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Cinema Village, Est. 1963, Cinema Village Union, Est. 2024

We talked to one of Cinema Village's newly unionized workers about bargaining power and why his job matters to the entertainment industry.

Outside of Cinema Village movie theater in NYC.
(Paul Sableman / Flickr)

The next time a movie theater employee scans your ticket or passes you your popcorn, they're more likely than ever to be part of a union. The latest to unionize—workers at Cinema Village, an independent movie theater in the West Village, who are now part of their own 10-person unit. According to Jack Peterson, who's worked at the theater since October 21, neither he nor his coworkers make more than $19 an hour, even though some of them have been working at the theater for more than a decade. "The last time I asked for a raise—and I've asked many, many times—in January, it was rejected," Peterson told Hell Gate. "[Our boss] told us that none of us would be getting raises, in fact, 'for the entire calendar year.' That was the exact quote from him." That was the catalyst, he said, for the union drive. 

On April 26, Cinema Village employees voted to join United Auto Workers Local 2179, the same local that theater workers at Alamo Drafthouse joined in 2023 and Nitehawk Cinema Prospect Park workers joined in February. Their employer challenged the election—but the National Labor Review Board voted unanimously in their favor, and on Friday, the unit became official. "Honestly, it was so much easier than I would have expected to get the whole thing started," Peterson said, noting that he and others were inspired by the example set by other theater workers in the city who'd already taken the plunge. "I hope that other people who work in movie theaters see it and decide to give it a shot themselves," he added.

As they head to the bargaining table to negotiate their first contract, the unit has a few specific needs top of mind—they're looking for some kind of healthcare coverage, since they currently have none, and higher wages—but they're also thinking about the intangible benefits of wielding collective power, like the ability to stand up to their boss and demand respect in the workplace. "Our theater is run by a guy who is not in town most of the time, so it's been very difficult for us to get our point across or to get any real traction in the past, when it comes to standing up for our own rights," Peterson said. He recalled a time when a filmmaker complained about how a screening of her movie went, which led to an additional supervisor being sent in to "spy," as he put it, on employees for a week. "We're frequently yelled at and treated like we don't know what we're doing," he added. 

But Cinema Village's customers, he said, don't agree—which the theater's largely positive Google reviews confirm—and he hopes that being able to negotiate as a unit will help management see the light. "An important part of the entertainment business that I think is overlooked, consistently, is the employees of your local movie theater," he said. "There's so much effort that goes into making sure that you have a good time at the movies—that the place is clean, and the popcorn is good. We always get compliments on how dedicated our staff are. It's time for that to come back around and for us to be respected for that."

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