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(en) US, Somervill, Media, Placated Projectionists: Anarchists and Owner Finally Agree

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 7 Aug 2003 11:23:02 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

> by Bobby Iafolla [Boston's Weekly Dig, August 5-12]
As reported by the Dig in July, a group of projectionists at the
Somerville Theater was fed up with working for minimum wage,
with no benefits, in an unsafe and unhealthy environment. In an
effort to deal with these concerns, they decided to join the local
chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage
Employees (IATSE), who would then bargain with theater
management on their behalf.

Mel Fraiman, the theater owner, refused to recognize the union.
Following procedure, the projectionists filed for a National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) election in an attempt to legally force
Fraiman to recognize the union. In addition, they decided to strike
to streamline the process.

After picketing for a week, the striking projectionists made an
unconditional offer to return to work. Unfortunately for them,
Fraiman had hired replacements and did not take them back. In
response to being locked-out, the projectionists filed an Unfair
Labor Practices suit with the NLRB.

While the projectionists resumed picketing, Fraiman was also
playing hardball. The theater owner compiled dossiers on three of
the locked-out projectionists. These files consisted of material
culled from the Internet, including some of their essays and
conversations from various Anarchist Web sites and message
boards. Also, they contained a report detailing the arrest of one of
the projectionists at a World Trade Organization protest.

Geoff Downs, one of the locked-out projectionists, first heard of
the dossiers when Fraiman sent a copy to the union lawyers.
“[Fraiman] was trying to drive a wedge between us and the
union,” explained Downs. “But everyone in the local
[chapter of the union] was supportive.”

“It didn't phase us,” said union representative Glenn
Dansker. “Everybody is entitled to their own political

Despite this reaction, Fraiman continued distributing the dossiers.
He sent copies to the state representative for Somerville, Patricia
Jehlan, as well as the members of Somerville's Board of Aldermen.
But they were also unimpressed by the dossiers.

“I found [the dossiers] extraordinarily unconvincing and
irrelevant,” said Jehlan. “Just because somebody has
different political views doesn't mean they shouldn't form a union
and shouldn't work for a fair living wage ... [Fraiman] was not
understanding of the nature of free speech and free

Similarly, the Somerville Board of Aldermen issued a June 12
resolution that was unequivocally supportive of the projectionists.
It publicly acknowledged the right of the workers to organize, to
join a labor union, to bargain collectively, to be treated fairly and to
earn a decent wage.

If the dossiers weren't ridiculous enough, Fraiman threatened to
close the theater and board up the windows. In addition, he might
have involved the FBI. Downs said that after a theater window
was broken, Fraiman claimed that he contacted the FBI regarding
the locked-out projectionists.

The Dig repeatedly attempted to contact Fraiman or a member of
management at the Somerville Theater for their comments.
Fraiman was undergoing surgery and was unavailable, and phone
calls to management were not returned.

The election to join the NLRB (by both striking and newly hired
employees) came and went on June 18 without a resolution. The
vote was tied up in appeals, as the striking projectionists
contested the votes from the replacement employees as well as
another vote from an employee who may have been coerced by
Fraiman via a pay raise.

While the locked-out projectionists remained in legal limbo,
Somerville Mayor Dorothy Kelly Gay attempted to broker a deal
between Fraiman and the projectionists. “I was concerned
about the picketing around the theater, the image of [Davis]
Square, plus the fact that I'm personally fond of Mel Fraiman, and
I am pro-union,” said Mayor Kelly Gay. “I explained to Mel
what it means to be in a union, especially in these tough economic

“The mayor really turned things around,” said Dansker.
Following the mayor's intervention, the union and Fraiman's
lawyers negotiated a deal. Under the two-year contract, the
starting wage for projectionists is now fixed to the Somerville
Living Wage Ordinance (currently $9.55/hr), all full-time
employees will be offered health benefits and vacation, and the
Somerville Theatre is now a union shop for projectionists.

Ironically, none of the four projectionists who endured the long
lockout currently works at the theater. As part of the agreement,
they separated from the theater after receiving back pay for the
time they were locked out. The IATSE union is looking for work at
other theaters for these projectionists. While they lost their jobs
at the Somerville Theater, they were ultimately successful by
using public pressure and direct action and their struggle showed
that workers in Massachusetts can stand up and fight for what
they think is fair.

[Ed. Note See also:

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