Beat the Heat!

Beat the Heat!

Summer is finally upon us.  We’re looking at long days, lots of sunshine, mildly oppressive heat, and thanks to all the rain we’ve gotten, mosquitoes! That doesn’t mean don’t go outside… just remember to stay hydrated and wear proper PPE (sunscreen, hats, bug spray).  Summer also means that work may be harder to come by, equating to more free time but less funds.  If you’re looking for something to do that won’t break your bank, check out some of the locations and events we’ve collected:

Take your bug spray and get outside!  Traipse along the creeks, skip through the Greenbelt, hike the 360 bridge, catch the sunset from Mt. Bonnell, and stroll the new Lady Bird Boardwalk.
Too warm out? Go for a swim! Take some sunscreen and a few dollars and hit
Barton Creek.  Or check out one of the watering holes in our town and surrounding areas-  Hippie Hollow, Hamilton Pool, Blue Hole, and Krause Springs, just to name a few.   If swimming isn’t your water sport of interest you can rent a canoe, kayak or stand up paddle board. Discounts available at some locations around Lady Bird Lake if you bike up instead of drive.

If you’re already parked at Zilker Park, on certain Wednesday nights KGSR presents Blues on the Green which is free to the public.  Just down the road, every Thursday night through the summer you can catch Unplugged at Shady Grove.  If you’d rather catch a movie, (perhaps Hook or The Princess Bride) then head north to Central Market on 40th for Summer Cinema.

Maybe outdoors is a bit too warm for you- have you thought about catching a movie at the Paramount or State? This summer they are showing a variety of films – from E.T. to The Big Lebowski to Jaws.  If you’d rather get moving, Ballet Austin teaches Rhythm on Stage at the Long Center Tuesdays in July, and has Come Dance! day August 30th with free dance classes all day long.  Maybe you need some social lubricant to help you dance.  Lots of venues like Gloria’s, Enzo, Dallas Night Club and even Russian House have free social dance lessons before they open up the dance floor (and start charging cover).

Don’t forget free shows at the Zilker Hillside Theatre – this year we’ll see Hairspray! For more ideas, like other free movie listings, or yoga in the park, check out the blog 365 Things to do in Austin.

-Mikela Cowan

#StagehandView: Organizing Opportunities Are Everwhere

My last work day was long, even by stagehand standards, a six a.m. start with a load-out from one p.m. until … depends on who you asked. And this lengthy work call came at the end of ten early starts to ten long days. By about eight that night I was crispy. And that’s my excuse for missing an organizing opportunity.

Like I said, I was pretty fried when a longtime non-union Austin stagehand irritated me by hurrying up when it didn’t really make sense to hurry up. At the time, most of the carpenters were involved in a repetitive multi-person heavy lifting situation, so steady and safe would have been the right way to go even if we were all fresh and rested. But this guy kept moving faster than the group at a moment that required the group to move as one. I barked – I was the local department head, so it was my week to give f**k. He back-talked. I barked again. He figured out he needed to listen to me and eventually slowed down. We continued picking the heavy things up and putting them in their road case. End of incident.

Until that same stagehand came up to me later and introduced himself and apologized. Completely unexpected behavior. I certainly didn’t feel he had done anything that merited an actual apology. I had probably barked at a dozen people during that particular load-out. It’s kind of how we do. That’s what made his choice all the more remarkable.

I thanked him and assured him things were good between us. By then the call was mostly wrapping up so we chatted some. I learned he was a veteran of some of Austin’s more, shall we say, union unfriendly venues and stage labor providers, which explained his speed-up mindset. Then we went back to work and I didn’t really think about it anymore.

Anti Union Poster by Party9999999The next day it occurred to me that I had missed an organizing opportunity. I should have done more than just accept his apology and shake his hand and make small talk. I should have pointed out that our little mini-conflict lies at the very heart of why unions exist in the first place. We had each taken a side in a debate as old as capitalism: who controls the speed of the work? Or, to put it more fundamentally, should America’s ideals of democracy apply to workers while they’re doing their jobs?

Through his actions – namely, his go-go-go, work-as-fast-as-possible-all-the-time attitude – my new non-union acquaintance tacitly sides with management against democracy in the work place. His willingness to exhaust himself and put himself and his co-workers into dangerous situations, for whatever personal reasons, has the effect of ceding workplace power to the boss, in effect creating a little dictatorship.

On a union gig the stagehands are supposed to have a say in how fast a job happens (mostly because generations of workers have fought and died to win that right). And no, that does not mean we should all get out our milking stools. Union proud stagehands work as fast as the particulars of a situation allow. We work steady and we finish as quickly as possible without pushing past the speed of safety. That’s why fewer stagehands get hurt on union protected work calls.

