The University of California San Diego’s Department of Theatre and Dance has laid off its entire production staff, 21 employees, and instructed them to re-apply for positions that, for some, will reduce their annual income by as much as 45 percent. All of the staff affected are “joint-staff,” who have worked on productions for UCSD, where they are employed, and for La Jolla Playhouse.
UCSD and the Playhouse have shared university production employees working in the scenic, costumes, props, paints, sound, and lighting departments since 2001. The Playhouse also has its own full-time production staff; however, with the increase in shows over the years, the workload for joint-staff managers became too much. The new arrangement, therefore, is aimed at establishing two separate staffs for both institutions.
The “Dedicated Staffing Plan,” formulated by the Playhouse and UCSD, and obtained by Playbill.com, was announced to the UCSD production staff November 9 and will take effect in January 2017. Twenty-one staff members were given a 60-day notice of termination of their employment and encouraged to re-apply for the new positions. The new model, according to the plan, will follow a nine-month calendar, rather than a 12-month calendar, with an option for summertime work.
The laid-off UCSD employees—some of whom have worked at UCSD and the Playhouse for up to 30 years—are concerned for their futures. They say the nine-month arrangement, as well as a demotion in pay grade, will reduce their annual incomes severely, as well as their pension and retirement benefits. Some also say that they haven't been given the option for summertime work.
“The new model emerged after a thoughtful, lengthy process that involved the university and the Playhouse, and notification to the University Professional and Technical Employees union,” reads the Staffing Plan. The Staffing Plan says that it was necessary because of “the growth of each organization, the increase in the amount of theatre space, and the increase in the number of productions.”
While the staffing plan states that the laid-off staff will have preferential rehire status, one employee, who wished to remain anonymous, told Playbill.com that they felt they were being “targeted” and would not be rehired under the new conditions.
The affected employees have banded together to try and rescind the layoffs. Members of the Facebook Page, UCSD Theatre & Dance – Help Save Our Jobs, are encouraging students, friends, and colleagues to contact the UCSD chancellor and the Dean of the Arts and Humanities and protest the arrangement.
“Most of the current UCSD production staff have dedicated the last ten to 20 years or more of their careers to UCSD and La Jolla Playhouse. They are now faced with taking crippling financial losses to stay, or having to leave UCSD entirely in order to make ends meet. Put simply, this is a disaster for the UCSD production staff,” reads a letter from one of the employees in this group.
Both the UCSD Department of Theatre and Dance and the Playhouse were contacted for comment.
“La Jolla Playhouse is making every effort to retain the affected Production employees under the new dedicated staffing system,” reads a joint statement from Michael S. Rosenberg, La Jolla Playhouse's managing director, and Carlos Cota from The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union body representing production workers. The Playhouse staff, unlike UCSD employees, are represented by IATSE, and are currently negotiating their first-time contracts.
The statement continues: “Regarding IATSE, while we cannot speak to the actions of the University as we have not been in communication with UCSD regarding the restructure of the University’s dedicated production staff, IATSE and the La Jolla Playhouse do not see the recent layoffs as a threat to the developing partnership between La Jolla Playhouse and IATSE Local 122 [specific to workers in San Diego]. Both parties have been working to negotiate an initial contract for just over a year and these negotiations are close to being finalized. The Playhouse and IATSE are also working together to help provide employment opportunities for the University production staff during the three-month summer period when they are not under contract to UCSD.”