment.  After some back and forth, both in person and via email, we came up with a plan for them to provide us with a two-year service agreement in which the first year they are providing on call service and then something more substantial in year two.  I can't share any more of the specifics since we've not yet put everything in writing but I think that we're both satisfied with the agreement and are both committed to the success of the New Parkway, as it ultimately benefits both parties.  

Like many things along the way, we wish that things had unfolded a bit differently, and I take some of the blame as a rookie theater operator for not knowing all the right things to do at many steps along the way.  I made many mistakes in getting this place open, and we face new challenges every day.  It seems to be part of the process.  But I'm also quite proud of many things we've done, and our business practices are front and center in that regard.  Profit has not been the driving force thus far, and it's certainly lower in the pecking order than how we treat our employees, how we try to treat our patrons, and how we impact the planet.  Sustainability is the goal for us, and I'm quite frankly far more concerned about our ability to keep our doors open than I am about much else.  It's not easy to pay good wages, give good value to patrons, be green, and earn enough to pay off close to a million dollars in loans.  And being picketed certainly didn't help our cause and has kept otherwise excited people from coming out.

I told the union and our followers on Facebook that not only are we pro-labor, but that we would be supportive of our staff unionizing if they chose to do so.  I also wrote that we'd be happy to have a community dialogue about our labor practices, about our choice to not hire a projectionist, and about unions and progressive labor practices in general.  We'd still be happy to do that, and what better place than a movie theater that is committed to Oakland, to self-reflection, and to dialogue?  That's a conversation that we'd be eager to have, and from which I'm sure we'd learn a great deal.

So that's a bit about what went down over the past couple of weeks.  I'm sorry that it's taken me until now to put something in writing, but my world has been turned upside down these last many months and nothing gets done as quickly as I'd like.  I welcome your questions about this or anything else, and I thank you for your continued support.


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