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Betty Pecha Madden, Local 892

If you haven’t met Betty Pecha Madden, you’ve definitely seen her work. Remember the white, gangster-style suit Michael Jackson wears in his "Smooth Criminal" video? That was Betty’s work. The defiant, bespectacled woman being arrested for protesting Walmart's low wages in December 2013? That was Betty.

A member of Local 892, Costume Designer’s Guild, Betty has many more titles: union member, organizer, PAC contributor, and activist. Here she shares her thoughts on being an activist with us.

The definition of an Activist is an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause.

I grew up in a country tavern with a large dance hall 7 miles between two farm towns in northern Wisconsin. The business was open 7 days a week from 8 AM to 2 AM. My father was also a farmer who raised several thousand laying hens and my brother and I ran the 5 to 7 baskets of eggs collected daily through an egg washing machine in the evening after school. School was the only luxury I knew, a break from work. 

I negotiated my first deal with my mother at a very early age. I did the dishes standing on a stool dad made me so I could reach the kitchen sink. I was to be paid ½ cent each time I did the dishes. On a piece of cardboard I made a hash mark each time I did the dishes. After a month, I asked my mother to look at the chart. I had counted and totaled what I was owed. She disputed the total. This was my first bargaining experience. I asked to be paid weekly so we could remember what activities occurred during that week that justified the number of times I had washed dishes. We got along fine after that. 

In 1976 I was hired to costume design the “New Mickey Mouse Club.” A week in, I got a call from Sheila O’Brien of the Costume Designers Guild telling me I had 30 days to join the CDG or I could not work at Disney, a union Studio. It was with great pleasure that I joined the Costume Designers Guild. I knew what it meant to bargain for a contract. 

The first CDG Guild meeting I attended was the scariest moment of my young career. That meeting room door at the Beverly Wilton Hotel was the heaviest thing I had to experience because it opened me to a room full of people I admired from afar but never saw myself as being a part of. Edith Head greeted me with a large smile and asked me to sit in the only empty chair and it happened to be next to her. She then introduced me to her dear friend Walter Plunkett. I was in an unearthly place and it was magical. I decided I would design costumes as long as the phone would ring. It rang for 30 years. How blessed was I?

Today, we, as the IATSE International, are recognized for our views on a political level that reverberates within our organization and our community, and our own districts. Not just the U.S., but Canada, and outside of our borders in Europe and Australia.

I donate to anything that has to do with helping us as an organization. It's like a pebble in a pond. Our little donation creates that ripple effect that goes out. If we contribute financially to the PAC, we ensure our voices will be heard in a political realm. When the IA takes a position on health care in Washington, it’s recognized. No matter how little or how much, in our passing on some funding, we ensure there will be some opportunity for those who face illness, disease, or hardships that cannot be predicted.

An activist is someone who works for the common good. A collective agenda that conserves resources and provides the basics needed for the survival of all things living. For me, it means on Monday morning I go to the AFL-CIO website to see the issues facing labor this week. The IATSE Bulletin and the local union newsletters keep me focused on what matters to our industry union members. My focus is on Single Payer Universal Health Care, Medicare for all, from cradle to grave coverage. We are all activists in our own way, and as activists we are positioned to be organizers in the work place. “One by one by one we organize,” Cesar Chavez 

In Solidarity,

Betty Pecha Madden
CDG Local 892 Labor Delegate & CDG Organizer