While doing a little muckraking into Mark Cuban's entertainment empire not long ago, I stumbled upon the efforts of a group of Landmark Theatre employees at Boston's Kendell Square Cinema who – much to the vigorous union-busting activities of Cuban and co. -- had successfully formed a union. Last Friday, Landmark's Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley became the second Landmark Theatre to unionize despite "an attempt by CEO Bill Banowsky to thwart the union attempt," according to a press release.
As Landmark continues to become the Starbucks of arthouse cinemas under Cuban's control, homogenizing the movie experience, muscling out smaller one-screen competitors and using indie films for his own corporate bullying (such as the Sex Addict debacle), the need to unionize has become more urgent. According to reports, Kendall's decision to unionize came as a result of "recent management changes," "a wage freeze," no full-time status, and a general "lack of benefits" while Shattuck is also seeking health benefits and a decent wage. Exploiting the workers -- now that's truly the indie film spirit.
With new initiatives such as playing commercials in advance of film showings and major sponsorships with Ford Mercury, etc, one Landmark employee Lauren Ryder complained to me that all the "marketing is antithetical to what our patrons want. We are not a sports arena."
"Simply, the people who love independent film are not the people running our theater," she said. "People who see independent film as a great way to make more money are running the theater."
And the fight is not over. Other Landmark theaters have been unable to unionize -- in 2004, Landmark venues in Minneapolis faced stiff union opposition -- and the Kendall in Boston has reportedly had trouble getting management to meet at the bargaining table.
"We knew all along that the negotiations process would be the difficult part," said Rachel Amberg, an 18-year-old Shattuck employee. "But we're ready to do whatever it takes to make sure Landmark doesn't jam the gears. If Landmark was really interested in 'good faith' negotiations, we could get the whole process taken care of in under a month."