Militant Journalism

San Diego Encore workers win union contract

After 20 months of struggle against Encore Global, San Diego audio visual technician workers won their first union contract. On March 16, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 122 announced that the Encore workers are officially joining their union.

Credit: Haley Manbeck

The triumph of the Encore workers represents a major victory for the labor movement in San Diego, as well as for Encore workers around the world. Their union contract includes annual raises, workplace safety measures, five-hour minimum shifts, onsite stewards and other concessions.

Encore workers frequently put on events for billionaires and politicians at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, the biggest hotel on the West Coast, while many Encore workers struggle to put food on their own tables. During the union drive and subsequent standoff with Encore management, Encore workers, IATSE Local 122, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and other unions and community organizations participated in actions outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt, Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina and elsewhere nearby.

Liberation News sat down with Encore worker Nick Gegan on March 25, the day the new contract officially went into effect. Gegan said that, “It’s kind of a bittersweet thing. We didn’t get everything we wanted …But the company threw us an ultimatum.”

Nick Gegan (right) holding an “Encore unfair!” banner. Credit: Haley Manbeck

Encore threatened to unilaterally put a contract into effect without union approval if the workers didn’t accept the other offer on the table. Under that pressure, the workers opted to accept the offer despite the pay increases being lower than what most workers had hoped for.

Gegan also expressed optimism about the new contract: “I think in the long run it’s going to be a good thing. We’re laying the foundation down for the next contract in three years where we’ll be able to negotiate for higher wages and better benefits. It’s going to be a lot easier because we have protections in place now.”

It is commonly known in the labor movement that the first union contract is often the most difficult one to secure. What Gegan expressed is very much in line with that historical precedent.

Gegan connected Encore workers’ victory to the so-called “labor shortage” in the U.S. economy, saying, “A company needs you more than you need them. It’s always been like that … How many places are looking for workers? … Now is the time to stand up and fight for your rights and fight for what you deserve!”

IATSE workers, Starbucks workers, sanitation workers, teachers, miners and many others across the country are taking a stand against their bosses and setting the stage for union consciousness and then class consciousness to take root among the U.S. working class. Ruling class resistance to granting basic reforms and concessions only fuels that consciousness.

After an action on Dec. 15, Liberation News spoke with Encore worker Ed Figueroa who said, “[Encore] already told us they don’t want to give us anything … It’s not that they can’t. They don’t want to. Simple as that. Their lawyer said it to us various times.”

After voting to unionize in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Encore stalled or outright refused to negotiate with the workers and their new union representatives. This victory shows the power of persistent, collective working-class struggle.

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