April 24, 2017
By Silver Krieger
New York, NY – The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada, also known as IATSE, has been the moving force behind the entertainment industry for well over 100 years.
Indeed, as LaborPress learned from D. Joseph Hartnett, IATSE’s Assistant Director of Stagecraft recently, the union members like to say, “We make the magic happen.” We sat down with Hartnett to learn more about this vital union, and Hartnett himself.
Hartnett began his career in the industry in 1998, in Pittsburgh, as an overall stagehand, working with electrics, carpentry, and props. He toured with an opera company through Europe next, as an Electrician, then worked as a day player on movies back in Pittsburgh. Following that, he became the Head Electrician at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre, then became the union steward there. He was subsequently elected Business Agent at Local 3 in 2006. He organized Heinz Field for their concerts, and was asked to work as an Organizer for the International by President Loeb. In 2014 Loeb called upon Hartnett to move to NYC to work in his current position.
“In the International I’ve worked on creation and development,” he says. “I’ve also been involved in the Young Workers initiative, for younger workers in the alliance, which is a conference of training helping these workers with issues in the workplace and industry.” He also worked on the Save the Met campaign in 2014, on negotiations with the Metropolitan Opera.
IATSE itself was founded in 1893, when 10 vaudeville cities of theatrical workers got together to form an alliance. These 10 cities used the dates they joined an organization, the Knights of Labor, as their local numbers. The Knights of Labor was a secret society of radio workers that tried to unionize in the late 1880’s; they needed to be secret, since unions were illegal. As the cities continued to grow and develop, the unions won out. Today, IATSE has 369 locals in the U.S. and Canada and approximately 130,000 members.
The departmental structure encompasses four craft departments. The first, the stagecraft department, encompasses all designers, scenic painters, hair and makeup, projectionists, ushers, and box office employees. The second includes motion picture and TV production staff, and “all the crafts you see at the end of the credits,” says Hartnett, such as gaffer, best boy, cinematographer, editors, art directors, wardrobe, and also hair and makeup. The third includes TV broadcast individuals at some TV stations. Local 1 workers are behind the scenes at shows such as SNL and CBS Sports. IATSE members are also in regional sports broadcasting such as the S Network, MSG Network, and are camera operators and sound people at Yankees and Mets games. The fourth is tradeshows – live event convention work and meetings. Workers set up booths and are power and audio visual technicians.
Aside from these, there are other departments: the Department of Canadian Affairs, which covers all craft departments, and deals with different issues that arise since Canada’s labor laws are provincial, not national, the Communications Department, the Education Department, and the Political Department.
Within the alliance, each of the locals’ jurisdiction is determined both by craft and geographical location. The general headquarters is in New York, and there are also offices in L.A., Toronto, and Vancouver. The International President is Matthew Loeb, the General Secretary-Treasurer is James Wood, and there are 13 Vice Presidents that represent all four areas of the crafts across the U.S. and Canada. There are also three Trustees and a Canadian Labor Delegate.
The union’s concerns are many, but, says Hartnett, “one guiding theme of what we do as an alliance is, that as new technology has come into our industry, we have been on the forefront of trying to incorporate those technologies into our work, and organize workers utilizing those new technologies.” As theatre evolved into motion pictures, then TV, and then “all the changes of TV from live studio to video to online [formats],” the union had to keep pace with these new developments.