Former First Lady – Unlike President Obama – Won’t Insist on Health Care for Stagehands; Union Members to Protest Outside Feb. 8 Appearance
Tacoma, Wash. — Former First Lady Michelle Obama will land in the middle of a high-profile labor dispute when she appears at the Tacoma Dome on Fri., Feb. 8 at 8 pm to promote “Becoming,” her recently released autobiography.
Ms. Obama’s book tells the story of growing up in a union household and celebrates the virtues of hard work. But she has turned her back on hard-working backstage workers, including riggers, at the Tacoma Dome who do not receive health care or retirement benefits, have serious safety concerns, and earn substandard wages. As a result, members of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) and supporters plan to protest outside the Tacoma Dome during the February 8 event.
“The Obama Administration made history and made American families more secure by extending health care to millions of people,” said Daniel Di Tolla, IATSE international vice president and the union’s Director of Stagecraft. “We are asking Ms. Obama to help us convince a major employer to operate in line with these same values.”
Live Nation, the promoter of Michelle Obama’s book tour, and The Tacoma Dome have engaged a company called Rhino Staging Northwest to provide rigging and other services.
To remedy unfair and substandard working conditions, Rhino workers voted to organize a union in 2015. The company has so far refused to negotiate a fair contract, despite an order to bargain from the U.S. National Labor Relations Board.
“Rhino Staging Northwest has personnel policies and operations which are not consistent with the values you have represented throughout your career,” wrote IATSE President Matthew Loeb in a letter to Ms. Obama on Jan. 23.
Mr. Loeb asked Ms. Obama to “consider having a discussion with Live Nation and the Tacoma Dome” to advocate for Rhino workers so that workers would have union representation and fair compensation during her appearance in Tacoma.
Ms. Obama has not responded. In contrast, her husband, former President Obama, held campaign events that were under union contract, providing workers with health care and other benefits.
“When you take the stage to talk about your journey from Chicago to Washington and your fight for fairness and health care for those who have gone without,” wrote Loeb, “please look backstage as well.”
Workers with banners and leaflets will be in front of the Tacoma Dome on Fri., Feb. 8.