Michelle Obama’s Book Event Got Caught Up In A Labor Dispute & Workers Want Her To Intervene
An outside labor dispute may complicate one of the former first lady's book events. A union representing stagehands had planned a protest where Michelle Obama is set to promote her autobiographical memoir, Becoming, in Washington state. Though the book event — and the protest — had been scheduled for Friday, the event space, Tacoma Dome, announced on Thursday afternoon that it postponed Obama's book promotion event to March due to an upcoming snowstorm.
Update: In an email to Bustle, IATSE communications director Matthew Cain says the union hopes that the former first lady "will use her influence to help us resolve this conflict" before the event date in March. "If not," Cain adds, "we'll reassess our options as we get closer to the new date."
Earlier: The Hill reported the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) released a statement earlier on Thursday claiming that the company Tacoma Dome hired for stagehands, Rhino Staging Northwest, compensated employees poorly and neglected safety issues. Bustle has reached out to the former first lady's communications team for comment, and to IATSE to confirm whether union members plan to protest on the March date.
"Ms. Obama’s book tells the story of growing up in a union household and celebrates the virtues of hard work," the IATSE statement noted. "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."
The Hill reported that Obama's tour promoter, Live Nation, and Tacoma Dome, hired Rhino Staging Northwest for stagehands to run the event. Although the Rhino workers voted to unionize in 2015, IATSE claimed that the company wouldn't negotiate a "fair contract."
Obama's support could change that. IATSE international vice president, Daniel Di Tolla, said in a statement, "The Obama Administration made history and made American families more secure by extending health care to millions of people. We are asking Ms. Obama to help us convince a major employer to operate in line with these same values."
For Live Nation, this won't be the first time that stagehand labor issues came under scrutiny. In 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported about complaints regarding wages, health, and retirement benefits for stagehands hired by the company through a different group, Crew One Productions, at the time.
IATSE's efforts in garnering Obama's support for this issue goes back to January. On Jan. 23, the organization's president Matthew Loeb wrote a letter to the former first lady, imploring her to address the reported labor dispute with Rhino.
"You may not be aware that a company, Rhino Staging Northwest, which has been engaged to staff your book talk in Washington state, has personnel policies and operations that are not consistent with the values you have represented throughout your career," Loeb wrote. He also mentioned that Barack Obama had signed pacts with the IATSE in both 2008 and 2012.
In his letter, Loeb pointed to "substandard wages" as well as "no health care or retirement benefits" plaguing the riggers and stagehands working for Rhino. Loeb also mentioned that Obama's husband "stood up for rigorous safety protections for workers and consumers."
The IATSE president wrote that if Obama helps the union's fight for Rhino to approve its employees unionizing, the former first family's legacy will be remembered for good reasons.
"Your family will go down in history as the one that put all families first by extending health care coverage to millions of hardworking Americans," Loeb wrote.