Musicians Local 802 plans a large demonstration at the Village Theatre on April 13, before the curtain rises for Love, Janis. A labor dispute has developed over allegations that two 802 members were fired from the band in the show for being union musicians. The union has been picketing the show since it began previews on April 10.
Elsewhere, Local 802 is also seeking a deal with the producers of the Broadway show Blast, which comprises numerous performers, including bugle and drum players who are not union members.
“The situation with Love, Janis is more complicated than, say the situation with Blast,” explained Musicians Local 802 president Bill Moriarity. “It’s a more difficult problem.”
At Love, Janis, Moriarity said that there has been, in his words, “a strong anti-union stance evident since the show has been together.”
The widely reported story involves two members of Local 802 who allegedly auditioned for the show and were offered jobs, only to be let go when they disclosed their 802 membership status. “They were asked if they were members of the union,” Moriarity explained, “and when they said that they were, they were dismissed.” A spokesman for Love, Janis producer Jennifer Dumass [Martian Entertainment] said that the union “Has changed its stance on this a number of different times.
"The union first said that the two musicians were fired because they were union,” the production spokesperson said. “This was interesting because we didn’t fire them—we didn’t fire anyone. We have three 802 musicians in the band already, so why would we fire those two when we already had three in the band?”
Being dismissed for union affiliation became the keystone in Local 802’s subsequent complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In a statement, Local 802 alleged that “The musicians were reportedly fired by the producers of the Off-Broadway show, Love, Janis, a documentary on the life of Janis Joplin, because they were union members.” The union also stated that “the producers of Love, Janis have refused to meet with Local 802 representatives.”
The producer’s spokesperson said that he had asked the producer straight out, “Was anyone fired for being union?” and the answer was “no.”
The show spokesperson said that after an initial volley, the union changed its version of things. “The union came back and said, ‘Yes, they have union players in the band,’” the spokesperson recalled, “‘but they [producers] put them in after the other two were fired in order to save face.’” The show spokesperson claimed that was not true because “all of the offers [for musicians] went out simultaneously.
“The drummer is from 802,” the show spokesperson said, “and he was the first one hired. Nobody ever had a solution to put union people in the show in order to save face down the line.” According to the show spokesperson, the union claimed that “management had refused to talk," but the spokesperson said that was not true and that management had been on the phone quite a bit with the union. Later, the spokesperson said, the union clarified by saying that management had refused to talk “face to face.”
On April 13, Local 802’s Moriarity told Playbill On-Line, “The NLRB has just upheld us as of last week. They sustained the charge and will conduct an investigation based on the allegation.” Moriarity said that the union started its picket action on April 10. “We’ve picketed for the past two nights,” Moriarity said, “and we have planned a rather large demonstration tonight [April 13]. We will be there until this is resolved.” A trumpet player himself, Moriarity has been involved with union affairs since 1966 and has been president of Local 802 for nine years. “We have no overall Off-Broadway agreement,” Moriarity told Playbill On-Line, “but we cover most things and we organize on a case by case basis.” Even in “mid-dispute,” there is some indication that 802 was attempting to organize at the Village Theatre. “The band took time out from rehearsal,” the show spokesperson said, “so they could listen to the union’s pitch. The non-union members of the band were not interested in joining the union.”
The names of the two musicians behind the NLRB complaint were not known to the producer’s spokesperson, but he said Local 802 had advised him that their names were a matter of public record as part of the complaint. “The union told me, ‘It’s in our filing,’” the spokesperson told Playbill On-Line.
The production spokesperson, Gary Springer said that he works under a union contract as do the actors in the play, who are on an Equity contract. “But the Village Theatre is not a signatory to Local 802 and there is no jurisdiction for the union there,” Springer said. Springer did not know whether the theatre owner was part of the ongoing negotiations between the show and Local 802.
—By Murdoch McBride