Since last weekend, staff members at Portland arthouse cinema Living Room Theaters have been on an unfair labor practice strike.
Audra Sweetland, who works at the theater and is representing the workers, says employees were told by management not to discuss the Dec. 31 firing of a former colleague and were subsequently ordered not to discuss working conditions either on or off the Living Room Theaters premises.
“[Operations manager] Nick Cruz committed a ULP violation by telling me specifically, and our staff at large, that we weren’t allowed to speak about work issues or conditions [when we were] outside of work or at work, which is illegal,” Sweetland tells WW.
In addition, Sweetland believes the late December firing she says staff were told not to discuss was based on unjust accusations. “The reasons that were used behind the firing were clearly fictitious and trumped up: things like taking an extra minute on a smoke break, when we have managers who take 25 minutes,” she says.
Sweetland says attempts to resolve the matter were rebuffed. “We tried to resolve things amicably with [Cruz] by setting up a meeting at corporate with all of the floor staff,” she says. “They refused to meet with us or even recognize us as a group, but we showed up to the meeting anyway and ended up sitting in their corporate office for eight hours, trying to force their hand and get them to meet with us.”
An unfair labor practices strike is a limited strike intended to force employers to rectify a specific policy that workers believe is illegal. Such strikes are protected by the National Labor Review Board. Sweetland stresses that since this is a ULP strike, not an economic strike, the workers are not making wage demands or discussing unionization. “We just want them to speak to us,” she says.
Living Room Theaters opened across the street from Powell’s City of Books in the West End in 2006, showing digitally projected arthouse movies in smaller theaters with plush seating—a model that larger chains soon replicated. Living Room’s ownership is based in Indianapolis.
When asked by WW to comment, Living Room Theaters CEO Steve Herring responded: “We recently learned that a few employees are engaging in an unfair labor practice strike outside our theater. Most of our employees are not. We only learned this afternoon the reasons for the alleged unfair labor practice in a press release that was sent to local media.”
Herring added: “We’re looking into the allegations, but currently do not believe the press release is accurate. We are a small, local business with a handful of staff and have always valued that this allows us to have direct relationships with our staff and work directly with them about any conflicts that may arise in our workplace. We respect and support our employees’ right to speak up, work together, and participate in concerted activities protected by law, including legal strikes.”
Sweetland says she’s troubled by the theater’s actions. “It’s frustrating to work at a company in Portland that prides itself on being a community resource and being so forward thinking and liberal with its choices and donations, and behind the scenes, they are suppressing employees and refusing to speak with us or meet with us,” she tells WW. “It’s just unfortunate, because I really did enjoy and I still enjoy working there. It’s just, they don’t really live up what they preach, do they?”
A solidarity picket will be held from 11 am to 5 pm Tuesday, Jan. 10.