The workers now await a precedent-setting ruling from the National NLRB Office on whether their election is valid.
ATLANTA, GA — The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) unsealed and counted Atlanta Opera Hair and Makeup Artists’ unionization ballots after the ballots were impounded for nearly two years, Tuesday. The results reveal Atlanta Opera Hair and Makeup artists unanimously supported joining together with the backing of IATSE Local 798.
“Today’s count reaffirms what we already knew. The workers have spoken in a free and fair election, and they want a union,“ said IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb. “The Atlanta Opera’s retaliatory behavior and continued legal games up to this point are an affront to democracy and the values their institution supposedly embodies. Every worker in entertainment who wants a union deserves one. We are not leaving anyone behind the scenes behind.“
The unit of Hair and Make Up workers who requested union representation, is fully comprised of Black artists, and these union-busting tactics from The Atlanta Opera are being taken to prevent these workers from exercising their rights. A March 2022 Actors’ Equity statement explains, “What is far more shameful is that the Atlanta Opera has denied a group of all Black artists their right to organize. These employers have not only refused to acknowledge the bargaining unit’s legitimacy, but retaliated against them. Such actions contradict the work of Atlanta Opera’s own EDI Task Force, which vows to ‘counteract bias, increase diversity and foster an inclusive climate.”
In Spring 2021, employees who perform the art of Hair Styling and Make-up at The Atlanta Opera sought the opportunity to vote as to whether they wished to be represented by IATSE Local 798 through an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). However, The Atlanta Opera attempted to prevent the workers from voting on union representation by arguing to the NLRB that the workers are independent contractors (rather than employees) and therefore don’t have the right to organize. The NLRB Regional Office ruled against this argument, granting the workers an election. However, those ballots were impounded and never counted because The Atlanta Opera appealed the NLRB Regional Office’s decision to the National NLRB Office in Washington, D.C.
What Happens Next — While the unsealing and counting of ballots is a significant step forward, these Hair and Makeup Artists now await a final decision from the NLRB regarding their eligibility for unionization in the first place.
In December 2021, the NLRB invited briefs regarding the Independent Contractor Standard as part of the ongoing legal battle in The Atlanta Opera, Inc. 371 NLRB No. 45 (2021). In other words, the labor board is considering moving from the independent-contractor standard in SuperShuttle DFW, Inc., 367 NLRB No. 75 (2019), and possibly moving back towards the standard set in FedEx Home Delivery, 361 NLRB 610, 611 (2014), or a new standard altogether. While this amended standard has the potential to be a historic win for workers, particularly in the fast-paced entertainment industry, unfortunately many of the organizing workers have been denied future work opportunities at the opera during the prolonged resolution of this organizing effort.