Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Amherst Cinema Workers United ratifies new collective bargaining agreement through 2025

The founding of the 12-person union follows an increased spotlight on collective bargaining across the United States
Shannon Broderick / Daily Collegian.

Amherst Cinema Workers United, a union organized last June, recently published a press release announcing that its members have agreed to contract terms through 2025. The unanimous agreement resulted from a six-month bargaining process between Amherst Cinema and the ACWU.

The union, representing 12 hourly, box office and concessions staff, successfully gained a new contract that “will see an average raise of six percent in the first year of the agreement” as well as “essential leave and benefit policies.”

According to Amherst Cinema’s website, the employees work to put on “275 programs a year on four screens in more than 20 languages.” Notably, of the 12 employees working at Amherst Cinema, nearly a third are current students at the University of Massachusetts.

For Margaret Gyorgy, a senior studying English and the interim union chair, the issues began to arise around November 2021 as the pandemic raged. Gyorgy was hired in February 2020 and was trained before Amherst Cinema closed with onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning to work in April 2021, she immediately noticed management changes at the cinema.

In an effort to begin checking COVID-19 vaccine cards, the cinema hired greeters at a base wage higher than current employees. The cinema also implemented significant changes to its COVID-19 precautions without its employees’ knowledge or consent. In response, Gyorgy explained, the employees collectively sent a letter to management, outlining their desire to be involved in the future process. The response from the cinema, according to Gyorgy, was less than satisfactory.

“People have this idea that if you have a small business, they treat their workers well,” she said. “We’re the face of the cinema — the management work upstairs, in the office. They aren’t interacting with customers day-to-day.”

Following support from the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, the employees started to explore union opportunities.

“Workers across the country are struggling, especially low-wage workers and those in food services,” Gyorgy said. “The pandemic drew things into sharper focus; companies were making decisions without their workers.”

Gyorgy told the story of a case where they had a sold-out late-night show, with a line wrapping around the building and only had three employees working that night.

“When you go to work, you want to feel valued, you want to feel like the work you do is recognized,” she said. “We weren’t feeling that.”

Now that the cinema employees have a union contract, “it makes us feel like we have agency in our own jobs and lives,” Gyrogy explained.

The work involved to organize was far from easy. Both employees and management conducted numerous bargaining sessions; Gyorgy noted that every employee made it to at least one session. One of their greatest organizing concerns, she said, were the legal implications of an independent union. The Pioneer Valley Workers Center walked them through their concerns. “We’re not labor lawyers, we’re not uniquely qualified to speak on labor law,” she said.

Gyorgy reflected on the growing labor movement, noting that while they were able to come together and the efforts worked, that’s not always the case. She had previously worked in food services for 10 years and assumed that its labor standards were just normal.

Reflecting on the success of the bargaining agreement, Gyorgy said that the results have yet to feel real. “It’s hard and it takes an enormous amount of effort and collective collaboration,” she said. “It was a truly collaborative effort. We came together and made it happen.”

In the press release, Amherst Cinema’s Board of Directors noted that, “As a cultural institution located in a vibrant arts and educational region, Amherst Cinema’s greatest asset is the creativity, energy and enthusiasm of our employees.”

“We are pleased to have been able to work closely with the ACWU to reach a new collective bargaining agreement that provides a stable workplace structure for years to come,” the nonprofit said. “We look forward to continued cooperation and meaningful dialogue that will further enhance and strengthen our organization.”

Gyorgy emphasized the importance of institutions like Amherst Cinema. “We get to show things that you can’t see everywhere else” she said. Films that “push the envelope in terms of new directions in cinema.”

The union contract aligns with recent national attention to collective bargaining at companies such as Starbucks and the successful vote to unionize at Trader Joe’s in Hadley last summer. The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders, was scheduled to vote to subpoena Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz amid accusations of fierce union-busting before Schultz agreed to testify in a hearing scheduled for March 29. Workers in the office of Sen. Ed Markey also announced their intention to form the first staff union in the history of the U.S. Senate.

Public education continues to be a consistent environment for organized labor. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school system in the country, tens of thousands of workers have begun a three-day strike. Representing a broad range of staff including special education assistants, bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers, employees are demanding higher wages and increased staffing.

Internationally, large protests have broken out across France in response to a proposed raise in the retirement age for pensions from 62 to 64. French President Emmanuel Macron, after believing that the initiatives would not pass the legislature, pushed through the legislation by executive authority last Thursday. Surviving a no-confidence vote on Monday, Macron is now faced with his capital city, Paris, embroiled in clashes between protesters and police.

Alex Genovese can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @alex_genovese1.

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