UC San Diego Department of Theatre and Dance, La Jolla Playhouse Lay Off Entire Joint Theatre Staff

By: Nov. 23, 2016

Holiday layoffs are causing a stir at two San Diego institutions.

Earlier this month, UC San Diego Department of Theatre and Dance and La Jolla Playhouse released a new dedicated staffing plan now causing upheavals among "joint staff" employees who helped facilitate collaborations between the two organizations. Those affected include heads of lighting, scenic, prop, costume and Sound Departments overseeing all LJP and USCD productions, who also provide mentorship to the university's students.

The official introduction to the staffing plan reads:

"To ensure the continued strength to our campus and La Jolla Playhouse, the two organizations have worked together to formulate a dedicated staffing plan announced Nov. 9. The plan, which takes effect in January 2017, involves the reorganization of UC San Diego's production staff to ensure that both organizations are provided with dedicated staff to achieve organizational goals. UC San Diego staff currently sharing time with both UC San Diego and the La Jolla Playhouse will have the opportunity to be hired to positions dedicated to either institution. The campus and the La Jolla Playhouse remain committed to UC San Diego student residencies and continuing most production work at theaters in the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theatre District on the university's campus.

"The new model emerged after a thoughtful, lengthy process that involved the university and The Playhouse, and notification to the University Professional and Technical Employees union. The new relationship was developed to assist both meeting the distinctive yet interconnected educational and artistic missions, and with a shared goal of creating an improved work/life balance for production staff. While we know any change can be difficult we believe that proposed modification will ultimately benefit our students and staff, and allow the university to build on the world-class programs it offers."

The new model involves the layoff of 21 university production employees, who were given a 60-day notice of termination of their employment. Employees will have the option to receive one week of severance pay for each year of employment at the university, preferential rehire status, or a combination of both. Twenty-one new positions will be created for the UC San Diego Department of Theatre and Dance, and those laid off are being encouraged to reapply for production positions. In addition, the new model will follow a 9-month instead of a 12-month calendar, with the option for summertime work.

Since the announcement of the plan, there has been pushback from employees and alumni alike.

"It came to my attention today that these incredibly valuable employees are at risk of losing their full time jobs, salary, and pension plans," a UCSD alum told BroadwayWorld via email earlier this week. "They are being 'invited' by the university to reapply for a seasonal position at a lower salary rate. Additionally, the staff at La Jolla Playhouse recently voted to join IATSE. This layoff of seasoned staff in management positions is a direct threat to their attempt to unionize."

They continued: "Since the passing of Arthur Wagner last year, the MFA program has faced increasing budget woes, a desperate need for new educators, and a university that increasingly devalues and disrespects them. The attempt to fire some of the most brilliant minds working in the American theater is the latest move to run one of the best graduate programs in the country into the ground and to undercut one of the most important regional theaters. This is the MFA program of Ricardo Chavira, Danny Burstein, Jefferson Mays, and Paloma Young. The people whose jobs are on the line are the hands and minds who built Jersey Boys, Doctor Zhivago, Side Show, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the upcoming Come From Away."

In response to the option of reapplying for new jobs with UCSD, a letter circulating among the community states:

"But these jobs come with two caveats - First, they are NOT full-time, 12-month jobs, but rather 75 percent time, nine-month jobs. Second, and perhaps more absurdly, these jobs are a full pay grade lower than ones the staff previously held. Despite insistence from faculty that the Department expects the same quality of work from the production staff, the jobs being offered are demotions from the previously held positions. There seems to be a feeling that because the staff will no longer work for La Jolla Playhouse, somehow the work required will be of a lesser quality or require less effort to accomplish. We know this is patently false and believe the demotions to be both a violation of UCSD's title and pay policy as well as an insult to UCSD's Principles of Community...Most of the current UCSD production staff have dedicated the last ten to twenty years or more of their careers to UCSD and La Jolla Playhouse. They are now faced with taking crippling financial losses to stay, or having to leave UCSD entirely in order to make ends meet. Put simply, this is a disaster for the UCSD production staff."

To read the full statement making the rounds, you can download it on the Facebook group.

Concerned parties and alumni are being encouraged to reach out to Chancellor Pradeep Khosla to rescind the plan and create a dialogue between all involved.

BroadwayWorld has reached out to La Jolla Playhouse for comment.