Employees at Portland's Living Room Theaters voted Wednesday to form a new independent union, United Cinema Workers (UCW). Workers won the election 6-4.
"Did you hear? We won," Audra Sweetland asked the Mercury, as she poured drinks for a handful of moviegoers. Sweetland is a server at the movie house and also president of the new union.
The employee vote was a culmination of organizing efforts that began in December, in reaction to what staff allege was an unfair labor practice. Living Room Theaters employees were discussing an employee that had recently been fired and reported that the theater's operations manager Nick Cruz told the employees not to talk about it. In response, workers staged a sit-in at the home offices and picketed the theater from January 7 to 10.
"We showed unrest about a co-worker being fired, for reasons that we felt were illegal, unfair and unwarranted, and without warning," Sweetland said at the time. "So, we tried to bring those concerns to work, and we were told to stop speaking about it at work and outside of work."
The incident also inspired Living Room employees to unionize.
"That kind of lit a fire under us to fight for our rights in the workplace," Sweetland said. She described a pattern of disrespectful behavior, culminating in the firing of the employee.
In late December, Sweetland and a few coworkers showed up to a Portland Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) meeting to get some advice.
"It was actually a social event," Portland DSA member Jamie Partridge said of the meeting. "We were about to play some games, and these six young people showed up and started talking about this. We realized, we got to focus on this."
At the time of the picket, employees were not in the process of unionizing, but DSA members helped behind-the-scenes to guide them through the process of obtaining authorization cards and filing the proper paperwork.
According to Sweetland and theater employee Jen Slanaker, the process leading up to the vote hadn’t gone without tension. Living Room Theaters' CEO Steve Herring called a mandatory staff meeting on Tuesday morning, during which he discussed his personal opinions on unionization, employees said.
UCW intends to file another unfair labor practice complaint about Herring's pre-election meeting and speech, believing it to be another violation of employee labor rights. Herring declined the Mercury's request for comment.
Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that Living Room Theaters voluntarily recognized the union.