Strathmore firings trigger labor dispute

October 1, 2020 | WTOP's Ken Duffy reports a labor union is crying foul over layoffs at a performing arts center in Montgomery County.

The Music Center at Strathmore in Maryland’s Montgomery County is embroiled in a labor dispute stemming from the firing of 19 ticket sellers, a move their union is calling illegal.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said on Wednesday it has filed unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Strathmore after the music center’s new CEO Monica Jeffries Hazangeles laid off all part-time ticket sellers and half of the full-time employees involved in ticket sales.

The union said this action violated a tentative agreement reached in April, as well as long-standing labor policies previously adhered to by Strathmore’s management.

“They’re taking the opportunity of the pandemic to pretty much ignore the contract and make up the rules as they go along,” IATSE Business Agent Anne Vantine told WTOP.

On Wednesday, Hazangeles wrote in a statement to Bethesda Beat that Strathmore kept its full-time and regularly-scheduled part-time staff intact during the first four-plus months of the COVID-19 pandemic but the closure of the performance venue caused “drastic reductions in revenue” and forced the organization to reduce its staff.

Strathmore, the Washington-area home to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and National Philharmonic, reportedly saw fiscal year revenue decline 35% as of July. The IATSE, however, points to Strathmore receiving public subsidies in addition to ticket sales and the music center’s record-breaking $5 million in ticket revenue in 2019 that helped it end the year with a surplus.

“It’s in Strathmore’s best interest to bring these ticketing professionals back in order to move forward and come out of this pandemic relatively whole,” Vantine said.

Matthew Loeb, international president of the IATSE, said in a statement the union will back the ticket professionals.

“We are very disturbed by the wrong-headed and short-sighted policies Strathmore’s new management has introduced,” Loeb said. “To my knowledge, Strathmore was the only unionized venue in the area to strip workers of their health care during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and now they want to unfairly and illegally fire staff. We will not let this stand. Strathmore can and should do better. We expect better behavior and so does the Montgomery County community.”

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