Member Perspectives: Richard Montgomery Shares His IATSE Journey and Speaks on Being a Black Male President for Local B-29
“I enjoy advocating for all union members. Protecting rights and building a secure future for the membership is my passion”, says Front of House Workers Union IATSE Local B-29 President Richard Montgomery.
In September 2001, workers asked to be unionized at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. On November 26, 2001, Richard Montgomery was hired as an Usher at the Kimmel Center and in February 2002, he was promoted to Assistant Head Usher. In April 2002, the front of house workers in the Kimmel Center joined Local B-29.
In September 2002, an election was held, and Montgomery was voted in as the first President of IATSE Local B-29. Montgomery says the Local met with management on numerous occasions to negotiate on behalf of the union membership, and although the battles were challenging at times, Local B-29 were victorious.
“We have made great strides for union members during my tenure,” he says. “Being a new union, with an inexperienced president and elected board members; there was no direction, mentorship to educate us and members not being inoculated to how being a part of the union works, made for a challenging beginning.”
Montgomery says being a black male president came with many disparities. “There were many verbal accusations and threats to harm, physical assaults and property damage that I had to endure. However, in the midst of all of this, there were many accomplishments made for the union membership.”
The Union Leadership fought to have workers from other buildings work at the Academy of Music. Along with this, Local B-29 had management place union bulletin boards which created visual communication that had never been in place before. In 2003, the Local organized their first successful campaign against the Cirque Soleil management, went on strike and won.
“During the 2005 election I was unseated. During my absence as President, there were many changes and setbacks for the union membership. As a result, in 2010 I was asked by the Presiding President of the Union to return in the capacity of President in order to restore and improve the union,” he added.
“I was voted in as President with a unanimous vote and we swiftly reorganized the union up to standard.” In 2011, Montgomery was reelected, and negotiated a new contract with management that led to an 18% wage increase over three years, annuity increases and an additional eighteen new changes in the contract to protect union members. In addition, Local B-29 also revised the constitutional bylaws of the union. In 2014, Montgomery was reelected, and the Local negotiated yet another successful contract with a 14.5% wage increase over five years.
“We have successfully assisted in the grievance process on behalf of the members to regain employment or to ensure that they are treated fairly in negotiations with management,” he says.
Elected as the Local’s very first President in 2001 and then again in 2010, Montgomery has served as Local B-29’s President for fifteen years and says serving people is what keeps him motivated. “Being Black and being the President of Local B-29 has had its difficulties and challenges in and outside of IATSE however, as President for 15 years I love doing it because I love helping people,” he added. “It has been a journey and a struggle sometimes because of the differences and intolerances of being who I am and what I stand for. I serve with honesty, dignity and integrity in spite of the opposition.”
“Solidarity is a creative action to help people become better for themselves and it’s a plus to have a union that backs you,” Montgomery says. “Entertainment is the landscape of many people’s way of life. IATSE workers are the backbone of the entertainment craft.”
In September 2020, IATSE’s newly formed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee was created to shine light and represent the BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) members of the union.
Montgomery says he’s eager to see the groundwork and changes the DEI committee is prepared to make because it gives a voice to the diversity of the membership. “We don’t know the future, all we know is where there is a possibility, there is an opportunity. We can’t focus on things from the past, it has already become history. Change comes from the groundwork you’re willing to do today,” he added.
“We must ask ourselves; how can you discuss something if you’re not included in the conversation?” Montgomery says too often minorities are not given the opportunities that their counterparts have. “We must stay committed to the real idea and mission statement of IATSE. Equality and a fair shot to everyone. Entertainment is diverse, so we must ensure our union is too,” he added.
Montgomery encourages his BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) Sisters and Brothers to stay engaged and be ready for the change.
“There is a movement going on. In spite of what you face, stay true to who you are and allow that to be your strength. Trust in God and be ready to trailblaze.”
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees or IATSE (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 over 150,000 technicians, artisans and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, including live theatre, motion picture and television production, broadcast, and trade shows in the United States and Canada.