Theatrical make-up artist, Brie Hall, a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 798, has emerged as a beacon of hope for her colleagues at The Atlanta Opera in their quest for fair wages and labor protection. This journey began three years ago and has seen Hall transition from a high school theater enthusiast to the Hair and Make-Up Department Head at the opera.
Hall’s career in the entertainment industry has been a rollercoaster ride. From working on movie sets to fashion photoshoots, she has experienced the highs and lows of the industry. But she always found solace in theater productions, which she believes feeds her soul. Her passion for fairness and equality was ignited when she realized that the wages for professional artists were not commensurate with their skills and contributions.
Hall’s curiosity led her to investigate the pay scales at other opera houses. She held discussions with the management, seeking ways to make their job more equitable and sustainable. Although she didn’t feel mistreated, she believed they were not getting what they deserved.
The onset of COVID-19 brought a new set of challenges. With productions halted and live performances stopped, the stylists, classified as independent contractors, were left without healthcare benefits or unemployment benefits. Despite these adversities, The Atlanta Opera resumed live performances in September 2020, with Hall and her team returning to work, even though it meant risking their health.
Working closely with unmasked singers while applying makeup or styling their hair or wigs exposed them to potential COVID-19 risks. They had no protection or recourse if they contracted the virus. Hall and her team felt that it was time they sought better working conditions.
Seeing how other departments with union contracts were treated differently, Hall decided to lead a unionizing effort. She reached out to Samantha Reese, her Union’s Business Agent, and IATSE Local 798 President Angela L. Johnson. They launched a campaign and collected signed authorization cards from workers.
In April 2021, Local 798 requested voluntary recognition from The Atlanta Opera on behalf of the hair and make-up artists. Their request was met with silence, leading them to petition for an election to decide whether they would unionize with IATSE Local 798. They anticipated little resistance since other departments at the opera were already unionized.
However, when they filed for their election, The Atlanta Opera appealed, arguing that the stylists were independent contractors and did not qualify for a union election. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sided with the artists and ordered the election in June 2021.
The opera appealed again in July, leading to impounded ballots and leaving the stylists in a state of uncertainty. The NLRB invited briefs regarding the Independent Contractor Standard as part of the ongoing legal battle.
Meanwhile, the stylists sought new work opportunities. They turned down offers to return to the opera company under more challenging conditions and reduced wages. The Atlanta Opera hired out-of-state stylists while the local artists protested outside the venues.
Hall’s journey is a testament to her resilience and determination to fight for what she believes is right. Her efforts have not only sparked a critical discussion on workers’ rights but also changed how the NLRB defines an employee and an independent contractor.
This story serves as an inspiration for professionals in the women’s beauty industry, including those offering services such as eyelash extensions and eyebrow threading in Scottsdale, Arizona. It underscores the importance of fair wages and labor protection in all sectors of the beauty industry, reminding us that every job is crucial and deserves fair treatment.