Outfest Board Of Directors To Recognize Queer Filmworkers United; Union Waiting On Signed Documentation

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Outfest‘s Board of Directors has decided to recognize the 11-member Queer Filmworkers United as a union, per Zackery Alexander Stephens, who as we told you yesterday, has been upped to Acting Executive Director amidst a 45-day leave of absence by Exec Director Damien S. Navarro.

“I am proud to report that Outfest’s Board of Directors has enthusiastically voted today to recognize Queer Filmworkers United as a union representing our staff. Several Board members and I are proud union members,” said Stephens in a statement obtained by Deadline. “This organization would not be possible without the support of labor unions. This recognition is a powerful promise to continue to support and uplift Outfest staff members and those who will join the organization well into the future.”

Outfest Board Co-President Dr. Nii-Quartelai Quartey shared that the decision came down during a recent “special session” on the part of the Board. “We appreciate the staff’s patience in providing us the time needed to schedule a vote with quorum,” he said. “Our board and our organization are pro-union and we are excited to be supporting our staff’s right to unionize. We look forward to welcoming them to the bargaining table so we can continue to advance Outfest’s mission to amplify LGBTQIA+ storytellers.”

Staffers were told earlier this year that Navarro would be leaving Outfest at an undisclosed date, but the unionization push seems to have hastened his departure. (Outfest maintains that he will return, though insiders claim his departure is permanent.) In addition to his supposedly temporary exit, there are those laid off in a time of turmoil for the org, including Director of Artist Development and Martine McDonald and Senior Programming Coordinator Gabi Grossman, as well as union members including Development Coordinator Alex Gootter, Marketing Manager Hansen Bursic and Senior Programmer Daniel Crooke.

Outfest has maintained that union activity and layoffs are unrelated. The fest claims that pink slips have resulted from financial constraints the longest-running fest in L.A. has weathered in a year of double strikes, which has left them “severely impacted.” We have confirmed, however, that staffers we’ve reported on unfortunately remain pink-slipped. That includes those who were pushing to be unionized.

When contacted by Deadline, a union-side rep claimed that Outfest’s assertion of voluntary union recognition should be treated as “unconfirmed and untrue” until documents are signed, asserting that making that claim before breaking “radio silence” with the laborers came across as “insulting.” The rep for Queer Filmworkers United notes that any claim of union recognition, whether verbal or through email, is non-binding, and that a more formal process must run its course. Members of the would-be union maintain hope, however, that Outfest will put its words into action, which would mark a “huge moment” for the labor organizers.

Founded by UCLA students in 1982, Outfest is one of the leading organizations working to promote equality by creating, sharing and protecting queer and trans stories on the screen. The organization’s largest fundraiser, the Legacy Awards, will take place as planned on October 22nd, a spokesperson confirmed yesterday, with Shirley MacLaine and Trace Lysette to be feted. The ceremony will take place at NeueHouse in Hollywood on Sunday, October 22. 

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