These are some of things I should have said.

Of course, to be honest, I would have also needed to acknowledge that working union doesn’t fix everything. For example, there’s a national convention company my local is forced to work for (under a CBA we didn’t ratify that our international union shoved down our throats) where the contract completely sucks and where concepts like workplace democracy don’t apply. But that raises another democracy related question that won’t be answered here.

Because I just wanted to tell you about the organizing opportunity I missed. I just wanted to say that we should all be organizing all the time. And sometimes that simply means recognizing the chances we’re given and being willing to have the right conversations.

#StagehandView: First, We (Re)Organize Ourselves …

You’ve heard me talk about organizing. A lot. I’ve written about it here and elsewhere. But I can be a little stupid sometimes, so it only just dawned on me that all the local 205 members I’ve been talking organizing with probably assume I mean the external kind where a union targets a group of unorganized workers, brings them into the union, and negotiates a new CBA.

That type of organizing is a big part of the equation. We definitely need more of it.

But there’s a more fundamental, intra-union type of organizing that has to happen first because it serves as the foundation for the external kind. This kind of drive for primary, internal organizing has to grow out of the culture of a union local. Which is probably why it only seems to happen when the members actively run things instead of sitting back and relying on their e-board to handle all the work. It manifests in well-planned (and well-executed) bottom-up contract campaigns featuring strategic collective actions that back up the representatives at the bargaining table. Another sign that a union has embodied the organizing model is the presence of a lot of diverse, pro-active committees that accomplish assigned tasks on schedule. Internal union organizing boils down to the members making their local work for them by [You’ve figured out where I’m going with this, haven’t you?] working for their local.

Don’t sneer. Sure it’s trite, but that’s because it’s basically what JFK said.

You got a problem with JFK? I mean besides his pharmaceutical and sex dependence? … Or his refusal to push civil rights legislation. … But I’m off topic.

I kind of feel like our local might be starting to move toward embracing an organizing culture. At least a little. Maybe I’m just a starry eyed dreamer, but according to President Magee, we had over 70% voter turn-out in the last election, and that was despite all of the balloting silliness. We just need to figure out how to keep up this momentum and use it to our advantage.

Like the human body, if an organization sits still for too long it calcifies and starts to decay. Entropy affects collectives as much as it does individuals. And local 205 has been sitting still for a long, long time. So we need to keep figuring out ways to lube our squeaky joints and grind away at our shared rust.

I’m a writer and an editor. That means I’ve started writing and editing for the local. It helps the union and it helps me build my online platform. Everybody wins.

What are you when you’re not a stagehand? How can your unique skill set help?

Or, even more fun, what do you want to learn how to do? Our newsletter’s layout editor, Brother Ellinger, is a great example of how a lot of times you don’t have to be qualified to start volunteering, just interested and available. You can learn on the job. Years ago when we first started Stage Call, he volunteered to do the layout because he wanted to master the program he uses to put each issue together. I’d say we all benefited.

Because it’s not just about voting, though high election turn-outs are a good thing. It’s not just about paying dues either, though the money we amass can be a great weapon. It’s about the business union system – along with the thousands of passive, seemingly helpless members it continues to create – being just as much a part of the problem as Radical Right assholes like the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist.

Unlike America’s seemingly inexhaustible ability to spawn rich, Nazi-esque dickheads, which I don’t pretend to understand or know how to curtail, union members can control how we organize our reactions to those dickheads. We’ve cowed these guys before and we’ll do it again. If we we’re willing to work for it.

Unions have always been attacked from the far right, that’s a constant. Kind of like stagehands bitching about stuff, it’ll never stop. Unfortunately that means the union reaction to it can’t either. And, worse, we will never achieve any sort of ultimate victory. All we can do is choose to fight or choose to surrender.

I agree that the neverending class conflict caused by cannibal capitalism sucks. But how’s that relevant?

#StagehandView: IA917 Atlantic City Update


4:19 p.m.

Yesterday’s Facebook action for the Atlantic City casino workers’ union, Spread the Word Saturday, seems to have gone well. I ended up figuring out to work my phone enough to finally start copying and pasting into casino pages by the second show. But some folks really went to town until they got blocked from posting comments. Here’s how Michael Barnes summed up on the IA917 page:

The casinos changed the settings on their Facebook Page to delete and block our message. This a win for workers as it demonstrates we have motivated activists and the casinos are sensitive to the message. First mission can be ruled a success.

We will be launching a second wave of messages this week using secondary targets, beautiful faces, Twitter and from a suggestion today, Yelp.

Thanks to everyone for their help today. It’s Miller Time.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read yesterday’s Stagehand View.

