More than a dozen non-union actors employed by American Girl Inc. picketed outside the company’s Gotham retail outlet, refusing to perform in the day’s scheduled shows in protest over what they call unfair labor practices.
Joined by a handful of union supporters outside American Girl Place in midtown Manhattan, the actors’ walkout comes after Actors’ Equity filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board July 25 on behalf of the thesps.
Performers are employed in shows at the multilevel store’s theater, which offers two one-act tuners, “The American Girls Revue” and “Bitty Bear’s Matinee,” with another one in rehearsal. Shows are based on the popular line of dolls made by Mattel-owned American Girl.
Fourteen of the productions’ approximately 20 adult actors walked out. Child performers also appear in the shows, but are not involved in the dispute.
According to one of the actors standing on 49th Street in blazing summer heat, the thesps expressed to their employers several months ago an interest in unionizing, but were rebuffed. “They sat us with the head of management and told us that now that they see where our loyalties lie, they are unable to give us a pay raise we had discussed earlier,” he said. (Actors asked not to be named, for fear of reprisals from American Girl.)
In a statement, the company said, “American Girl respects the rights of its employees, including the adult theater actors’ rights to choose whether or not they want union representation. We believe a secret ballot election — conducted by the National Labor Relations Board — is the most appropriate way to decide this issue without disrupting the workplace.”
Equity reps call American Girl’s deferral to the slow-moving NLRB a delay tactic. “We’ve been offering since February to have a nonbinding meeting with American Girl, and their answer has been thanks but no thanks,” said Equity spokesman David Lotz.
No one would say how long they thought the walkout would last. “We’d like to be back at work tomorrow,” one actress said.
American Girl is a hugely successful property whose line of dolls — multiculti girls from a variety of historical eras whose stories demonstrate wholesome moral values — has inspired books, telepics and a recently signed feature deal.
The company’s three stores in Gotham, Chi and L.A. are tourist magnets for families with young girls. Attractions at the New York store include a doll hospital, a doll hair salon, a restaurant and the 150-seat theater in which the 75-minute legit events are performed. During high tourist seasons, there can be as many as 20 performances per week.
Picketing didn’t seem to deter many shoppers from the store, or from the shows, despite the fact that management was covering the roles vacated by the actors outside. According to bulletin boards posted in the store, performances were still selling out.