Outfest Board Of Directors To Recognize Queer Filmworkers United; Union Waiting On Signed Documentation

UPDATED WITH QFU’ Official Statement: Outfest‘s Board of Directors has decided to recognize the 12-member Queer Filmworkers United as a union, per Zackery Alexander Stephens, who as we told you yesterday, has been upped to Acting Executive Director amidst a 45-day leave of absence by Exec Director Damien S. Navarro.

“I am proud to report that Outfest’s Board of Directors has enthusiastically voted today to recognize Queer Filmworkers United as a union representing our staff. Several Board members and I are proud union members,” said Stephens in a statement obtained by Deadline. “This organization would not be possible without the support of labor unions. This recognition is a powerful promise to continue to support and uplift Outfest staff members and those who will join the organization well into the future.”

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Outfest Board Co-President Dr. Nii-Quartelai Quartey shared that the decision came down during a recent “special session” on the part of the Board. “We appreciate the staff’s patience in providing us the time needed to schedule a vote with quorum,” he said. “Our board and our organization are pro-union and we are excited to be supporting our staff’s right to unionize. We look forward to welcoming them to the bargaining table so we can continue to advance Outfest’s mission to amplify LGBTQIA+ storytellers.”

Staffers were told earlier this year that Navarro would be leaving Outfest at an undisclosed date, but the unionization push seems to have hastened his departure. (Outfest maintains that he will return, though insiders claim his departure is permanent.) In addition to his supposedly temporary exit, there are those laid off in a time of turmoil for the org, including Director of Artist Development and Martine McDonald and Senior Programming Coordinator Gabi Grossman, as well as union members including Development Coordinator Alex Gootter, Marketing Manager Hansen Bursic and Senior Programmer Daniel Crooke.

Outfest has maintained that union activity and layoffs are unrelated. The fest claims that pink slips have resulted from financial constraints the longest-running fest in L.A. has weathered in a year of double strikes, which has left them “severely impacted.” We have confirmed, however, that staffers we’ve reported on unfortunately remain pink-slipped. That includes those who were pushing to be unionized.

A rep for the Queer Filmmakers United submitted an official statement following a conversation with Deadline and this story:

“We have received word that the Outfest Board of Directors has decided to voluntarily recognize Queer Filmworkers United. While this is welcomed news, QFU has not received a signature from Board representation on our Mission Statement. Until that moment, we have not been formally voluntarily recognized. Four QFU colleagues, a majority of the QFU Organizing Committee, remain laid-off on the heels of our decision to unionize,” reads the statement.

“If Outfest is committed to voluntarily recognizing the Union, we hope that they will sign the Mission Statement that includes our entire bargaining unit, including the four QFU members who were laid-off yesterday. To protect the rights of the four laid-off QFU members, CWA has filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against Outfest with the National Labor Relations Board. We remain open to working with Outfest to reinstate the workers whose jobs have been eliminated.”

Founded by UCLA students in 1982, Outfest is one of the leading organizations working to promote equality by creating, sharing and protecting queer and trans stories on the screen. The organization’s largest fundraiser, the Legacy Awards, will take place as planned on October 22nd, a spokesperson confirmed yesterday, with Shirley MacLaine and Trace Lysette to be feted. The ceremony will take place at NeueHouse in Hollywood on Sunday, October 22. 

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