Second City comedy educators file to unionize in Canada, U.S.

2021.02.16 | CWA Canada - Association of International Comedy Educators

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Comedy educators at The Second City in Canada and the United States have filed for union certification.

Media union CWA Canada filed today with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) after an overwhelming majority of nearly 100 educators at the training centre in Toronto signed union cards.

Over 200 of their colleagues in Chicago and Hollywood also filed for certification today, with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The OLRB will hold a formal electronic vote next week. There is no such clear timeline in the U.S., where the NLRB requires mail-in ballots.

Once certified, the workers will form the Association of International Comedy Educators (AICE). In Canada, AICE will be a local of CWA Canada. In Chicago, members will be part of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and, in Hollywood, Local 9400 of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

The Second City has mainstage theatres in Toronto and Chicago, world-class comedy and film training schools, and a corporate division that offers online training and education.

CWA Canada organizer Katherine Lapointe said the staff, whether faculty or temporary, part-time employees, are seeking improvements in the work environment. They provide instruction in comedy, music, film, writing, and improvisation as well as kids and wellness programming.

AICE mission statementThe educators in the three cities said they are unionizing to “guarantee equitable and just working conditions” and “seek to establish health and accessibility, diversity and inclusivity, fair compensation, and reasonable employment terms.”

Paul Bates, a faculty member who’s on the organizing committee in Toronto, said: “A union at The Second City training centre will go a long way to improve not just the work environment for our instructors, but also the learning environment for our students, who depend on a safe, accessible place to learn and clear lines of communication.”

The Second City, founded in Chicago in 1959 as a small comedy cabaret, grew to become a North American institution and springboard for the careers of dozens of stars. When it opened a theatre in Toronto in 1973, it fostered the talents of many Canadian performers who would become world famous. Alumni include Mike Myers, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Dave Thomas, and Rick Moranis.

When SCTV hit the airwaves in 1976, the antics of Moranis and Thomas in the Great White North led to the term “hoser” finding a permanent place in the popular Canadian lexicon.

Lapointe said the organizing effort started before the pandemic struck, causing a significant reduction in the number of classes offered at the training centres. It accelerated in June, when the company faced allegations of racism.

Co-owners Andrew Alexander and D’Arcy Stuart announced in the fall that the entire operation was up for sale.

“The alumnus of Second City are not only winning Emmys in the States, they’re also on every commercial in Canada, writers’ rooms and comedy show,” arts and culture critic Marty Younge told The Associated Press in October. “It is my hope that whoever acquires the company not only respects the incredible legacy that’s been so widely talked about right now with the Schitt’s Creek Emmy sweep, but understands it’s a place of incredible contemporary vitality.”

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