LOS ANGELES, CA — In order to bring awareness to issues important to Los Angeles Opera (LAO) costume workers – wages and including department heads under the contract – costume shop employees will be handing out leaflets to the public and guests at the Opera’s Opening Night Gala performance on September 17th. The artisans and craftspeople of the LAO Costume Shop voted overwhelmingly in favor of union representation by IATSE Local 768 in 2021, but since then, the group has grown frustrated as management continues to stall negotiations.
“We began negotiations for our first contract in earnest, but unfortunately, the Company has not yet responded to our economic proposal which was given to them over 10 weeks ago,” said IATSE Representative Allison Smartt. “90% of the Costume Shop workers are paid less than the ‘Low Income’ rate defined by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and these workers literally cannot afford to continue waiting. This is especially outrageous given the vast majority of Costume Shop workers are women, POC, and/or LGBTQIA+.”
Bargaining committee members have also been disappointed by the adversarial tone adopted by LAO in negotiations. “The LA Opera has threatened to outsource our work and exclude us from many provisions which are already in union agreements with other LA Opera departments,” said Lark Arrowood, a Seamster/Second Hand. “Higher wages and benefits will entice more amazing craftspeople to join the shop, so that the LAO can maintain the prestige and legacy it deserves. I love my work, but I also see that—in its current state—this isn’t a viable long-term career.”
“In new co-productions with other union costume shops, we do the majority of new construction at the lower pay rate,” says Seamster Alex Babec. “Forming a union ensures the same consideration and respect allotted to our fellow union coworkers.”
On August 21st, an adjacent fire caused widespread smoke damage to the costume storage facilities of the LAO. And with less than a month before opening night, workers had to respond swiftly to repair dozens of ravaged garments. In an internal issue of the LAO employee newsletter, costume shop employees were lauded for sacrificing their weekends and putting in substantial overtime to ensure the opening night performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor“ would go on as scheduled. Now, the workers who rose to the occasion are asking LA Opera management to do the same.
Seamster Clara Weidman appreciates the kind words, but emphasizes that actions speak louder: “We are constantly told how much value we bring to the shows and how appreciated we are, and ultimately we’d just like for the company to put their money where their mouth is and show us that we’re appreciated as much as the other departments. We care about the Opera’s success as much as management does, but we also have to be able to live our lives.”
It’s the hope of costume shop workers that patrons who appreciate the artisanship they see on stage will encourage the Opera to come back to the table with a fair proposal.