Over the next few weeks, as movie fans in festive moods flock to the latest releases, they may encounter picket lines at theaters in several U.S. cities.
The pickets, urging a boycott of Regal Cinemas outlets across the country, were organized by IATSE officials to protest what they said were the “union-busting” tactics of the chain. In recent months, they said, IATSE members employed as projectionists by Regal in Fort Wayne, Ind., Akron, Ohio, and Richmond, Va., have been fired. In addition, employees in Youngstown, Ohio, are having to choose between a “deplorable” severance package and a drastic wage reduction, union spokesman Joseph Rice said.
Kicking off the boycott, rallies were held over the Thanksgiving weekend at theaters near Los Angeles — in areas including Whittier, Moorpark, El Cajon, Rancho Palos Verdes and San Bernardino — as well as in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cleveland, Richmond, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Ind., and Akron. Other rallies were held Saturday in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the union reported. Pickets went up in those and other cities, and IATSE president Thomas C. Short said that as many as 20% of potential patrons decided not to cross them. The company disputed the figure.
“It had no effect on business,” Regal spokesman Greg Dunn said Tuesday from the company’s headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn. “We had nobody turn away because of the pickets.”
Dunn said Regal had reached agreement with projectionists in Cleveland and extended their contracts for two years. In Fort Wayne, he said, several projectionists “were offered severance packages and positions elsewhere as manager-operators, but they declined — they wanted to be projectionists.” The Fort Wayne employees filed three unfair-labor-practice complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, but they were dismissed.
The dispute flows from the increasingly automated function of projecting motion pictures onto a screen. “The technology has changed immensely,” Dunn said. “It’s not as skilled as it once was. One manager-operator can run 16 screens at one time.”
Last week, Rev. Jesse Jackson joined Short at a news conference in Chicago held to announce the boycott. “We will not let Regal rest until they treat the workers right,” Jackson said. Pickets and rallies are planned through the holiday season, according to union spokeswoman Karen Pizzuto.
Regal, with 2,222 screens at 251 locations in 22 states, is a major player. The company reported record revenues of $269.8 million in 1996.