'Only the beginning for us'

Unite rep and Glasgow Film Theatre worker Katie Mack on how she and her colleagues secured union recognition - and why all hospitality workers should join a union

Reading time: 6 min

Last week, iconic independent cinema Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT) signed an historic voluntary recognition agreement with Unite. Earlier this week, we highlighted this key victory in the hospitality sector. Today, we hear from Unite rep and GFT worker Katie Mack who explains how she and her colleagues changed their workplace for the better – and why all hospitality workers should get organised.

Not long after a lot of us started working at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT), there were some issues that kept coming up and that most people talked about. At the time, we didn’t feel confident enough to speak to our managers directly about these issues as most of us were on temporary seasonal contracts and we all wanted to be kept on so naturally, we worried about “rocking the boat.” Nevertheless, we mustered up the courage to write a letter directly to the CEO about the issues that we had — long probation periods on our contracts, low weekly hours, confusion around holiday pay and breaks — and managed to get almost all front of house staff to sign it.

It was not long after this that one of our former colleagues reached out to Bryan Simpson, Unite lead organiser for hospitality. He was very warm and welcoming, so much so that we pretty much unanimously agreed we wanted to go with Unite. When we had our collective grievance meeting with Bryan representing us, I think management were quite taken aback as no staff had ever done anything like this before. Their initial reaction was a bit lukewarm, but over time we have developed a better understanding of one another and we definitely now have a more open and honest relationship than we had in the past. We never had an issue with our managers directly, as they were only carrying out policies of the GFT, but we did have an issue with the lack of clarity on certain concerns and how we received mixed information when we enquired about them.

Being in a union has allowed us to fight for better conditions, without the fear of a negative backlash from our employer. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for workers to join a union, particularly hospitality workers. We work in a notoriously under-unionised industry which is often hostile to the idea of workers taking back some power for themselves.

I’m very pleased that our employer has bucked the trend and has been open to us joining Unite, and eventually agreed to sign a voluntary recognition agreement with the union. When we were agreeing the scope of who the recognition agreement would cover, it was important to front of house staff to also include the cleaning team, as we both receive the Real Living Wage and we have Unite members there too.

The signing of the voluntary recognition agreement is hopefully only the beginning for us. We have been working towards this goal for about two years now, and if you’d told me then we would have achieved it in such a short space of time I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

I want to thank every single member of staff, both past and present, who signed the grievance letter, joined Unite, and supported our struggle. Without every single one of them we couldn’t have done this. Joining a union is in your best interest, yes, but it’s also a selfless act as you are saying, “I care enough about my colleagues than I want to help them make a difference – for us.” I believe that staff, present and future, will continue to build on what we have accomplished.

There has been a lot of disheartening news recently in the world of hospitality, with Saramago Cafe and 13th Note being shut down by their owners after staff stood up for their rights. It’s a worrying trend to see capitalists so willingly toss out their businesses as a punishment to workers for trying to improve their working conditions.

However, I believe we are seeing more of this exactly because workers in hospitality have had enough. They are finally coming together with their colleagues and saying, “We deserve better than this.” Owners are trying to intimidate workers by threatening their staff but workers cannot let them win. We are the ones who hold the real power and they know that. I really hope that GFT workers can inspire other businesses to try to do the same.

It can be scary when you think that you are the only one with an issue in work and that no one will have your back if you speak up. I myself experienced this in a former workplace. But chances are, if you notice something isn’t right, you won’t be the only one. Speak to the people who you’re most confident will have your back and gradually work your way around all the staff until they have all been briefed about the plan of action.

Some people might take a lot of convincing — and some will never come around to your view — but so long as you have a good amount of strong voices you will be able to move forward with some sort of plan. Getting your employer to recognise your union may seem like an impossible task but know that workers from other businesses have your back too, and we’ll do all we can to support your struggle.

By Katie Mack, Unite GFT rep