Workers at the Bow Tie Squire Cinema in Great Neck are trying to unionize, citing poor working conditions and low wages, a representative from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1500 said Monday.
“It’s an unsafe environment to work in. There have been workers who said they have been getting burned and that they don’t have proper safety equipment,” said Rafael Mouleon, a UFCW union organizer. “None of them have health benefits — they just all feel like they’re being treated unfairly.”
Samantha Valente, who has been working at the movie theater for about two years, said she is one of about 10 non-seasonal employees at the theater who will vote to be represented by the UFCW Union.
“We work hard enough, we should be getting better treatment from our company than these working conditions,” Valente said.
Philip Mortensen, an attorney for Bow Tie, said his client does not wish to comment on the case at this time.
Bow Tie Cinemas is a national chain of movie theaters with locations in six states. The chain has 16 theaters in New York, including New Hyde Park, Manhasset and Roslyn.
Mouleon said the Squire Theater, a multiplex cinema located at 115 Middle Neck Road in the Village of Great Neck Plaza, is the only Bow Tie Cinema related theater trying to unionize at this time.
According to the National Labor Relations Board’s website, the case was filed on Feb. 26, and is still open as of Tuesday.
Valente said theater employees are unhappy with their low wages, lack of raises and erratic scheduling, sometimes finding out when they work the day before they have a shift. She said the scheduling makes it difficult for part-time workers, like her, to find other jobs. She also said employees worked throughout the holidays without holiday pay.
Valente, 22, said she lives with her parents, who she helps support with her job. She said receives the minimum wage — $8.75 an hour
“We were getting minimum wage even though it was the busiest time of the year,” Valente said. “They slashed our hours after the holiday season, and some of us were getting only two shifts a week.”
Many of the machines the employees use need updated and are dangerous to use, she said.
She also said nearly every employee has been burned by the popcorn popper at least once, which operates at 400 degrees. Employees get burned, Valente said, because they are often multitasking while making the popcorn as there aren’t enough employees to do the work properly.
Valente said the workers will vote soon to be represented by the UFCW Union Local 1500, an AFL-CIO affiliated union, but a specific date has not been scheduled.
The workers were scheduled to vote April 10, but were delayed when the UFCW filed an Unfair Labor Practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board, saying Bow Tie Squire Cinema was threatening and intimidating workers trying to unionize, Valente said.
“[The workers] say they’ve complained to the management and that the management did nothing,” Mouleon said.
The UFCW Union represents about 1.3 million workers who primarily work in grocery and retail stores, food processing and meat packing, according to their website.
Mouleon said the National Labor Relations Board schedules the date for unionization votes, not the individual unions.
Bow Tie Squire Cinema’s corporate office found out on Feb. 26 that the employees were trying to unionize, Valente said, and has since organized monthly mandatory meetings with employees, trying to persuade them out of unionizing.
“They said if we want collective bargaining we could lose some of the things we already have, and that there is no guarantee we will win anything,” she said. “They were threatening people’s jobs if they voted for the union.”
“If they want a union, the company can’t sit there and tell them they’re going to be fired,” Mouleon said.
Valente said the workers want 25-cent raises every year.
“One of my co-workers has been there working part-time for 15 years and he only makes $10 an hour,” Valente said. “The company told him in one of the meetings that was the most they were willing to pay him if he didn’t learn other skills.”
Employees have spoken to the theater’s management about the conditions, Valente said, but that there is nothing they can do about it.
“Because it’s such a small theater we have a good relationship with our manager, and it’s clear that their hands are tied as well,” Valente said. “When we tell our supervisors or manager they sympathize with us but say there isn’t much they can do.”
The theater workers are trying to get support from the community they serve.
“The Squire is a community theater, and I see my job as helping serve people who want to see a movie — it’s really me serving the community,” Valente said. “They’re trying to intimidate people who just want fair pay for their hard work.”