Filed under: Action, Central, Labor
Report on recent strike action by members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in so-called Dallas, Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse. Originally published on the Industrial Worker.
At approximately 6 pm on Saturday, November 12th, workers at an Alamo Drafthouse located in the Lake Highlands neighborhood of Dallas walked off the job and staged a ULP Strike over the unlawful firing of their coworker Chay Burleson.
The strike, which lasted from 6 pm until the close of operations, began with each of the workers hand-delivering a signed petition to management. The workers, who are organized as an IWW Job Branch called “Drafthouse United Lake Highlands Workers Union,” allege that management is waging a campaign of targeted harassment against employees who are suspected of organizing. The workers also allege that Chay Burleson, who worked as a server, was fired in retaliation for his vocal support of the unionization efforts.
glad to be out striking the Lake Highlands Alamo drafthouse for unfair labor practices with coworkers and the help of the @iww Go show love and be vocal about any grievances. Union Power! pic.twitter.com/J4MEJvHByG
— Jackson Reffitt (@jackson_reffitt) November 13, 2022
Burleson claims that he was called into a disciplinary meeting in late October over a minor infraction. During said meeting, Burleson invoked his Weingarten rights and attempted to discreetly record the meeting. The General Manager of the Lake Highlands location, Jason McCall, at some point discovered that Burleson was recording their conversation and requested that he stop recording, a request with which Burleson complied.
Days later, McCall informed Burleson over the phone that he would be terminated for violating the Drafthouse Code of Conduct, which prohibits all “unwanted photography or video recording.” Workers argue that the intent of this policy was only ever meant to apply to a prohibition on recording or photographing the films playing at the Drafthouse, and that the provision was skewed in order to intimidate workers and retaliate against Burleson for his active role in organizing.
Upon his termination, Burleson consulted with myself and the rest of the leadership of the North Texas GMB. We immediately surmised that because Texas is what’s known as a “One Party Consent” state, Burleson had every right to record his meeting with his employer.
Our first move was to assist Burleson in filing an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the NLRB. This means that the action we took in response to the firing would have added legal protection since it was in response to a ULP that was already filed.
The workers of Drafthouse United as well as the leadership of our branch soon agreed that a one-day walkout strike would be the most appropriate course of action. We decided on this for two reasons. First, the workers were already galvanized over the partial rejection of the demands presented in a petition which more than 90 percent of them had signed and delivered to management earlier that year. Second, the release of the hotly anticipated Marvel film, “Wakanda Forever,” was only a few weeks away. Due to the outsized role concessions sales, specifically during busy box office weekends, plays in the financial viability of movie theaters, we all knew that staging a strike that would last only one Saturday evening during a big opening weekend would be devastating to the company’s bottom line.
The strike itself had a highly positive atmosphere. Workers were joined by folks from our branch as well as labor activists from all over the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. We handed out pamphlets and fliers and offered popcorn and hot chocolate (which came courtesy of our GMB’s General Fund) to customers as they entered the theater. Workers asked customers to either demand refunds for their ticket or to express their support for the union on their receipts, and in both respects customers were broadly supportive.
We were later able to determine that the strike forced the company to halt all food orders (which along with alcohol sales is the main source of Alamo Drafthouse’s revenue) and limit their concession sales. The precise figures are not yet known but it’s safe to assume that the company losing out on food orders for the roughly 1,100 customers who entered the theater that night did a significant amount of damage to the company’s profit margins.
Escalating pressure against the company while minimizing chances of further retaliation were always the primary goals of the strike, and in this respect the strike was a success. However, the campaign of targeted harassment against the workers of Drafthouse United is still ongoing. In response to the strike, management illegally delayed the reinstatement of several workers who participated in the strike and has begun handing out erroneous write-ups against others. ULPs for these retaliatory actions have already been filed, and investigations are ongoing.
NEWS: Movie theater staff at Alamo @Drafthouse's flagship location in Austin, TX have organized with the @IWW to form @DrafthouseUnite. The workers are calling on management at the cinema chain to voluntarily recognize their union and make needed changes: https://t.co/cZtbOu9zBL
— Kim Kelly (@GrimKim) February 15, 2022
In the aftermath of this strike, the Drafthouse United Lake Highlands Workers Union remains as firm in its commitment to a workplace democracy as ever. However, to overcome the continued harassment and the deprivation of their right to a living wage, they are requesting donations from the public. Our branch has approved the usage of our strike fund to help meet the goal and has succeeded in raising, as of the publication of this article, nearly half of the $5000 needed to recover wages lost due to retaliation.
All funds go directly to the workers of the Drafthouse United Lake Highlands Workers Union with special attention being paid to supporting Chay Burleson. Please donate and share the following link if you can: https://gofund.me/aa5a90ad