Labor Activists Join in Solidarity for Living Room Theaters Picket

“These folks have stuck together so far. Eight hours sitting in the corporate office is pretty gutsy.”

Employees at Portland’s Living Room Theaters continued their strike on Tuesday, holding a solidarity picket to draw attention to alleged unfair labor practices.

Neighbors, passersby, and a few dozen activists from Industrial Workers of the World and Democratic Socialists of America joined employees in a sign-holding demonstration throughout the day. From the speakers of a nearby Volkswagen Jetta came a recorded chant of the IWW mantra “An injury to one is an injury to all” as the group mingled and spoke about their common goals.

“We don’t have a megaphone,” theater employee Audra Sweetland said. According to her, the conflict started when the theater manager told employees not to speak about the firing of a former co-worker in December—that would be a violation of labor law, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

“We showed unrest about a co-worker being fired, for reasons that we felt were illegal, unfair and unwarranted, and without warning,” Sweetland said. “We were told to stop speaking about it at work and outside of work.”

She said the employees requested a meeting with corporate management to resolve the issue amicably, but that request was denied.

“We set a meeting time with them, we gave them our itinerary and plenty of time to prepare for the meeting,” Sweetland said. “They weren’t even there. When they did show up, they refused to meet with us, and they made a specific point to tell us they did not recognize us as a group.”

The group decided to stay at the office for an eight-hour sit-in that day, demanding that their issues be addressed.

Sweetland made clear that their demands remain simple. They want the former employee to be rehired, and they want the unfair labor practice complaint to be addressed.

Jamie Partridge, retired letter carrier and secretary of labor groups for Portland DSA, joined the picket alongside other DSA members. Partridge became involved after six theater employees dropped into a DSA get-together last week. What started as a social gathering with games quickly turned into a strategy session.

“What they can do, without getting fired, is pretty restricted,” Partridge said. “But what we can do as community supporters is different. We can discourage people from coming here to patronize the business—they can’t.”

Partridge feels it’s an exciting time to work in labor activism because the younger generation overwhelmingly favors unions.

“I have a lot of confidence,” he said. “These folks have stuck together so far. Eight hours sitting in the corporate office is pretty gutsy.”

Partridge added that in his 40 years working in labor relations, he hasn’t seen the kind of spirit for activism that this generation has.

“What’s amazing about these young people is that first of all, they love each other—they stick together,” he said. “Second of all, they’re like, ‘No, I’m willing to take a risk because my world is on fire—let’s fight back.’”

Some employees have remained at work.

“We hold the overwhelming majority of nonmanagement workers,” Sweetland said. “We do not hold the entirety, which is totally fair because people have mitigating circumstances in their personal life.”

At this time, employees are not in discussion about unionizing. Still, the involvement of the DSA and recent examples of Portland businesses like New Seasons, Voodoo Doughnut, and Burgerville facing worker pushback, raise the question whether the Living Room Theaters picket could be the next battleground for Portland labor activists.

After being closed on Wednesday, the theater remains closed. A statement on Living Room’s website said, “Our theater will be closed Wednesday and Thursday to give our staff a much needed break. Business hours shall resume Friday, Jan. 13, and we will not have showtimes after 9 pm. Thank you for your patience!”