In a unanimous vote yesterday, Oct. 21, members of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) authorized their union to call a future strike against the League of American Theaters and producers. Most theaters will be affected, as the League represents 22 Broadway theaters owned by the Shubert Organization and the Jujamcyn Theaters. In the weeks to come there will be a scrambling to resolve their differences before the major holiday theater season—December—arrives. According to Variety, James J. Claffey Jr. told the members they would not work on Broadway in December if a new deal with producers has not been reached by then.
The union will continue to work this week and for the foreseeable future until the strike is called. It passed three resolutions on Sunday: the first allows union leadership to call a strike against the League, if and when they decide it is necessary. The second approves a “work stoppage,” just short of a strike in case the IATSE would not give strike approval to Local 1. The third allows the moving of $1 million from the union’s general funds as an aid to other unions that may be affected by a work stoppage or strike. This is in addition to the $4 million in the union’s shutdown fund.
Also in a statement on Sunday, League representative Charlotte St. Martin placed responsibility for the standoff squarely on the union for the possibility of shutting down Broadway, and that all shows will continue unless Local 1 walks out, accusing the union of featherbedding.
So, what’s the beef? The producers want more leeway in the number of stagehands they hire and the number of hours worked, resulting in lower costs. In an earlier statement from St. Martin, she stated that if the union’s counter offer were accepted, “costs for new musicals would rise by 30 percent and for plays would rise by percent. This is indefensible in an industry with a financial failure rate of 80 percent in which only one in five productions recoups its costs.”
The union seeks to preserve the jobs of 350 to 500 stagehands working on Broadway and another 2,500 stagehands employed in scene shops, opera, arenas, TV, and music halls in New York City it represents. Negotiations have been underway but the union has been working without a contract in place since July 31. Bargaining halted Oct. 9 when each side laid their best offers on the table. According to Claffey in an earlier statement explaining why the union rejected the last offer on the table, “The union addressed nearly every item on the producers’ list and offered imaginative solutions that met the producers’ requests. What the producers failed to do was recognize our suggestions with exchanges of its own. What they failed to understand is what I said publicly and privately in the last year: Local One is open to exchanges on work rules and other areas, but would not make a concessionary agreement of any kind. Local One will not accept cuts.”
With no resolution, the League announced last week it would begin to put some of the work rules in place from their last offer, effective today, Oct. 22. One exception will be the Nederlander Organization; it owns nine theaters, has a separate agreement with the union that has also expired, and will not put the new work rules into effect. Other theatres unaffected by the negotiations are: the New Amsterdam, Hilton, Circle-in-the-Square, Biltmore, Helen Hayes, American Airlines, and Studio 54 theatres. Each of these has a separate contract with the union according to Local 1.