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September 21, 2017

Philly theatre, stage workers union feud over alleged wrongful firings

A union representing Philadelphia's stage workers is accusing a downtown theatre of wrongfully terminating two employees, allegations the theatre denies.

In a series of social media posts, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE Local 8) has been publicizing complaints made against the Walnut Street Theatre about the firings. 

The union says on this past Labor Day weekend, the theatre fired stagehand Jacob Goddard after learning of his disability, a mild form of aphasia that results in slurred speech, a symptom the union says was more pronounced after an "exhausting" 80-hour workweek.

IATSE claims the firing violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and said a complaint has been filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“All employees have the right to work without being harassed due to their disabilities," IATSE Local 8 President Michael Barnes said in a statement.

The union also alleges stagehand Cornelius DeGroot was let go by the theatre after he requested a union representative for a disciplinary hearing. IATSE says a National Labor Relations Board complaint has been filed on his behalf.

“We intend to use all legal means to inform the public of the Walnut’s illegal actions," Barnes said.

Walnut Street Theatre has called the claims "inaccurate." In a statement, the theatre said the complaints violate agreements between the two parties and added that Walnut is "committed to the health, safety, and well-being of their staff."

"The current dispute between the theatre and IATSE Local 8 is centered around false claims that have been significantly misconstrued and ultimately put the Walnut Street Theatre's staff in substantial harm, which will not be tolerated," the statement read.

In the meantime, the union has been trying to tank the theatre's online rating, bombarding its Facebook page with one-star reviews, which IATSE has accused Walnut of deleting.

In an update Wednesday, the union said progress had been made in Goddard's case, as he has been allowed back to work, but DeGroot's case is ongoing.

"We will not rest until DeGroot and Garcia are made whole," the Facebook post read. "Solidarity works. Thank You."