The following article from the 1913 Seattle Union Record was written by Roy Pinkham, one of the founding members of Local 15, who was “Here When Puget Sound Was Only a Whisper and Mount Rainier a Hole in the Ground”.
It was in the year of 1893 when Local No. 15 was organized. Previous to that time the number of Stage Employees in Seattle was limited to a very few.
Those that had steady employment worked for managers that did not realize the importance of reliable stage employees and the result was that they had to work for whatever they could get. In 1884 I worked for Mr. Frye and Beede, at Fry’s Opera House, at First and Marion street. I was stage manager, lithographer, bill poster, stage carpenter, propertyman and run the furnace. I also worked in Fry’s drug store at odd times and received $40.00 a month and thought it was good money at that time.
When we had more than two shows a month I would get terribly rushed and would have to get Kerski to help me and pay him $1.00 a day.
Shows generally played from one to three nights. It was a rare thing for a show to play a week. What few extra men worked a show received 50 cents a performance and generally a lot of boys worked to see the show.
In 1885 we thought we had worked long enought for 50 cents and struck for 57 cents a performance. The manager would not pay it and tried to work the show himself with help of the ushers. They tried it one show and then we all went back to work on the next show and received 75 cents a performance. We did not have any trouble after that. We all got together and called ourselves the “Stick Together Club”.
Things were not very prosperous here in the show business until after the fire of 1889, when several theatres opened up and there was an opportunity for men at fairly good salary.
I went to work for John Cort at the Standard Theatre for $15.00 a week and thought that I had a good salary at that time.
In 1880 Beede built the Madison Street Theatre and put in a stock company and offered me $20.00 a week to go up there. I told Mr. Cort that I had a better offer and he raised my salary to $20.00 a week.
In 1892 they built the Seattle Theatre. With the Seattle, the Madison, which was afterward changed to Cordaroy’s and then the Third Avenue, The Standard and several variety theatres, Seattle looked like a regular show town.
When the Seattle Theatre opened in 1892, W.A. Clark or Bill Clark as we called him came over from Tacoma and took charge of the stage on a regular salary and employed a big bunch of grips at 75 cents a show. The propertymen got $2.00 a day and thought that was good. As big shows started to come along quite often they carried carpenters and propertymen that carried union cards form New York or Chicago and they were quite a curiosity to us. Eventually more and more men came with cards and then we began to inquire about starting a union. With the information that we gathered from road men and communicating with George W. Glenny, General Secretary of the National Alliance, as it was called then, we decided to try and get enough men together and apply for a charter. The managers heard that we were going to start a union and they did all they could to discourage us, but we were determined and succeeded in getting some members from Tacoma to sign up with us.
A great many of the boys were afraid of the managers, afraid they would lose their jobs if they joined the union. After a lot of hard talking we convinced the managers that they would receive better services from competent and reliable men, and that the general theatre-going public would realize the difference in the running and handling of the various shows and it would surely make a difference in the box office receipts. It did not take the managers long to realize the difference in the running of their shows. They immediately saw the difference from the time they hired mere boys and any pick-ups they found on the streets.
Local 15, N.A.T.S.E., was organized in 1893 with the following members: W.Q. Clark, W.O. Jefferson, H. Hardy, Wm. Ward, George Thomas, H.W. Cunningham, Chas. Lee, J.A. Ward, Roy Pinkham, Jack Birch, Wm. Morse, Geo. Hildebrandt, F.J. Clark, John Lydon, J.C. Kloose and Wm. Pyncheon. Soon after we were organized our union had a membership of about 24 and I think at one time it dwindled down to about 15 members
During the panic of 1894 and 1895 there was no show business to speak of, and it was hard work to keep the union together. On two of three occasions we came near losing our charter. There was no work and the members had no money to pay dues. Two or three of us had to dig and scrape to get enough money to pay our per capita tax rather than lose our charter. Some of the members wanted to let the charter go, but we fought against it and won out. Few of the members of today realize the struggle the older members had in keeping Local 15 together.
From time to time we raised our wage scale and was generally lucky in getting a raise for the local. We went along for a while with the grips getting 75 cents a show and then got $1.00 and then another raise to $1.25 and then $1.50. Then we got 25 cents an hour for overtime and then 35 cents, and finally 50 cents and $1.75 for grips. Our scale of wages has steadly increased since the local was organized and today we are getting a scale equal to any local in the Alliance. The local of today is made up of a body of men of intelligence, industrious workers and good citizens and men who own homes and have happy families, all though their efforts to better their conditions, morally and financially, through their good efforts and true unionism.