Stagehands union urges Michelle Obama to get involved in Washington labor dispute

The union representing stagehands announced Thursday it will protest outside of former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaTo honor Justice Ginsburg's legacy, Biden should consider Michelle Obama National Urban League, BET launch National Black Voter Day The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill MORE’s book promotion event Friday at an arena the group says does not adequately support its contractors.

“Ms. Obama’s book tells the story of growing up in a union household and celebrates the virtues of hard work. But she has turned her back on hard-working backstage workers, including riggers, at the Tacoma Dome who do not receive health care or retirement benefits, have serious safety concerns, and earn substandard wages,” the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) said in a statement. 

“As a result, members of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) and supporters plan to protest outside the Tacoma Dome during the February 8 event.” 


Live Nation, the promoter of the tour, and the Tacoma Dome, the arena where Obama is set to speak, have employed Rhino Staging Northwest to provide rigging and other services. While Rhino employees voted to organize a union in 2015, the IATSE said Rhino Staging refused to negotiate a “fair contract.”

Obama is currently on a tour to promote her recently published autobiography “Becoming.” She has not yet responded to the IATSE.

“The Obama Administration made history and made American families more secure by extending health care to millions of people,” Daniel Di Tolla, IATSE international vice president and the union’s director of stagecraft, said in a statement Thursday. “We are asking Ms. Obama to help us convince a major employer to operate in line with these same values.”

Union officials began lobbying Obama last month to intervene on their behalf and try to persuade Rhino to approve employees’ unionization.

“Rhino Staging Northwest has personnel policies and operations which are not consistent with the values you have represented throughout your career,” IATSE President Matthew Loeb wrote in a letter to Obama on Jan. 23.

“We would like to ask you to consider using your platform to assist the men and women represented by the IATSE. With your support, we hope to have the Becoming, Book Tour Production sign a nation-wide agreement with the IATSE,” he added, noting that former President Obama signed a similar pact with the union during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns.