Pickets Block Delivery of Opera Scenery

San Diego County Arts Writer

Members of a local stagehands union refused Monday to cross a picket line set up by wig makers and makeup artists, throwing in doubt the April 15 opening of the San Diego Opera’s production of “Madama Butterfly.”

The five pickets outside the San Diego Civic Theater on Monday were protesting the opera’s withdrawal of their 1989 season contracts. The opera also is named in an unfair labor practices petition the group filed Jan. 5 with the National Labor Relations Board.

About 40 stagehands at the Civic Theater refused to unload scenery from a trailer-tractor rig when they saw the pickets set up.


“It’s a legal (picket) line,” said stagehand Bruce McCoy, a member of San Diego Local 122, Stagehands, of the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage and Employees. “We should honor it.”

In a related matter, a spokesman for the National Labor Relations Board said the NLRB plans to file a temporary injunction in U. S. District Court on Tuesday, requiring the opera company to offer the five wig makers and makeup artists the employment contracts that the opera company allegedly withdrew Dec. 15.

San Diego Opera General Director Ian Campbell on Monday called the picket line “a transparent effort outside the legal system.”

“It should come as no surprise that IATSE Make-Up Artists and Hairstylists, Local 706, of Los Angeles, feels so little confidence in the correctness of its position that it has resorted to picketing in an effort to force the opera’s San Diego employees to stop work,” Campbell said in the statement read by a spokeswoman. “They don’t mention that pay lost by other workers who honor their picket line will be lost forever,” Campbell said.

“We’re out here defending the whole issue,” said picket Paul Best, who before the 1989 season headed the San Diego Opera’s makeup and wig department. “We’ll picket as long as it takes, as long as the IATSE tells us.”

The San Diego Opera stated in a news release Friday that it would defend itself against the unfair labor practice charges, saying employment offers to three individuals “were rejected and the contracts were returned unsigned.”

Best and other former employees of the opera’s makeup and wig department claim that the opera’s production director ordered them to return the contracts unsigned before they could accept or reject them. Instead of using Best and other local workers, the opera hired Elsen Associates, a New York company, to provide wigs for the current season.

The temporary injunction is being sought because “there is reasonable cause to believe the opera violated the law,” said NLRB investigator Steven Sorensen. Also, an NLRB spokesman in San Diego said, a motion will be filed asking the court to speed up the normal procedures to allow the matter to be heard before the last scheduled performance of the opera season April 26.

The scenery for “Madama Butterfly” was supposed to be loaded into the theater Monday and today. The first rehearsal using the scenery was scheduled for Wednesday, an opera spokeswoman said.

Susan Dilts, an opera spokeswoman, said the company does not think the April 15 opening will be endangered.

“We’re not anticipating a problem,” Dilts said. “We’re expecting this to be settled by then.”