History

of ATPAM

Union No. 18032

The Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers

Advocating for its members since 1928.

The labor organization from which today’s Union evolved developed over several turbulent decades. Although workers traditionally organize to redress the wrongs of employers and to maintain employment in times of economic uncertainty, many press agents and managers shared the belief that their professional status was incompatible with union membership. The lengthy and often contentious formation of ATPAM was as much a result of this ambivalence as of the reluctance of employers to grant recognition to the Union.

Here’s how our union came to be.

Timeline

1800s

The Landscape of Theatrical Unions

Between the late 19th century and the early 20th century, stagehands, musicians, box office treasurers, and playwrights all found support within organizations, many of which still exist today. Unlike other theatrical workers, administrative personnel were late to organize.

1919

Formation of the Four A’s

In 1919, the AFL-affiliated Associated Actors and Artistes of America (the Four A’s) was formed, developing some clout for it’s division, Actors’ Equity. The Union decided to test its strength when management would not agree to limit the number of paid performances in a week to eight or pay actors extra for matinees on legal holidays.

 

On August 7, 1919, with the support of the stagehands and musicians, Equity called a strike. The strike lasted for 30 days, spreading to eight cities, closing 37 plays and preventing the opening of 16 others. When the strike was finally settled, the producers recognized Equity as the legal bargaining agent for all actors, and membership increased from 2,700 to 14,000. The settlement with Equity heralded a time of unparalleled financial prosperity and creative activity in the theater.

1920s

In the Press

With 15 daily newspapers in Manhattan and Brooklyn, each with a daily critic, publications were prolific during this era. That meant it was a good time for the New York-based Broadway press agents and managers as well. Many earned salaries year-round working for producer-managers who mounted several productions each season, closing only in summer because theaters weren’t yet air-conditioned.

On the Road

In 1920, there were 152 productions in New York and about 1,500 legitimate shows nationwide. Broadway prospered over the next decade, reaching 264 productions during the 1927-28 season, while production on the road steadily declined as the movie industry thrived. By 1930, there were fewer than 500 productions with many theaters converting to motion picture houses.

Formation of the Theatrical Press Representatives of America (TPROA)

A group of road press agents formed the Theatrical Press Representatives of America (TPROA) in response to a rapidly deteriorating employment situation and spurred by the success of the actors’ strike. The group met annually, addressing itself to issues concerning the rapidly dying road industry, and published a magazine called The Quill on an irregular basis.

1928

Formation of the Association of Theatrical Agents & Managers (ATAM)

Finally, a dissident group headed by Theodore Mitchell broke away from the TPROA and obtained a charter from the AFL as the Association of Theatrical Agents and Managers (ATAM).

 

Aside from the initial flurry of activity around ATAM’s founding, very little was heard from either it or TPROA for the next few years. TPROA limited its membership to those who worked in the legitimate theater and continued to function as a fraternal organization, while ATAM regarded itself as a labor organization.

1931-1932

During The Great Depression

The labor movement began in earnest with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election in the 1932 Democratic landslide. When Roosevelt assumed office, the Depression was at its deepest, having a profound impact upon the theater and resulting in a 20% decrease of productions. Thousands of actors were out of work and many of the producer-managers were bankrupt. Theater outside of New York was virtually non-existent, its destruction from the rise of motion pictures hastened by the Depression.

 

The out-of-town situation was so bleak that the TPROA revitalized itself for a brief time. They claimed that it was the public’s lack of discretionary funds due to stock market speculation that was the cause of bad business on the road, not “talkies.” They initiated a nationwide campaign to revitalize the road, believing that the industry would not be dead for good shows presented at reasonable prices. 

 

The New York Times published an editorial urging TPROA to follow through this time, pointing out that no concrete change had ever happened in the past. While there was very little that even a well-meaning theatrical community could do on its own, President Roosevelt and his New Deal began to rebuild the nation’s economy. 

1933

The National Recovery Act

Section 7a of the National Recovery Act confirmed the right of workers to organize and to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing. The National Labor Board was created to settle the inevitable differences between employers and employees but had no power of enforcement.

 

Despite its limitations, the NRA had a profound impact. People were so eager for leadership and relief that the NRA received overwhelming support despite its relative powerlessness. It became a symbol of the nation’s rising social consciousness and provided a focus for people’s hopes, linking the organization of labor to the nation’s recovery.

