Paying My Dues

by Jacob Coakley
Stage Directions Editor Jacob Coakley
Stage Directions Editor Jacob Coakley

I haven’t taken a union work call in a long time—but not so long I have forgotten what dues are for

It’s January, which means it’s time for me to pay my annual union dues. I’m a proud member of IATSE Local 720 in Las Vegas, NV. I have been since 2003. I haven’t taken a union work call in approximately eight years now—but I still pay my annual dues. Why? 

Because the union—and its members—educated me. In addition to learning more stagecraft skills at the hall and on the job, the union orientation was the first place I learned I should have three months worth of living expenses in the bank if I was going to be on the bounce. Because you never knew when a show would close, when work would slow down, and you’d need savings. That sounds so elementally basic to me now, such an “of course” statement, that I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t learn it before the union. But I didn’t. And for that matter, if you’d have told me to do that before a union job I would have told you it was impossible, I just didn’t make enough money. 

IATSE didn’t hand me a job. I still applied for positions at various companies, I still had to work every connection I had to get a shift, I still had to hustle. I still kept tools in my trunk so I could be at any call in 30 minutes or less. I still took 11 p.m. – 8 a.m. shifts taping down carpet in convention centers just to prove that I was reliable and wanted to work. But the union made sure every time I busted my ass, I got paid for it. The union made sure every time that subwoofer needed to be lifted, there was someone there to lift it with me, so I wasn’t going to hurt myself. The union made sure I had health insurance, so I could finally see a doctor about the cough that wouldn’t go away. (And it did.) 

So yeah, that’s why I’m paying my union dues—because the union had my back when I needed it … And there are still a lot of people who need it now, too. I pay my dues to insure that no matter what happens, my brothers and sisters in theatre (and that’s all of you) have the opportunity and the avenue to make a living in this art if you want to. I pay my dues every January, and I will as long as they let me.