Denver Alamo Drafthouse Locations Vote for Unions | Westword

Two Alamo Drafthouse Locations Vote in Unionization Attempts

The Sloan's Lake location is heading to the bargaining table, and organizers at the Westminster spot expect to join soon.
Em Nassif has been working toward unionization for months, including at this January 2 rally.
Em Nassif has been working toward unionization for months, including at this January 2 rally. Catie Cheshire
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In January, employees at two of the Denver area’s three Alamo Drafthouse Cinema locations announced their intention to unionize, filing for elections with the National Labor Relations Board.

After months of waiting, both locations held their elections, with Westminster employees voting May 31 and those at the Sloan’s Lake location voting June 7, to mixed results.

The election delay came because Alamo Drafthouse argued that all three Colorado locations should have to vote together, which union leaders believe the company wanted because employees at the Littleton outpost were further behind in organizing efforts. The NLRB ruled in early May that each location would vote separately.

Known for large seats, a full bar and restaurant and an eclectic movie lineup, Alamo Drafthouse was founded in Austin in 1997 and has since become the seventh-largest theater chain in North America. Sony Pictures Entertainment purchased Alamo Drafthouse on June 12, ushering in the next step for the chain after it had filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.

Alamo Collective is the name of the prospective union, which is working with the Communication Workers of America, Local 7777. At the Sloan’s Lake location, election results showed 33 people in favor of the union and 23 against, with around 53 percent of eligible employees placing votes.

“That's a pretty decisive win," says Josh Reitze, a Sloan's Lake employee and union organizer

In Westminster, however, it’s not so decisive. The vote tally thus far is 41 to 39 in favor of unionizing, with nearly 70 percent of eligible employees having voted. But two votes may still be counted.

Union organizers believe those two votes should not count as they were filed by supervisors -- but the supervisors in question are paid hourly, so they could be included in the final vote tally. The parties are waiting for the NLRB to weigh in; the decision could require a hearing, which would extend the waiting period.

Should the two votes not be counted, the union would become official and the bargaining process would start. If the votes are counted and both are no votes, the election would be tied and the union would lose.

Westminster organizers believe their union will be certified either way. As Westword reported in February, employees have filed multiple claims of unfair labor practices over alleged breaches of labor law by Alamo Drafthouse during the unionization process. Most allegations stem from suppressing union activity or retaliating against union organizers.

The Alamo Collective believes the NLRB will issue a Cemex bargaining order because of the alleged labor law breaches, which would require Alamo Drafthouse to begin bargaining with the union regardless of the election results.

“Even if the vote ends up being a tie, we’ll still get our union eventually,” says Em Nassif, a longtime employee at the Westminster location.

Nassif says the vote's close results likely stemmed from the company’s work to dissuade people from voting in favor of a union. Alamo Drafthouse hired an independent educator, but the Alamo Collective argues the educator did not provide people with accurate information about unions and often relied on anti-union arguments when facilitating meetings with employees.

According to Nassif and Reitze, the Sloan's Lake and Westminster locations held meetings the day before the elections during which their management teams asked them not to vote for the union. The conversations took place after mandatory meetings about health inspections and, though employees were told they didn’t have to stay, Reitze and Nassif both say leaving would have been extremely awkward.

“You would have had to get up in front of the entire theater of people,” Nassif says. “Our managers all cried and begged us not to vote for the union. They brought out the founder, Tim League, to talk to us about not forming a union. He said that he believes in unions, but he believes they are for broken companies, not his company.”
click to enlarge A person holds a poster while picketing.
Alamo Drafthouse employees protest for better working conditions in July
Catie Cheshire
Throughout this process, employees have said they are not upset at their specific managers but at the general corporate structure that has undervalued them and not been responsive to people asking for improved working conditions.

League didn’t show up at the Sloan’s Lake meeting, according to Reitze, but he says the meeting and the company’s other work to prevent a union were still impactful.

“They did what they could to push our employees away from this when, in my opinion, if they wanted to solve our problems, if they truly wanted to address our issues, they could have asked any of us and they could have fixed all of that stuff,” Reitze says. “They've chosen not to, and they chose to spend their time and their money on pushing people away from voting yes.”

Both unions are moving forward with surveys asking employees what they want to see in their first contracts, and will elect their bargaining committees in the coming weeks.

Previously, the Alamo Collective listed pay raises and a contractual stipulation that wages will increase based on cost of living and inflation, along with pay transparency and adding all bank holidays to the company’s holiday pay list as top priorities. Other concerns the union would like to address include expanding health-care benefits, addressing the lack of breaks and creating a better system for responding to human resources issues.

“I'm really looking forward to getting into the thick of the bargaining process,” Reitze says. “Maybe I'm a nerd, but I'm really excited to see what everyone's goals are. I'm really excited to take the next step and start bargaining with the company so that we can improve people's lives.”

Alamo Drafthouse did not comment on the union activity, but acknowledged that it is still waiting for an NLRB decision in Westminster.

The company says the sale to Sony isn’t expected to cause changes for fans of Denver-area locations. Employees in New York have unionized, also, but it was before ownership changed hands. 
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