The Theatrical Community Unites

On July 21, the entire theatrical community united under the NRA, agreeing upon a general code under which the legitimate theater was to operate. A month later, TPROA entered into an agreement with The League of New York Theatres based on the conditions set forth in the NRA codes. This marked the first time in history that all factions in the theater agreed to a general operating plan including prescribed salaries and working conditions. Company managers and treasurers were to receive $40 weekly (treasurers for a 44-hour week), while press agents received $50 weekly if service was in one locality and $75 weekly for work on the road. As is true now, there were no work hour requirements for press agents or managers. Management agreed to give one week’s notice before dismissal.

 

TPROA’s competing Union, ATAM, had a membership far more aggressive than that of the gentlemanly TPROA. By accepting NRA’s codes, which were in fact legislated conditions, The League had nothing to lose by recognizing the weak TPROA and protecting itself from the possibility that the increasingly militant ATAM would claim recognition.

1935

The Effects of the Wagner Act

On May 27, the Supreme Court declared the NRA unconstitutional. However, one month later Congress passed the Wagner Act. Often referred to as the Magna Carta of labor, the Wagner Act outlawed company dominated unions, declared traditional anti-union practices by employers illegal, legalized union-organizing efforts and established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to administer all provisions of the Act. The Wagner Act was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in March, 1937. It was as if the nation had undergone a peaceful revolution shifting substantial power from business owners to employees.

The AFL’s Renaissance

Prompted by the New Deal, the AFL began to recruit and organize among the mass production industries while still being controlled by the skilled craft unions. The uneasy peace between white collar professional and blue-collar workers finally broke down when those favoring mass production broke away to become the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and it was not until 1955 that the two groups re-allied. ATAM actively began to recruit all box office treasurers, increasing its membership by 300 by picketing at major NYC events.

The Broadway Box Office Boom

ATAM soon began focusing on organizing Broadway box office personnel. Legitimate theater treasurers were receptive, especially since there wasn’t enough work in the theater. After about 30 Broadway box office treasurers joined, ATAM changed its name to Theatrical Managers, Agents and Treasurers (TMAT).

Press Agents Unionize

The Broadway press agents, affected by what was going on around them, decided that the time had come to organize. There were clear inequities between press agents, issues with on-time payments from producers, and some of their colleagues not only had little work but also labored in humiliating circumstances. They made contact with the remains of old TPROA, exploring the idea of a possible merger. But that organization was, for all practical purposes, moribund, its few active members having transferred their allegiance to TMAT.

The Association of Yiddish Theatrical Agents and Treasurers

In addition to the treasurers, TMAT’s strength was further enhanced by its affiliation with the Association of Yiddish Theatrical Agents and Treasurers. Organized in 1899, the entire Yiddish Theater had been unionized early on. The Yiddish Theatrical Agents and Treasurers were militant and savvy and imparted much of this zeal and expertise to TMAT. The coterie of Broadway press agents undoubtedly realized that TMAT would soon begin actively organizing the rest of New York’s legitimate theater as well.

1937

Formation of the New York

Theatrical Press Agents

Finally, on February 21, an organization called the New York Theatrical Press Agents was officially formed to represent those “who exploit attractions in the legitimate field.” Its purposes were, according to, “to raise the standards of the profession, eradicate abuses and establish a minimum wage.” (Source: The New York Times on February 22, 1937) 

 

On March 7, they ratified a constitution that established membership requirements, defined the term “press agent” as “an executive who handles one or more legitimate attractions for producing managers and is responsible for the publicizing and exploitation of such attractions.”

TMAT Merges with IATSE

TMAT did not take kindly to the formation of the New York Theatrical Press Agents and claimed jurisdiction over all press agents, asserting TMAT as the rightful bargaining agent for all front-of-house theatrical employees. In order to meet the threat of competition from this new union, TMAT decided to investigate an affiliation with the stagehands’ union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

 

This budding partnership prompted the head of IATSE, George Browne, to send a telegram urging The League not to recognize the New York Theatrical Press Agents. That September, TMAT announced formal plans to merge with IATSE as an independent division, to strengthen the position of front-office employees.

