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UFT gets the part

Storied theater group votes to join the union’s ranks
New York Teacher
UFT gets the part

Members of Second City’s new UFT bargaining unit wear black to the first staff meeting after the union is recognized.

Performers and instructors at the New York City location for Second City, the renowned comedy theater group that has launched the careers of many famous comedians and actors, have chosen the UFT as their bargaining agent, the union announced in May.

The company, founded in 1959 in Chicago, has launched the careers of artists such as Steve Carell, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Bill Murray and Martin Short.

The new UFT members are often cast members in Second City productions and serve as instructors for Second City courses or work at special corporate events.They believe a union contract will result in better pay and working conditions.

Right now, pay is piecemeal with little prep time for instructors built into their work schedules. “It’s like a gig economy model — you’re paid for the time you’re in front of the class,” said Miles Trager, the UFT’s coordinator of services and negotiations for the private sector.

After 80% of the staff signed the union petition, the employer voluntarily recognized the UFT as the collective bargaining agent.

“We heard from Second City’s attorneys about setting up a bargaining date, so things are moving along,” said Trager.

The Association of International Comedy Educators — another American Federation of Teachers local — represents Second City workers in Chicago. It took more than 500 days of negotiations and a strike authorization vote to reach its first collective bargaining agreement in January 2024, said UFT representative Alejandra Palomino, who was the lead organizer in the New York City Second City drive.

Palomino said the Chicago contract may serve as a model in the New York negotiations.

“I’m extremely enthused,” said Stephen Kropa, a Second City instructor who currently teaches two three-hour classes per week. “All the teachers are in lockstep about this so it’s really, really exciting.”

Kropa, who emerged during the organizing campaign as a rank-and-file union leader, asked all members of the bargaining unit to wear black to the first staff meeting after the union was recognized.

“I didn’t get any emails back so I was nervous about the response,” Kropa said. “But, without exception, everybody was dressed in black. There was great energy.”

Kropa said he is eager to take advantage of the expertise the UFT provides at the bargaining table.

“Because we’re such a passionate, specialized group, we just want to feel like we’re not on our own for negotiating things like prep time and getting our salaries in line with what other similar schools in the area offer,” Kropa said.

Related Topics: Labor issues