Otherwise, I’m happy to report that I’ve been in contact with both Michael Barnes and Darrell Stark (see his comment on yesterday’s post). Anyone reading this should feel free to slap me on the back of the hand when you see me for my mistakes in the previous #StagehandView. I have corrected the piece.

But enough of that. It looks like Vice President Barnes is interested in talking to me for an article that I will write and submit to Labor Notes. Hopefully they’ll publish it and spread the word a little wider. At the very least, you’ll be able to read it here.

That’s it. Now I’ve got to go eat and do the final Austin show of Wicked … until the next time.

Don’t forget to join the IA917 Facebook page. The casino workers can’t participate in these kinds of actions without risking their jobs. That’s why it’s up to the rest of the union to do it for them.

#StagehandView: Call for Help from Local 917

This post has been corrected. The original contained factual errors. I apologize. In my haste to move at the pace of unfolding events I failed to figure out some rather important details about the major players. Again, I apologize.

March 8, 2014

9:17 a.m.

I recently and belatedly joined the You Know You’re a Stagehand If group on Facebook. I was almost immediately sucked into a cool little cyber campaign recently started by 1st International VP Michael Barnes on behalf of the IATSE local 917 in  Atlantic City. He is asking people to cut and paste a message about how the casinos in his town have double crossed union workers. I can tell you that local 917 doesn’t have anything about the Facebook group IA917 or Barnes’s claims about a “sleazy” double cross by the casinos in Atlantic City. I think it’s only fair to mention that, as far as I could tell, Local 917 doesn’t really have much of a web presence at all. After hitting that dead end I did a couple of preliminary – i.e. very fast and un-thorough – Google searches which didn’t mention anything about the local having a beef with the casinos, either. However, I did find a couple of December, 2013, newspaper articles talking about a casino bankruptcy and an executive bonus judgement from the courts. These stories corroborated at least part of Vice President Barnes’s story.

None of which means much of anything, of course.

Granted, my bias inclines to believe his claims about the double-dealing casinos. Here’s what he wrote and asked members of the IA917 group to share on various casino Facebook pages:

WORKERS DOUBLECROSSED BY SLEAZY CASINO GAMES; The Atlantic City Stagehands Local 917 was chartered in 1978. Our mission is to represent the people working in the entertainment departments at the Atlantic City Casinos. In 2011, our union like many other unions in Atlantic City were asked to roll back cost to get Atlantic City back on track. The members of Local 917 agreed to a 20% roll back in wages and a three year wage freeze. The casinos asked and we agreed to take this step back to allow us to move forward. We were told we were in this together. We were gamed. The casinos took our roll back and immediately distributed management bonuses. The non represented workers in the casinos were given raises and in some cases now earn 25% more than the represented workers. Help us spread the message. Share and Tweet this post.

I went ahead and joined his IA917 page and shared his message on some casino Facebook pages.

Okay, I admit it; it’s my first time. I’ve never done this kind of cyber-activism before. I only shared his message twice, at Harrah’s Atlantic City and Trump Tower Las Vegas. I was nervous and almost chickened out. But then I pushed Post. After the second time I did lose my nerve and went and had breakfast. It’s been about a half hour and my computer has not caught fire. Nor has my Facebook page fallen victim to some massive and irrecoverable hack. In fact, nothing’s happened. … I think I might be a little disappointed.

Two performances of Wicked today. The plan is to do some more posting of Brother Barnes’s “Double Cross” message between half-hour and top-of-show. I honestly don’t know if this kind of thing – Am I ‘”trolling?” – works or not. But it seems like it might. If anybody else does it, let me know how it goes.

9:51 a.m.

I can tell you that my posts at both Harrah’s and Trump have been removed. Though I just liked about a half dozen postings of it on the Harrah’s AC page. According to Barnes, there are at least 200 people working on this action.

Like I said, I have no idea what the result of this will be. But it’s kind of fun.

Next up, I’ll reach out to Vice President Barnes and see what he has to say. If you join in, let me know by commenting here. Or not. That’s cool, too.

#StagehandView: Labor Notes, It’s Not Just for Labor Geeks Like Me

First off, comments are enabled. So dig

That said, be aware that I am the moderator of your comments. And, while I encourage a lively debate, I won’t tolerate meanness. To quote myself in an earlier Stagehand View post, “don’t be a dick.” That’s my only rule and I am the only interpreter or enforcer of that rule.  I’m not saying you can’t tell me you think I’m wrong. Quite the opposite, I hope you give full voice to your dissent from or critique of my opinions. Anything I write on this blog is fair game. But this is not the forum for any personal vendettas; if you go after individuals (especially by name) there’s a good chance your comment will not see the light of day. Like I said, my blog, my rules. Start your own if you want something different.

Oh, I guess I lied. There is one more rule for commenting: you have to register as a user of this website and give an email address to take part in the discussion. Sure you can make up a fake name and use a burner email address … if you’re too big of a wuss to stand by what you say. But I hope you don’t because that’s just not as much fun.

Otherwise, I’ve gone back and enabled the comments for all of past Stagehand View blog posts. You’re welcome to comment on those, as well as this and all future posts.

I think that’s all the housekeeping I’ve got to do.

Moving on to this week’s blog. I’m not going to lie to you.  I’ve got nothing. I’ve been loading in and teching Austin Lyric Opera‘s Tosca this week, my bathroom remodeling project sits stalled at the halfway point because our original tile guy is a horse’s ass who bailed at the last minute, and a bunch of other crap you don’t care about has happened, as well. Put simply, I’m tired this morning.

Troublemaker's UnionSo here are some links to just a few of the great articles published by my one of my favorite news sources, Labor Notes.

My favorite article from last month’s issue debunks the myth of the so called skills gap in the U.S. Don’t believe the hype. The only gap that exists is between what employers are willing to pay for highly skilled workers and what those workers are willing to work for. Another good piece from that same issue talks about how Seattle has elected a socialist city council member who ran on a tax the rich/$15 minimum wage platform. Or, in case you still think organized labor should continue its unholy alliance with the Democratic Party, you should read the article about how the unions in Lorain County, Ohio successfully fielded about two dozen independent labor city council candidates. And my last recommendation is that you read Jenny Brown’s concise recap of 2013. All in all, last year had some glimmers of hope for the American labor movement. Mostly in places where union members decided to start acting like they’re part of a social movement again.

Not sure why every union local in the country (including Local 205) doesn’t subscribe to Labor Notes. They offer steeply discounted rates for union locals that want to get the print version in bulk. I think it might make a nice (and informative) attendance prize for our monthly meetings.

That’s it for this week. I’ll have slept more by next Monday, and I’ll try to do better.

Claire Hunt

The latest addition to the newsletter committee passed this morning, November 18, 2013.

She was driving in to a load out call in Austin from her home in Cedar Creek around 3am when she was involved in a head on collision. A car in oncoming traffic crossed double yellow lines.

Claire, you were a wonderful friend, positive co-worker, and loving mother. You will be missed ~


Memorial service Monday, November 25th, 2013

McCullough Theatre
2375 Robert Dedman Drive
Austin, Texas 78712

There will be an mic available for speeches, and if anyone wants to play a number or two please contact Mike Malak at Texas Performing Arts. Stage Alliance will be providing refreshments.
If you want to help out with set up, please contact David Seb Boone at Texas Performing Arts.
If you can’t help with the set up but want to bring something, please bring a potted plant by 2pm to use for decoration. Claire loved nature and used to participate in plant/seed swaps. At the end of the event everyone who brought a plant can take a plant (other than the one they brought) to help with clean up.

Please keep in mind that parking at UT is very difficult.

Event schedule thus far:

This is what we have planned so far:

set-up. All are invited to help, but set-up will be minimal and no further hands should be needed.

House and Lobby opened to public. Please enter from the FRONT of the McCullough Theatre (not the back as stagehands typically do)

VERY casual event.

3pm – 4:30pm

Decorations will be provided by YOU with a PLANT SWAP dedicated to Claire’s love for plants: Bring a plant and at the end of the day take a plant home. – see Seb
Other decorations will be by Claire. If you have ANY of her art work, please bring to display. – see Seb
Book of Memories book. Sign, draw pictures, whatever. This will be given to Claire’s family.
Background music of Claire’s favorite songs – compiled by Clay Allison
“Socializing” – hang out and meet Claire’s friends and family
Refreshments – furnished by Stage Alliance
Donations to Claire’s Daughter’s college fund – see Mikela ( M Neko Cowan ) for details
Live music – performed by Alejandro
Other possible Live Music – see Mike Malak for details
Video / slide show of Claire, her art, and her life – see Mike Malak to submit pictures and video

Welcoming and Thank you’s
Speeches. Open mic to all who wish to speak, sing, dance, or whatever to share memories and stories about Claire. This is informal. No sign-up sheet. Take turns at the mic. – see Seb

? – 7pm
More “socializing”. See 3pm-4:30pm

Doors locked. Clean up begins.

For up to date information:


Claire always had a smile. -photo courtesy of Kenny Kuykendall
Claire always had a smile.
-photo courtesy of Kenny Kuykendall
Between scene shifts at Austin Lyric Opera's Don Carlo she created this in collaboration with other deck hands. -photo courtesy of Ryan Gallagher
Between scene shifts at Austin Lyric Opera’s Don Carlo she created this in collaboration with other deck hands.
-photo courtesy of Ryan Gallagher