1938

New York Theatrical Press Agents Merge with TMAT

Turmoil between the two unions caused a series of resignations, show closures, and strikes outside of Broadway houses. Tension continued to build until the New York Theatrical Press Agents called an emergency meeting at the Algonquin for January 22 at 11:00 P.M. Over the next few days, lawyers for press agents, the producers, and TMAT attempted to work out a peace plan. Separate units for treasurers, press agents, and managers was suggested, but TMAT realized that its strength lay in numbers, immediately rejected the proposal, and pledged to continue the strike.

 

Finally, on January 25, 1938, representatives of the League of New York Theatres, TMAT and the New York Theatrical Press Agents signed an agreement, and the strike ended. Pickets were withdrawn, box office personnel immediately returned to work, and press agents returned to their shows.

 

The agreement allowed the New York Theatrical Press Agents to join TMAT as a semi-autonomous chapter that would, for the most part, determine its own working conditions. The press agents would elect their own officers and committees, but would bargain with producers through a TMAT committee, pay dues and assessments to TMAT, and be subject to strike calls by TMAT. The League of New York Theatres agreed to recognize TMAT as the sole collective bargaining agent for press agents and treasurers. While house managers were included in this agreement, it was agreed that there would be discussion on an individual basis about company and general managers, since producers contended that they were confidential executives.

The Merger is Finalized

On February 1, representatives of TMAT and the New York Theatrical Press Agents met to finalize the merger. It was agreed that the New York Theatrical Press Agents would remain separate within TMAT. All other press agents, including screen, radio, road and circus, would be grouped in another chapter until such time as each specialty unit had 25 members and would then become a separate chapter itself.

 

On February 9, the press agents officially ratified the agreement. Practically all of the New York Theatrical Press Agents signed applications for membership in TMAT and paid the initiation fee of $50. Money remaining in the old treasury was used to pay initiation fees for members who were unable to pay.

 

The League and TMAT met to discuss working conditions and established minimum weekly salaries: $150 for Broadway press agents, $175 for road agents, and $75-$100 for associates according to the number of shows in the office. Company managers on tour were to get $150 for musicals and $125 for straight shows. On Broadway, the weekly wage was $100 for either.

TMAT Expands

TMAT continued to organize, expanding to motion picture houses. This was a direct challenge to IATSE, with whom TMAT had considered merging just a year before. IATSE claimed that it had jurisdiction over all “front-of-house” employees while TMAT disputed them, maintaining that it had the right to organize the front of house, including managers, treasurers and press agents in all places of entertainment. For a brief moment, the threat of the power of IATSE brought all the TMAT factions together. Press agents and managers joined TMAT treasurers in picket lines at motion picture houses.

 

It was reported that TMAT was actually considering joining the Four A’s, which would increase its strength. This was attractive to many of the press agents and managers because the Four A’s was a white collar organization comprised of Actors’ Equity, the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Radio Artists, the American Guild of Musical Artists, and others.

The Factions of TMAT

In April 1938, TMAT estimated that its membership would exceed 5,000 by fall and possibly 10,000 by the following season. However, despite occasional shows of unity, TMAT was not a cohesive Union. It continued to be factionalized, with three very different constituencies: press agents, managers, and treasurers.

 

TMAT leaders, sensing a real threat from IATSE, which was actively organizing on the West Coast and throughout the country, decided that TMAT would gain strength from unification and called for the treasurers, press agents, and managers to merge into one body.

 

The press agents, who distrusted the Union’s Board of Directors, made it clear that they had joined TMAT only under coercion and had no intention of giving up any autonomy. They had actually become a stronger working group by getting the support of the powerful and active Yiddish chapter and decided to form a steering committee to investigate ways in which they could protect their rights.

The Dissidents [Attempt To]

Take Over The Union

Led by the press agents, a sub-group began to organize themselves by creating an opposition ticket, adopting a platform, and recruiting the managers and treasurers by implying that TMAT officers were not sufficiently concerned about their box office brethren. 

 

At the June elections, the independent faction won two out of three contested posts. Not content with their electoral victory, some of the New York press agents decided to get back at the road agents who had opposed them. They falsely told producers that union rules didn’t permit road agents to work on shows in New York. The turmoil within TMAT was nothing compared to the inter-union warfare taking place during the summer of 1939, which ultimately threatened TMAT’s very existence.

