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How to Grow Your Union Membership

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.  Benjamin Franklin

Last week, I had the privilege of serving as a delegate to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees’ (IATSE) Quadrennial Convention in Boston, an opportunity I’ve enjoyed since 1988.

IATSE Grows Union Membership Behind the Scenes

IATSE Grows Union Membership Behind the Scenes

As union membership in organized labor shrinks, I am proud to be part of a union whose membership rolls are running contrary to this trend. Credit the IATSE’s president, Matt Loeb, for bringing a contemporary vision to labor union organizing, leadership development and marketing communications.

Building Labor Union Membership

Matt is growing IATSE using 21st century tools: a comprehensive education and leadership training program; increased political activism; and an across-the-board communications plan that reaches into every corner of the IATSE labor union.

When I see this kind of change taking place, I feel energized and inspired by the IATSE and hopeful for organized labor as a whole.

When I served as the Business Manager of IATSE Local 16, we played a leading role in the introduction and development of national safety and training programs for our union membership. Our employers welcomed this effort. Better trained employees meant less conflicts and accidents, which ultimately saves the employers money.

Still, our employers wouldn’t pay for our training programs without wage concessions.

Getting An Employer to Invest in the Training Trust

Then, on February 5, 2007, the City of San Francisco passed a sick leave ordinance. The new law decreed that all public and private employees who perform work in the City (part-time or full-time) must accrue sick leave after 90 days.

The entertainment industry provides steady work for IATSE Local 16 members, albeit on a project basis. For Local 16 employers, the prospect of calculating one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours of project work created another layer of red tape.

Sensing an opportunity, I proposed to our employers that we exchange sick leave for a fixed percentage of a project employee’s wage, which would be contributed to a Local 16 training trust.

The employers agreed to the swap. They saw value in investing in the continued education and technical expertise of IATSE Local 16’s workforce.

And so the Local 16 Training Trust was born, funding classes and certification in a variety of stage crafts including electrics, rigging and audio/visual services.

IATSE Labor Union’s Tipping Point

Under International President Matt Loeb, the IATSE has created and expanded significantly a permanent training trust funded by 484 signatory employers through collectively bargained contributions.

Besides technical and safety training, the permanent training trust pays for local labor union leaders to take courses in a wide range of practical topics from managing their unions to collective bargaining strategies to legislative compliance.

Now all IATSE locals, large and small, enjoy the benefit of specialized continuing education and leadership development. More employers are coming to the table to work with the IATSE’s superior skilled technicians while the International grooms future leaders and grows stronger.

All of organized labor should sit up and take notice. Our future depends on it.

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About the Author:
FX Crowley is a Public Affairs and Labor Relations Specialist, and former 15-year Business Manager of IATSE Local 16, San Francisco. A third-generation San Franciscan, FX can break down any football game from Pop Warner to the Pros and analyze it for hours. Contact to learn more ››