Phone: Labor Requests 503-333-5928 - General Office Questions 503-295-2828
History of IATSE Local 28 - IATSE Local 28

The History of IATSE Local 28

The first meeting of what was to become Local 28 occurred December 31, 1893, when seventeen men met to form a Portland theatrical stage employees union. During 1894 many meetings were held to raise the $50 necessary to pay the International for the local charter. This sum was collected in the form of donations of 25 and 75 cents. The formal application was submitted in January 1895 and was approved on March 1st of that year.

Undoubtedly, the most famous of the charter members was George L. Baker, who became the most colorful mayor in the history of this city. Although he did not pursue the stagehand trade for any length of time, his interest in Portland theater remained with him throughout his life. To this day the name Mayor Baker and Baker’s stock company represents Portland show business at its finest. Unlike Baker, many of the charter members remained in the field throughout their lives, with the last passing away in 1944.

 The minutes of Local 28 provide a history of Portland’s theatrical past. Among the early theaters mentioned were the Marquam Grand, Cordiray, Casino, Columbia, Bungalow, Lyric, Majestic, and Pantages. From the wings, our members watched the greatest theatrical names of their time.

Early Portland theaters were nothing more than glorified barns with a crude stage at one end. The seating was limited to hard benches, and the heating system was nothing more than a pot bellied stove. The first modern theater, the Marquam Grand, opened in 1890 with an electric lighting dimmer board, plush seats, and “an artistic front curtain.” The box seats were auctioned off for opening night—the number one box sold for $60.

The Lewis and Clark Exposition ushered in an era of great growth for the city, and for show business. Vaudeville—the two-a-day—at The Grand, The Empress, and The Hippodrome was our livelihood during those early days of the twentieth century. In 1918 the Civic Auditorium rapidly became our greatest source of revenue. During the depression years the weekly wrestling matches at the old auditorium was the only source of income for several of our members.

 With the advance of the motion picture era came the forming of the operators’ union. Talking pictures slowly brought an end to the golden age of Vaudeville, and soon stage news was moved from the front to the back pages of Variety. Somehow the stage, and the stagehand, survived, thanks to audiences who continued to demand the special thrill of live performance.

In May 1968, the city of Portland completed the renovation of the Civic Auditorium, which now offered a comfortable home to the number one arts organization in the state: the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. With all other presenters vying for the dates left free by the symphony, the auditorium was booked as fully as any hall in the country. The Memorial Coliseum was 10 years old and going strong, and a few shows were going into the aging Paramount. The Local worked under a master agreement signed with the Oregon Symphony, Portland Opera, Celebrity Attractions and several smaller presenters. When Local membership was insufficient to cover large calls, it was standard to call in an assortment of firefighters, relatives, friends and neighbors to fill out the roster. In this way we entered a period of unpredicted growth in the entertainment industry in Portland.

Portland audiences were quickly becoming more enamored with the higher production values offered by the touring Broadway shows brought in by Celebrity Attractions, and the operas produced by Portland Opera Association. And then there was rock ‘n’ roll. The advent of rock music and touring bands ushered in a new age in entertainment. Most of the old hands dismissed rock shows as a flash in the pan, yet in the 70s dates were filling in with rock shows at the declining Paramount theater, the ice arena at the Jantzen Beach, a variety of smaller venues and, increasingly, at the Memorial Coliseum. The new technologies presented to the industry by rock ‘n’ roll were not to be underestimated. Initially minimal sound and lighting systems were soon to be expanded exponentially, augmented by rigging developed by the Disney on Parade shows. The shows were soon flying the larger lighting trusses and sound clusters we are now familiar with.

 It was in 1970 that the Memorial Coliseum got its big break, with the creation of the Portland Trail Blazers basketball franchise. The Blazers’ schedule filled out enough dates so that the Coliseum was also busy year-round. In 1974, the Local reached an agreement with the city Exposition Recreation Commission to represent all maintenance workers and provide all stagehands for the arena shows at the Coliseum. Local 28 had been providing stage and labor since the Coliseum opened, but this was the first contractual recognition of our jurisdiction for the venue, and the beginning of a long, healthy relationship with the Coliseum.

