How America’s Biggest Theater Chains Are Exploiting Their Janitors

by Lionel Casey

Every night, after the last display ended on the AMC theater in Santa Monica, Maria Alvarez arrived at work.

She and her husband had the key to let themselves in. It was after midnight, and the building changed into empty. Together, they cleaned all seven auditoriums. They vacuumed the carpets and mopped the floors. They wiped clean the lavatories and restocked the restroom paper. They polished the escalators and scrubbed the glass concession instances.

They finished after dawn. On weekends, whilst the theaters had been in particular dirty, they stayed later, till nine:30 a.M. Alvarez worked seven days a week. There had been no days off, no sick days, no holidays.

“The day my son handed away, I requested for the day, and that they did no longer want to give it to me,” she said thru tears during exertions hearing in 2017.

Alvarez wiped clean theaters for two and a 1/2 years. She became paid $300 per week — or approximately $5 an hour.

Filmmakers often communicate of the magic that could occur simplest in a film theater. As ticket income has stagnated and Netflix has taken off, the industry has become more and more protecting of the “theatrical enjoy.”

But retaining that revel in relies upon on employees like Alvarez, who’s grossly underpaid, overworked and effortlessly expendable.

The predominant chains — AMC, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark — not rely upon teenage ushers to hold the floors from getting sticky. Instead, they have become to a large immigrant workforce, often hired through layers of subcontractors. That arrangement makes it nearly not possible for janitors to make a residing salary.

Alvarez was given hurt on the task, and a health practitioner recommended a lighter workload. When she made that request in April 2015, she becomes fired. The following yr, she filed a California Labor Commission declare for unpaid wages, consisting of overtime. The listening to officer offered her $80,000 in again pay and penalties. But Alvarez could not accumulate. She did now not paintings at once for AMC or its janitorial contractor, ACS Enterprises, which shielded them from liability. Instead, she labored for a couple — Alfredo Dominguez and Caritina Diaz — who had no longer even shown as much as the listening to.

Even Dominguez and Diaz didn’t don’t forget her a real employee. In their minds, she was a contractor of a contractor of AMC Theatres. AMC and ACS did ship an attorney to fight her wage declare. In the quit, the businesses agreed to pay her $three,500 to head away.

Over the ultimate eight months, Variety has investigated salary court cases from film theater janitors throughout the country, reviewing class-motion court cases, nation hard work fee statistics and investigations with the aid of the U.S. Department of Labor. A clear pattern emerged: AMC and other theater chains maintain their charges down through relying on janitorial contractors that use subcontracted exertions. Those janitors usually don’t have any salary or task protections, toiling on one of the lowest rungs of the U.S. Hard work marketplace.

It is customary for janitors to work all night lengthy. Some people informed Variety that they had seen parents deliver their young youngsters to work, allowing them to sleep at the floor or within the theater seats. To make the job cross faster, a few janitors use leaf blowers to clean popcorn and wrappers out of the aisles. But the blowers depart dust at the speakers and monitors, and most theaters have banned them. Instead, janitors normally move row by row with backpack vacuums. They wipe the salt off the seats and smooth soda stains out of the cup holders.

“This is so similar to agricultural people. They’re actually walking down rows the way agricultural workers do,” says Brandt Milstein, a lawyer who filed a class-motion match in Colorado on behalf of Cinemark janitors.

The theater chains are in large part immune from legal repercussions. Because they do no longer without delay hire janitors, they’re typically excluded from magnificence-action salary cases. But a few in the janitorial business say the chains are absolutely aware of what’s taking place and are ultimately accountable.

“The theater groups are top notch reasonably-priced,” says one janitorial agency executive who did no longer need to be identified to defend commercial enterprise relationships. “A lot of those guys, they don’t care if you use slave hard work.”

Based in Leawood, Kan., AMC is the USA’s biggest theater chain, with 637 places. According to interviews and files acquired by means of Variety, AMC used to appoint extra than 100 companies to offer janitorial carrier. But numerous years ago the corporation followed a “country wide accomplice version,” ultimately cutting down to just carriers national: ACS, based totally in Pomona, Calif., and KBM, primarily based in Hendersonville, Tenn.

The chain leveraged its length and its pricing strength to save cash. Brian Mullady became AMC’s director of procurement on the time. On his LinkedIn resume, he says the consolidation stored the organization $eight million 12 months — or 26% of its janitorial expenses.

Regal, the second one-biggest U.S. Chain with 558 places, tried a similar consolidation however found that the provider companies couldn’t nicely manipulate their employees, says Christopher Blevins, a former VP of operations for the corporation. Instead, Regal has 15 district managers who generally are seeking for aggressive bids for the janitorial provider.

According to an email acquired by means of Variety, AMC does no longer take bids. Instead, it tells its countrywide contractors what it’s going to pay based on internal components. Mullady, who did not respond to requests for comment, sent the e-mail in 2016.

“We have a version in an area that determines to price for all of our reduced in size places,” he wrote. “We do now not undergo a bidding technique, all pricing is decided via AMC.”

AMC spokesman Ryan Noonan says in a declaration that janitorial service carriers are contractually obliged to abide with the aid of kingdom and federal employment regulation.

In response to other questions, he provides, “I believe your tale isn’t about AMC, but approximately ACS, which fits with numerous theatrical exhibitors.”

ACS changed into founded in 2003 via brothers Jose and Raul Alvarado. According to his LinkedIn profile, Jose Alvarado started inside the enterprise running as an engineer for AMC Theatres. ACS provides janitors as well as an array of engineering services. According to the enterprise’s website, it really works with 20 smaller chains, consisting of Pacific Theatres, Arclight and Regency, further to all three main chains.

ACS did no longer reply to requests for remark, nor did Regal or Cinemark. It’s competition trust that ACS serves the general public of AMC’s places nationwide. Despite its great footprint, the employer claims it has the simplest 16 to 18 personnel, consistent with Jose Nuñez, the business enterprise’s operations director. The janitors are all taken into consideration subcontractors.

“When a theater chain methods us for janitorial service, we will relay that to a contractor,” Nuñez testified at Alvarez’s labor fee listening to. “We’ll be that centerman or woman among the work that is wanted and a contractor that may offer it.”

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