For many film fans, going to the movies is an annual holiday tradition. But for hourly employees at AMC Theatres, the nation's largest cinema chain, there's no extra pay for working Christmas Day or any other holiday.
In fact, their hourly rates do not increase even when they work more than eight hours a day or exceed 40 hours a week. The reason: Movie-house workers are exempt from federal labor laws that mandate overtime pay for nearly all other hourly workers. That came as a surprise to Todd Bullitt, who worked for a year as a cook for AMC at an Atlanta theater with a restaurant.
"All the other jobs I've worked at, I got paid time-and-a-half" for overtime work, the 28-year-old Atlanta resident told CBS MoneyWatch. "They were telling us that we work in the entertainment business, so we don't have to pay you" overtime and holiday pay, added Bullitt, who said he routinely worked 80 hours a week while getting paid at his normal rate of $10.25 an hour.
Outdated OT rules
Why no extra pay for hourly employees working overtime for a cinema chain that operates 365 days a year and generated $5.5 billion in revenue in 2018? Blame outdated rules from the 1930s that came with the Fair Labor Standards Act.
"It was assumed at that time that movie theaters had professionals running them. The projectionist was a professional, and there weren't many other jobs in the theater," said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research and a senior lecturer at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
Today, the legal loophole that allows AMC to avoid overtime pay is an outdated relic, Bronfenbrenner argued. "The law is absurd on its face — these workers are not professionals," she said of the low-paid workers who staff ticket booths and snack counters at cinema houses around the U.S.
"From the beginning, the stage theater had professionals who were exempt but stage hands who weren't exempt," she said, noting a long history of union organizing by actors and others in the business. The same cannot be said of today's cinema workers at massive multiplexes.
Unequal pay policy
For Bullitt, who left AMC at the end of March and is now training to be an air conditioning and heating technician, the holiday season conjures up decidedly less-than joyful memories of his time at AMC.
"We, the crew, would come in at Christmas time, and the supervisors and managers would walk around saying they were getting time-and-a-half. They'd be walking around and boasting about it. The place wouldn't run without the cooks, and we're sweating back here," he said.
Before leaving AMC, he started a coworker.org petition that's now been signed by more than 6,600 people calling on AMC to change its overtime policies.
AMC did not return requests for comment.
AMC Entertainment Holdings operates more than 1,000 movie theaters worldwide. China's Dalian Wanda Group bought a majority stake in AMC in 2012 for $2.6 billion in what at the time was the largest overseas acquisition by a privately held Chinese company.
AMC employed about 39,000 full- and-part-time associates around the world at the end of 2017, according to the company's latest available information. It runs 22 of the 50 highest-grossing theaters in the U.S., including four of the top five, according to the company.