The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or I.A.T.S.E., (full name: International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada) is a labor union representing about 113,000 technicians, artisans and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, including live theatre, motion picture and television production, and trade shows. It was awarded Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre in 1993.
Originally chartered by the American Federation of Labor as the National Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes [sic] in 1893, its name has evolved over the course of 120 years of geographic and craft expansion as well as technological advancement. The current title, adopted in 1995, more accurately reflects the full scope of activities in the entertainment industry. For generations, the Union retained the historical spelling of the word "employes", calling itself the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes. In recent years, however, it has chosen to use the more common spelling.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees website begins the history of the Union in 1886. Beginning as a small organization in New York, Union members went on strike to get wages as low as $1 a-day wage. After producers filled the positions of strikers with less skilled, some completely non-skilled, strikebreakers actors refused to work due to sets falling apart. With the support of the actors behind the strikers, they succeeded in most of their requests . It wasn’t until 1891 when the Theatrical workers union grew from New York to the West Coast. A union was formed in Los Angeles in the late 1800s, however, IATSE claims the foundation of the Union it is today until two years after the Los Angeles union was created. The Los Angeles Theatrical workers union joined the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union in 1896. In 1893, representatives of stagehands from eleven cities met in New York to discuss working conditions for their peers. They vowed to support each other in the effort to create an industry that would allow for fair wages and better working conditions. John G. Williams was the first President of the Alliance. It was not until the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees elected Lee M. Hart as their president in 1894 when the corruption began. Sources claim Hart was very forceful in personality but was a resilient leader. Home rule was established in 1895, making it difficult for alliance members to search for jobs outside of their local productions. The alliance believed that “New York theatres for New York local members, Chicago theatres for Chicago members.” It was possible to work in another locals’ theatre with the permission of said locals. In 1987, after complaints from the Chicago local, the alliance created Executive Boards splitting the continent in two: the East and the West. Two locals were created in Canada by 1987, they were admitted within one year.
During the early 20th century, organized crime gained influence over parts of IATSE in collusion with employers. In June 1934 the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees held an election with only one person running . The election was rigged by the soon-to- be elected President Browne. The other two opponents in the running suddenly dropped from the race after death threats were received. Willie Bioff, another Chicago gangster, was instantly elected Browne’s “personal representative. ” Later that year Bioff went to Hollywood on behalf of IATSE . He used violent threats to discuss a private and limited contract with studios. These contracts included weak contracts and high dues. The studios liked the protection against the union. In 1941, Bioff and other mobsters were charged with corruption leading to union members attempting to remove them from power in IATSE. However, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees remained corrupt and reverted to fraudulent negotiating practices . Some sources suggest that, in the later years, IATSE was “more interested in breaking strikes than winning them. ”