Since Jan. 1, 1996, members of the Association Of Theatrical Press Agents & Managers (ATPAM) have been working without a new contract, leading that union to contact its members to decide the next step. On Thursday, Nov. 21, the membership voted to allow its leaders to authorize a strike against theatres and around the country, should that step be necessary. Though this doesn't mean the union will automatically go on strike, it does give ATPAM some bargaining leverage with the theatre owners.
As one member told Playbill On-Line, had the membership voted against authorization, that would have cut the legs out from under any negotiating position taken by the union. Since ATPAM is supported by the International Alliance Of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), any strike threat will carry significant weight. IATSE represents stagehands, ushers, doormen, wardrobe people, treasurers, ticket takers and ticket sellers. A sympathy strike by that organization would make it nearly impossible to put people into theatres, let alone put on shows.
Sally Campbell Morse, President of ATPAM, told Playbill On-Line that the strike authorization was overwhelmingly approved at meetings across the country -- 146 yeahs to only one nay vote. However, she wouldn't divulge what the substantive issues between the producers and ATPAM actually are.
She did say that the next across-the-table negotiations are set for Dec. 6. "We wanted to do it as soon as possible, but that was the first they [the League of American Theatres & Producers] had available."
But how does a strike authorization vote affect negotiations? "Until now, the League's behavior indicated that they weren't taking us seriously. Maybe now they will." ATPAM is a labor organization representing press agents, stage managers and house managers. Press agents handle promotional arrangements for a show, including arranging photo opportunities for the media and coordinating when critics come to review the production. Company managers work for the producers; house managers work for the theatre owner (e.g., the Shuberts, Jujamcyn). Provisions for all three groups come from the same contract with the League Of American Theatres & Producers, which was last agreed upon Jan. 1, 1992 and expired Dec. 31, 1995.
Berenice Weiler, Secretary Treasurer of ATPAM, wouldn't comment on the issues at stake in the contract talks but did say negotiations had been going on for awhile. Asked why a potential strike might reach beyond New York, Weiler told Playbill On-Line that ATPAM's membership includes stewards in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC and other cities around the U.S.
One upper-level ATPAM member told Playbill On-Line that this was the first time in the history of ATPAM that members authorized a strike vote. The member hoped the issue would be quickly resolved but did say the constituents have been "treated shabbily" by the League.
Prior to the vote, the League of American Theatres & Producers was also keeping mum on the disagreement. "There's really no one here to talk to who has the background on this at the moment," spokesperson Kylie Robertson told Playbill On-Line. Asked about what parts of the old contract ATPAM might want to change, Robertson said, "Those are really questions for ATPAM." She echoed these words to New York Post reporter Ward Morehouse III after the vote, telling him, "It's inappropriate for us to comment on contract matters."
One ATPAM member, a company manager years ago, told Playbill On-Line the whole talk of strikes and negotations was a surprise to him. "I knew there was some problem months ago when the Nederlanders broke with the Shuberts and Jujamcyns as far as contract talks. They wanted a separate contract for company managers and house managers, so they withdrew from contract negotiations to deal separately with the League. But I've been going to meetings every month, and I know an Off-Broadway agreement was reached. The Broadway stuff is news to me."
"These things always come down to money," the member continued. "Most producers feel company managers aren't necessary at all. They used to be there to keep the box offices honest, because they'd count the tickets at the end of the day. Now computers do that."
Another ATPAM member, who didn't wish to be identified, seemed to have more gripes with ATPAM than with the League. "They haven't represented me well," the member said. "I was in the union for a long period of time building up a pension plan. Then I left and came back several years later, and now they won't credit the earlier years towards my pension. I've been appealing for a hearing for months now. I feel beaten by my union."
By David Lefkowitz