Adam Foster is the political representative for the IATSE Local 140 (later referred to as Local 140), the Chattanooga branch of a larger stagehand union known as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. This organization’s goal is to promote industry wide standards for safety, skills, and craftsmanship in the entertainment and exhibition industries by connecting customers with trained, certified stagehands. Adam has been working alongside Local 140 since 2007 before recently being voted in as a member in July 2016.
What is the IATSE Local 140?
Adam: We are the International Alliance for Theatrical and Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians. There are two unions – one for film and one for stage productions. Local 140 is the stagehand union. Some of our members also carry cards in the film union so they can work on major film productions when they’re being made in Chattanooga.
Why would a worker join the stagehand union?
Adam: Our local union provides some benefits such as life insurance to our workers. We’re hoping that as the entertainment industry continues to grow in Chattanooga, we can offer even more to the people who work with us. We average 60 card–carrying members each year and an additional 250 people in our hiring hall who work as extras.
What’s the difference between being a card–carrying member and an extra?
Adam: There’s a checklist of stuff you have to be trained in to become a card–carrying member. You have to be well–versed in every aspect of theater production and you have to put in time as an apprentice. I started working part time in 2007 and didn’t get voted in until 2016. The guys who work full time are inducted much more quickly.
Have you seen Local 140 contribute to the growth of the entertainment industry?
Adam: Absolutely. We make the shows happen. We’ve been serving Friends of the Festival for the past 36 years since Riverbend’s inception, the Tivoli Foundation and all three city–owned theaters since they were established. We have also worked with companies such as American Staging, AC Entertainment, Solid Rock Live, Helm Projects, MetroTone, the Chattanooga Convention and Trade Center, and McKenzie Arena. We donated 1500 hours worth of labor to the Chattanooga Strong benefit concert and we have volunteers working with the Chattanooga Girls Rock! Camp.
Our stagehands go unnoticed; we wear show blacks as the show goes on so nobody sees us. Although we are invisible to audience members, I believe that there would be no entertainment industry in Chattanooga without us. We want to continue to organize and help people working in the entertainment industry to be able to achieve a good standard of living with benefits and wages.
How does Local 140 intend to continue to grow?
Adam: We are partnering with the community more often so the average community member knows we exist. People don’t realize that we are the longest–running arts institution in Chattanooga, having been around since 1907. On Labor Day we’re going to celebrate our 110th Anniversary and we’d like everyone to come alongside us for the celebration.
I think SoundCorps has really been beneficial to the local community because it’s important to have an organization help grow the music economy as a whole. As that grows, it will help the union grow because more local jobs will be available. I’d like to see every music venue in town hire union workers. We have audio engineers, light technicians, riggers, truck–loaders, whatever people need. No job is too small for us.
What are some big projects coming up for you in the near future?
Adam: Right now I’m serving as the political representative for the IATSE, so I’ve been attending events like Burgers for Berke and working with local government. The Berke administration has been great for entertainment. AC Entertainment has been a blessing, too, because the union gets a lot of work from them. But we would like to see the entertainment industry continue to grow and in doing so make sure that the people making the shows happen are able to afford to live in Chattanooga.
Photo credit: Adam Foster and his wife. Photo taken by Josh Neelands // Coke Stage Set Up. Photo taken by Adam Foster.