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Continue To Boycott Local Theaters?

Continue To Boycott Local Theaters? image
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Summertime is great for seeing movies. Many new movies are released around now, and people generally have more time on their hands. If the theater is air-conditioned, you can get out of the heat and escape to Brazil, Paris Texas, a room with a view, or Casablanca. However, if you are like me, you didn't get to go to Brazil this season, because the only way to get there was through the doors of the State Theater. This theater, along with the Campus Theater on South University and the Wayside in Ypsilantli, has been boycotted by thousands of Ann Arbor residents since December of 1984. ANN ARBOR- The boycott began shortly after the Kerasotes Theater Corporation of Springfield, Illinois, bought the two theaters and other theaters throughout the state from the Butterfield chain. On December 28, 1984, Kerasotes fired all the union projectionists and replaced them with untrained, minimum-wage employees. The fired projectionists then began an informational picket at the Kerasotes theaters in the Ann Arbor and surrounding areas, asking patrons to boycott the theaters. The projectionists charged Kerasotes with union busting, unsafe working conditions, elimination of special discounts, and poor quality movies. They also requested their jobs back. The action of the Kerasotes Theater Corporation is typical of large corporations entering communities everywhere, whether in Ann Arbor, Jackson, or Traverse City. Because they are not a part of the community, the corporations have little regard for the local people or any willingness to work with them. Kerasotes is no exception. They carne into Ann Arbor, fired long-term employees, and cut out all discounts to senior citizens and students. As an Ann Arbor business, they refused to join the State Street Merchant's Association or to communicate with other merchants. They have also refused to talk to union membcrs or newspapers about their current disruptive practices. To achieve the quickest way to higher profits seems to be their only objective. A group of Ann Arbor residents, calling themselves the Pinkertons, decided that they would not tolérate these practices in their community. The Pinkertons, who are unaffiliated with the projectionists' union (the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), joined the picketers in April, 1985. They began performing theater outside the State, to draw attention to the issues. Due to a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the projectionists were forced to cease picketing, but the Pinkertons continued on, attracting incrcasing attention to the unfair practices of the Kerasotes chain. The Pinkertons have also focused on other theaters in Michigan owncd by Kerasotes, including the State Theater in Traverse City, the Plaza Theater in Jackson, the Wayside Theater in Ypsilanti, and the Flint Cinema. In Ann Arbor their theater actions took place on a weekly basis. The Pinkerton skits were boisterous satires of Kerasotes practices, thematically set around major holidays or current events. In some, a single charge was focused on, such as the elimination of senior citizen discounts or the instances of safety violations incurred by the State Theater under Kerasotes ownership. The group was very persuasive in turning away customers, because they delivered a strong message. Many people unaware of or misinformed about the boycott chose to leave after watching the Pinkertons perform. Some people feit that the theater action was more entertaining than the movie they were planning to see, and they became "regulars" in the audience that gathered weekly in the street and on the traffïc island at State and Liberty streets. The Pinkertons did not merely perform. Members also passed out leaflets, answered questions, and collected signatures of people pledging to boycott the three local theaters. Almost 3,000 people signed the petition, which was destined for the desk of Roben Kerasotes, the owner of the theaters. Kerasotes filed a lawsuit against seven Pinkerton members in July, 1985. Kerasotes charged the Pinkertons with defamation of character, trespassing, and harassing customers; they claimed that the Pinkertons cost them $25,000 in loss of business for every day they were out there. The total of the lawsuit came out to roughly half a million dollars. After a hearing and a temporary "mutual" injunction, the two parties settled out of court, with the agreement that the injunction become permanent. The injunction states that neither party will destroy the others' properties (sidewalks, being public property, are not included), and both sides will refrain from verbal ly or physically harassing members. The Pinkertons were also forbidden from "interfering with ingress or egress" of the theater, "unreasonable use of the sidcwalk," and from implying that the Kerasotes theaters are unsafe to patrons. So what has become of the boycott and the Pinkertons now? They are both still alive and well in Ann Arbor. Since November, the Pinkertons have not been concentrating on the Kerasotes theaters, but they have not been idle. In April of this year, the group joined with the Latin American Solidarity Committee (LASC), in a performance in Jackson and Ann Arbor, centered on the contra aid vote, and especially Cari Pursell's position on the issue. The group is currently discussing their future as a political theater group and what their emphasis will be. There is a strong desire among group members to continue with labor issues, but they are also planning to support other progressive causes with their art. Although the Pinkertons have not been collecting signatures recently, people are still choosing to boycott the theater. The Pinkertons themselves say they "wouldn't rule out doing something more at the State," according to member Buzz Alexander. While another ruling forbids the projectionists to ask for their jobs back, and although Kerasotes has finally restored senior citizen discounts, the attitude toward the boycott has not changed; the union busting continúes. The general feeling in the group is that the issue is still very pertinent, and until the Kerasotes Theater Corporation changes its pracüccs, the reasons to boycott have not changed. If you are one of the scveral thousand who have been boycotting the State and Campus theaters, or plan to in the future, don't do it in a vacuüm! Write a letter to Robert Kerasotes (600 First National Bank Building, Springfield, 111 62701) and explain your reasons for boycotting. Teil him that you are also informing your friends of the boycott, and are supporting other Ann Arbor movie theaters rather than Kerasotes. If you simply cannot stay away from the State Theater because you have to see "Brazil," do not buy food or drinks at the concession stand, because that is where movie theaters make the majority of their profits. And cncourage your friends to do the same. The boycott is not dead, so look for the Pinkertons - they may be the next coming attraction at the State Theater. Update


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