Organizing jives

It's been all peace and love at Universal Studios as the Actors' Equity union attempts to organize 300 of the park's performers. At least that's the impression left by the union's propaganda. A flier passed out last week at the Mark Two Dinner Theater looks more like a promotion for upcoming shows than a demand for labor rights. The word "union" appears once.

"Essentially the actors are taking the high road," says Ron Bush, the union's business representative.

This marks the fifth time a union has tried to organize the park, and despite a swanky reception this week with Tony Randall ("I'm a 200 percent union man"), Jack Klugman and Jean Stapleton, the union seems defensive. Don't worry, they say, you won't actually have to pay dues.

Universal is playing hard ball, of course, holding mandatory meetings where performers listen to Universal executives lecture on the disadvantages of joining a union. "The workers are very smart and very capable of expressing their point of view," Universal Studios Escape's president and CEO Tom Williams told the Associated Press. "They don't need to have a middle person or a third party interpreting or talking for them."

Expressing one's point of view is not the same as getting one's way. Even in heavily unionized Disney, the unions have no clout because workers can't be forced to join. Thus, the region's $16 billion tourism industry features lower wages and worse working conditions than similar workers face in Las Vegas and New York, where unions are more common. But housing costs here are lower.

In contrast, the SEIU Local 362 drive at the Orange County Library won a split victory last week when 57 of the 81 librarians voted to join and the custodians narrowly rejected the union. The librarians complained of unfair labor practices and demanded the restoration of a career path that had been taken away by a consultant three years ago. Some librarians had not seen raises for eight years, while management was seeing 10 percent annual raises.