Stage productions and rock shows became progressively larger during the late 70s, and membership expanded to meet the needs of the shows. The first woman appeared on a Local 28 stage crew in 1978, with the first women members admitted in 1979. Female participation burgeoned in 1981 when the local absorbed the wardrobe members from Local B-20 into our ranks. This merger made sense because, at the time, as backstage workers the wardrobe members always received their call from Local 28 Business Agent.

The early 80s saw substantial growth as Portland voters passed a bond measure to buy the old Paramount theater and refurbish it. Additional funds were alloted and raised to construct a new building on the block just south of the Paramount. This would become the New Theater Building of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts. When the Paramount reopened in 1984, it became the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, new home to the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. As a result of that move, the Civic Auditorium was now open to host increased numbers of touring shows, Broadway shows, ballets and operas. To cope with the growth in business, Local 28, in 1985, began a new State of Oregon-sanctioned Apprenticeship Program, and began the screening of applicants for stagehand work. Local 28 also placed a renewed emphasis on member training as show business accompanied the rest of society into the computer age.

To great fanfare, the New Theater Building opened in 1987, containing a small 300-seat flexible theater, the Dolores Winningstad Theatre and the 900-seat Intermediate (now Newmark) Theatre. Following the opening festivities, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival-Portland, an offshoot of the famous Ashland, Oregon company, secured a position as resident theater company for the Intermediate Theatre. This offered Portland audiences a high-quality theater season as a return on their investment in the new arts center. All PCPA offices moved from the the Civic Auditorium to the New Theater Building. The ensuing expansion of services, staff and events meant that the city of Portland could no longer operate its theaters without subsidized funding. Rather than coming up with a tax base subsidy for PCPA, the city placed PCPA under the support of the Exposition Recreation Commission to oversee the Coliseum, Convention Center and PCPA. By this time Local 28 membership had grown to the 120 men and women.

 The 1980s saw a surge in the number of film and video productions passing through the region. Union stagehands were working on some of the union shots, but more often productions were non-union, often with working conditions on the sets that were unsafe. Wage and hour laws were ignored, and worker dissatisfaction mounted. The production companies on these non-union shoots were most often offshoots of major studios that were under IATSE contracts in Los Angeles. In early 1992 International Representative Stephen R. Flint obtained letters from Local 15 in Seattle, Washington, Local 28 in Portland, Local 93 in Spokane, Washington, and Local 675 in Eugene, Oregon, giving up their film jurisdictions. In 1992, with the leadership of Local 28 Business Agent John DiSciullo and IATSE Representative Sandra England, International President Alfred W. DiTolla granted a charter on April 1 to form Local 488, Studio Mechanics of the Pacific Northwest.

1989 brought two mergers of note for Local 28. Membership in Sister Local 159, Motion Picture Machine Operators, dropped from 57 members in 1970 to only remained a handful of active members among the total membership of 17 in 1989. The advent of automated projector systems, and anti-unionism among movie theater owners, had cut so strongly into the ranks of Local 159 that, at the urging of the International, they were merged into Local 28. Now, with the stagehands, wardrobe workers and motion picture machine operators, we we became a truly all-purpose mixed local. Another notable merger happened in 1989: after years of competition, the two struggling local ballet companies merged. Ballet Oregon and Pacific Ballet Theatre joined forces to form Oregon Ballet Theatre, providing the final cornerstone to the performing arts community in Portland.

In the 1990s, the intense popularity of the Portland Trail Blazers, coupled with the age and small size of the now old Memorial Coliseum, fostered a need for a new arena to house the team. Plans were drawn up in a partnership formed between the Blazers organization and the city of Portland resulting in the construction of a new arena adjacent to the Coliseum: the Rose Garden Arena. As part of the deal, the Blazers took over the operations of the Coliseum in July 1993. By July 1994, Local 28 had successfully negotiated a contract with the Oregon Arena Corporation to provide all stagehands in both the Coliseum and the Rose Garden.

Coming soon… the next chapter of our history: 1995 to 2012 and beyond.

Page Last Updated: May 05, 2019 (07:28:08)
Contact Info
IATSE Local 28
PO Box 42565
Portland, OR 97242
  Labor Requests 503-333-5928 - General Office Questions 503-295-2828

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