Nitehawk Cinema Workers Vote to Unionize

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By Kirstyn Brendlen, Brooklyn Paper

After a “clandestine” monthslong organizing campaign, workers at Nitehawk Cinema’s Park Slope location across from Prospect Park voted to unionize last weekend in a two-day election.

Employees at the beloved dine-in theater notified management of their plan to join up with United Auto Workers Local 2179 last month — citing unfair labor practices, unstable pay and scheduling, and safety concerns.

In the end, out of just over 100 eligible voters, 92 workers took part in the election on March 15 and 16, and voted 51-41 in favor of a union, said Will Bobrowski, second vice president at UAW Local 2179.

The brand-new bargaining unit includes full and part-time bartenders, line cooks, food runners, porters, and servers, according to the union.

workers posing with a union sign

Workers at Nitehawk Cinema’s Prospect Park location have voted to unionize. Photo via Nitehawk Workers Union

Nitehawk workers have said they are underpaid and overworked, with the popular theater sometimes so understaffed it was unsafe for employees.

Bobrowski added some safety issues were reoccurring. In the summer, he said, the air conditioning goes out in the building semi-regularly — causing the concrete floors to become wet, slippery, and dangerous for employees delivering food inside a dark movie theater.

“I think a lot of it really comes down to quality of life,” Bobrowsi said. “Which is to say, respectful, transparent communication with management.”

In an email, representatives of the Nitehawk Workers Union said management responded to their plan to unionize with “an aggressive union-busting campaign.”

“Workers faced a barrage of emails from owner Matthew Viragh filled with scare tactics and blatant misinformation,” the union wrote. “Meanwhile, upper management deployed relentless intimidation and threats against employees across all departments.”

Viragh denied any anti-union behavior.

“We have no idea about union-busting,” he told Brooklyn Paper in an email. “We educated our employees that the Union tried to deprive them of the right to vote. We wanted them to have an election. There was tremendous turnout, which we encouraged.”

He felt 51 votes in favor of the union did not represent strong support.

nitehawk pavilion

Photo by Susan De Vries

“It has been a very difficult and divisive process for our business and it’s sad to see so many unhappy employees now,” Viragh said. “There’s really no winner here.”

A number of workers did vote against unionizing, Bobrowski said, possibly because of the anti-union response. When workers first delivered their intention to unionize, around 70 Nitehawk employees had signed union authorization cards – but only 51 voted “yea” in the election.

“These things happen in every drive, and it is to be expected,” Bobrowski said. “It is still a [51 to 41] vote, it’s still a large margin.”

As tensions subside after the vote, union representatives and Nitehawk employees will come together to talk and begin making plans for next steps. It’s likely to take months, at least, for workers and management to reach a first contract.

UAW has been bargaining with Alamo Drafthouse since January, Bobrowski said, after employees at locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan voted to join the union last fall, and are making “good progress.”

“I’m hopeful that when we get to that table, we’ll get something, and it won’t take a year and a half or whatever,” Bobrowski said. “We are prepared, we have good legal counsel, we have experience in bargaining.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.

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