1939

TMAT Hits Bottom

On July 1, the Four A’s revoked the charter of one of its member unions, the American Federation of Actors (AFA), charging their leadership with mismanagement and the misuse of funds. IATSE, aggressively attempting to organize the entire entertainment industry, took this opportunity to declare that it had decided to organize performers as well and promptly issued a charter to the AFA. 

 

Within TMAT, old issues of affiliation with IATSE and press agents considering withdrawing resurfaced. There was an emergency meeting at which it became clear that the majority of TMAT members remained opposed to a merger. Disregarding its membership views, the executive board named a committee to meet with the President of IATSE, creating further turmoil within TMAT. The AFL attempted to work out a compromise. It refused to grant IATSE jurisdiction over the performers’ unions, but it also ruled that the Four A’s would have to reinstate the AFA.

 

Neither union would accept the compromise and The Four A’s threatened to close down all performing venues within their jurisdiction. IATSE countered with the threat of a walk-out of their own and demanded that all performers join their newly chartered performers’ union. 

 

While the entire entertainment industry and the public watched this widely publicized drama unfold, TMAT experienced its own upheaval. On August 31, the President of IATSE issued a charter to a group of 14 TMAT treasurers that eventually grew to 200 members, causing TMAT to immediately suspend its entire treasurers’ chapter. The Union stated that all treasurers who proved “loyal” to TMAT would be restored to full membership rights, and a committee was named to investigate each individual case.

 

United in common cause against IATSE, Equity and TMAT forged an alliance, agreeing to support one another. Just two days later, on September 3, Equity, the Four A’s and IATSE reached an accord. AFA would be disbanded, consolidating its membership into the Four A’s union, AGVA.

 

TMAT members were furious, claiming that they had been double-crossed by their supposed allies, the actors. TMAT threatened to call a strike in Shubert theaters in which the newly chartered IATSE treasurers now worked. TMAT hoped to force Equity into the awkward position of having to choose between crossing TMAT picket lines or refusing to work with their new friends, the IATSE stagehands. IATSE responded that the TMAT threat was merely a hollow gesture before the Union was “finished.”

 

True enough, TMAT had yet to prove its power and its very existence was in jeopardy. As soon as IATSE notified The League of New York Theatres that it was now the official bargaining agent for box office personnel, the League suspended its ongoing negotiations with TMAT. Although Equity had, just a few days before, “pledged its wholehearted support” to TMAT, under the new IATSE-Equity agreement actors would have to cross TMAT picket lines. To make matters even worse for TMAT, their old allies, the Teamsters, came out in support of IATSE.

 

It appeared as if TMAT had hit bottom. The League refused to re-open negotiations and J.J. Shubert refused to negotiate with a TMAT press agent, Samuel M. Weller, who was seeking a position as an advance man.

The Birth of Today’s ATPAM

The League of New York Theatres and TMAT agreed in principle to a contract for press agents and managers. On September 23, after another threatened strike, the new contract was signed. The Union continued to operate under the federal charter it had received from the AFL in 1928 as the Association of Theatrical Agents and Managers (ATAM). This meant that technically the Union could only operate in New York until they petitioned the AFL Council to extend its jurisdiction to cover the entire United States and Canada, and the request was granted.

 

When TMAT met on April 13, 1940, to take nominations for its annual election that June, The New York Times reported that the Union’s financial affairs were in better order than ever before and that there was “complete harmony in its ranks.”

 

Among the first orders of business for the newly empowered union was clarification of its jurisdiction. the venue in which the new charter had been granted. A number of producers raised this issue in order to prevent union members from servicing out-of-town attractions. The Union, now re-named the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM), was able to operate as a national union of press agents and managers in the legitimate theater.

1942

The Yiddish Group Joins ATAM

Milton Weintraub had been a manager in the Yiddish Theater and had organized and led Yiddish theatrical unions. When the Yiddish group joined ATAM, Weintraub became a leader in the Union’s struggle to organize the rest of the legitimate theater.

 

Under Weintraub’s leadership as Secretary-Treasurer, a post he held until his death in 1968, ATPAM achieved a visibility and stature far greater than the size of its membership. He developed the first union pension and welfare funds and established ATPAM as an active and respected organization in the theatrical community.

1946

ATPAM Gets Its Name

Association of Theatrical Agents and Managers (ATAM) changes its name to the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM).

TODAY

Our Impact Continues

Ensuring the betterment of the working lives of our members is still at the core of ATPAM.