During the height of the summer concert season in mid-July, the Business Agent of IATSE Local 121 (Niagara Falls) and personal mentor John Scardino Jr. asked me if I would be interested in attending an IATSE Young Worker’s Conference in Philadelphia.  This conference would be the first of it’s kind, and bring together young IATSE  (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) worker’s from across North America and even members of BECTU (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union, the UK’s equivalent).  Needless to say I was stunned and honored to be considered for this experience.

I have been working professionally as a stagehand since I was 18 years old, and after two years I was asked to petition for membership.  Having grown up in a strong Labor household, I was overjoyed to join a union and get a union card.  So at the age of 20 I was voted in as a member of IATSE, and for the past four years have worn the IA Bug proudly.

On Thursday, September 6th, myself and two of my IA Brothers; Chris Brown and Patrick Moyer, left for the city of brotherly love.  After taking in a few sites, we convened in the meeting hall of the Holiday Inn to begin the conference, where everybody in the room introduced themselves and said what local and profession they were in.  I had always assumed that, for whatever reason, that IATSE was only made up of stagehands like myself, and a few theatrical technicians like stage carpenters, sound engineers, and electricians.  As my fellow brothers and sisters were announcing themselves, I was amazed to hear about Local 600, the international camera operators local, or to hear about the hairdressers local, or to even learn that members of BECTU were there as well.

We learned in our first seminar how about 20% of IATSE member were under the age of 35, and then we saw which states had the youngest and oldest groups if members.   There is a total of 112,890 IA members between the United States and Canada, and out of that 22,133 were within our age range.  We were then shown the breakdown of how many worked in which field, whether it was in motion pictures (20.39%), studio mechanics (25.32%), stagecraft (18.15%), mixed locals (18.30%), wardrobe (17.93%),treasures and ticket sellers (17.38%), and television broadcast (13.08%).  We also saw that of all of those, the motion pictures had the fastest growing membership of young workers.

The history of the IA was next, which was always a subject I had been curious about, being both a fan of history and the labor movement.  The IA was originally founded as the NATSE when 10 cities of stagecraft workers became affiliated with the Knights of Labor (a precursor to the AFL) and formed a national union in 1893.  Five years later, Canadian locals joined and the organization became the IATSE (thankfully avoiding a coincidentally similar name forty some-odd years later).

The Organization included projectionist in 1908, started the Yellow Card system in 1912 which says that any union venue is guaranteed to have a list of skilled workers for all positions on a call.  The IA’s headquarters were established in New York City in 1913, where they still reside today almost 100 years later.  As the years went on more and more stagecraft and skilled entertainment workers were added, including film workers.  We are highly skilled, and we are some of the most highly paid union members in North America, according to our first presentation, and are today affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

After that we were released for the evening to go out and explore the city some more, before convening again in the morning.  We were then educated on how to deal with conflict in our locals, whether it was between management and the local, or between the rank and file and the leadership of the local.  I’m happy to say that we don’t have too many issues like that within our local.

Following that we were then given results of a personality test we had taken when we had registered for the conference, and to be honest these tests (the Myers/ Briggs Test) were astoundingly accurate.  This allowed us to assess our leadership possibilities, and how to handle people better.  This was truly fascinating because I’ve worked as a steward on several occasions and definitely saw ways to improve my leadership abilities.

We convened for the third and final day of the conference after a night of social interaction hosted by IA Local 8 (Philadelphia) to learn why unions still mattered, especially in this day and age.  It was incredible but not all that surprising to learn that when unions and the labor force is strong within the United States, so is the economy.  We are better off when we have, as a people of laborers, have a voice and a say at the bargaining table.  When unions have been undermined and weakened, the American public suffers, and I truly wish that more people understood this.  The labor movement is what has pushed working conditions to be as good as they are now, and have driven up wages so that people aren’t completely stricken with poverty, but we have so much more to do to truly fulfill the goal of organized labor.

After the conference ended I said my goodbyes to my new friends and brothers and sisters.  I met people that worked across the Falls from us who worked the Nick Walenda walk on the Canadian side, an event which we were a part of on the American side.  We thanked all of our brothers and sisters for Local 8 for having us and being truly gracious hosts.  I hope this conference continues to grow, and I hope to be a part of it again because as we headed home, back to Western New York, I knew I was a little wiser and that I was prouder than ever to call myself a member of IATSE.