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Faces of UPTE: UC Berkeley scene techs Bob Moore and Mathison Ott

The universe of job titles that UPTE-CWA represents among the 12,000 workers in its three UC contracted units is diverse – from researchers working on cutting edge science, to health care professionals on the frontlines at UC’s teaching hospitals, to technical employees, who work in titles such as lab assistants, animal techs and computer resource specialists.

Among the titles UPTE represents in the tech (TX) unit, are UC’s scene techs, who work to stage theatrical and musical performances at the Berkeley, Los Angeles, Davis and Irvine campuses.

Fascinating, difficult career path

In this issue, we asked two Berkeley scene techs, Bob Moore and Mathison Ott, to tell us about their work. Both are active in the union, with Ott serving on the Berkeley local’s executive board, and Moore serving as its chief steward.

Moore has been a union scene tech for over 17 years, a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, as well as an UPTE-CWA member in his work at UC.

“It was not a career I chose, but instead it found me and I have not looked back,” Moore said. “It is an extremely tough career because of the instability of work and the hours we work. But the rewards and fringe benefits are awesome, like working Superbowl half time shows and touring with the Rolling Stones.”

Ott, who started doing stage work as a high school student, agrees. “I was thrilled to work on the largest stage in California, the Berkeley Community Theater, when David Bowie was in town. I was hooked and got a college degree in Technical Theater, and am still pursuing an Industrial Design BA.”

Both Ott and Moore work at UC Berkeley’s Cal Performances, a highly successful venture which brings over 150 world-class performers to the campus each year. But for seven years, Ott has been a “per diem” employee. He says the university undercuts itself by hiring most of its scene techs on non-permanent status without benefits.

“We’re a skilled trade,” says Ott. “You can’t just take a person off the street and expect them to have the skills and knowledge to do the job. Good people won’t work for UCB because they can’t do the part-time thing, and we’re all working harder because we’ve got less stability in our crew,” he adds.

UC Berkeley's scene techs on the job. (Mathison Ott, photo)

Sticking up for each other

Berkeley employs about 70 scene techs, and both Ott and Moore say union membership is key in winning improvements to stage hands’ jobs.

“We do not work like anyone else on campus,” Moore says of scene techs, who are called in to prepare for high-profile performances, often with very little notice and work under terrific pressures.

“I see a huge road in front of me and the other leaders in organizing the stage hands into a force so that we will no longer be left behind,” said Moore. “It is also important for the members to understand that now is the time to fight. You have a contract, management will do everything it can to circumnavigate that agreement. If the members become lackadaisical, then the gains we made will become losses. It is vital to keep organizing, keep fighting and keep evolving,” he said.

Ott says not every worker has the time to be a union activist, but he hopes all UC employees take the time to become informed and support the union with their membership.

“The union is a tool for people to use,” said Ott. “We look out for everyone – health-wise, safety-wise. It’s in our collective interest to take care of each other, and bargain for better wages and working conditions,” he added.


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