Author Topic: Stagehand work isn’t like other work  (Read 1429 times)


  • Administrator
  • Full Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 158
    • View Profile
Stagehand work isn’t like other work
« on: April 26, 2015, 02:19:27 PM »

Sunday, October 24, 2010
–As always, the views expressed here are my own, and are not to be considered an official position of IATSE or its Locals.  Nothing in this post should be considered, nor is it intended, to be disparaging to any of the parties involved.–

By now most of you have heard of the IATSE member who was taken off a call, apparently due to his clothing choice that day.  The story has been picked up by many conservative and anti-union outlets, as well as by some mainstream media, primarily because the call was to construct a stage for President Obama to speak from, and the clothing in question had the word “Bush” prominently on it.

An article and video report can be found here.

Now, I am not in L.A.: I didn’t work on the call, and I have no firsthand knowledge over what happened in this instance.  But as a professional stagehand, I can give you some realistic possibilities.

What most of those angry about this seem to forget, is that stagehand work isn’t like other work.  Our job is to help to present: something.  Whatever the something is.  Appearance sometimes does matter.  Usually, we will be told in advance of the particular call/job what dress code requirements there may be.  Sometimes we need to have a suit.  Other times no shorts, or no t-shirts with potentially insulting text/images.  Or sometimes just to be dressed in black, with no lettering or images of any kind.   There are also times when no information about dress is given, at which time you just assume you need clean clothes without profanity or references to male or female anatomy (in other words: “relax, but remember you aren’t in your backyard at home”).

That said, we are always aware that the dress code may change once on-site, for any number of reasons.  Sometimes, an issue can be resolved simply be reversing a shirt.  Other times, an inside-out shirt may also be a problem.

Something to keep in mind: most of the time an IATSE Local acts as any other traditional union: taking care of its membership who are employed at given companies.  But some IATSE Locals also serve as “labor providers,” advertising the services of their membership and acting as a hiring agent for one-time events (Need a stage crew? Hire our team!).  And sometimes the client hires a production company to deal with doing the production the client wants, and the production company hires the IATSE Local to provide the crew.  As such, there are different scenarios for who is in charge of the show/crew at any given time.

Now, many outlets are reporting that the stagehand in question was “fired” by the IATSE Local.  This is unlikely.  A union works for its members, not the other way around.  A member cannot be removed from the union by one person while on a work call.  Such a drastic move would require a vote of the membership.  More likely he was simply sent home from call.  Could this result in not getting paid for the call?  Yes, but unlikely if he was not informed of a certain dress code (reports indicate that the Local will make sure he is paid for the call if indeed he was sent home due to the what was written on his sweatshirt and hat).  If you show up for a call without the tools or clothing you were told to bring, you can be sent home without pay, as bringing what was asked is part of the job.

But let’s look at this from the “show” appearance point of view.  The most prominent wording on the sweatshirt is “BUSH.”  The text about the ship is much smaller.  From a distance, most people would not see that the shirt is referencing the ship, they would only notice the word “BUSH.”  If the client is the Democratic Party, do they really want to take the time to explain to everyone that may happen to see this shirt from a distance that it is referencing a Navy ship?

To look at it another way: if the stage was being built for a Microsoft event, and a stagehand arrived wearing a shirt with a large image of an apple on the front, does it matter if there is smaller lettering saying “ABC School PTA” on it?  The most noticeable part of the shirt is still the apple.  As we are in the business of presenting a certain look, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the representatives from our hypothetical Microsoft office would rather not have a reminder of one of their major competitors at an event they are paying for.  Just because there is no ill intent from the person wearing it does not change the first impression the shirt gives to representatives of the client, and in the end, the client is paying the stagehand.

Even a shirt with a large US flag printed on it may not be allowed, if it is considered distracting to the production.

For those conservative or anti-union outlets: If the crew was non-union, would you have reported this story?  The union status of a stagehand does not change the basic job description of a stagehand.  If I was put on a call to set-up a Republican event, and was wearing a black shirt with only the word “CHANGE” and a US flag on it, and was asked by the client to change my shirt or go home, would you be up in arms about it?  I doubt it.

Again, not all the facts in this particular case are known.  But our appearance on our job sites is not a freedom of speech issue, as our appearance is part of the job.  We are paid to help the producer present a certain look, and our job is to do that, regardless of if we agree with how they regulate that look or not.