Broadway Musicians Union Extends Contract Deadline to Midnight March 6 as Talks Continue

News   Broadway Musicians Union Extends Contract Deadline to Midnight March 6 as Talks Continue Repeating, in part, the scenario played out four years ago, Local 802 of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York has decided to extend its current contract with the League of American Theatres and Producers until midnight Thursday, March 6.

The pact was set to end on Sunday, March 2.

A spokesperson for the union called the move a “good faith” gesture inspired by the fact that the two sides were still talking. She added, however, that no substantive progress had been made on the major issues. The extension temporarily lifts the specter of a musicians strike, a prospect which has set Broadway’s nerves on edge for the last few week.

March 2 talks were expected to reconvene at 7 PM and begin again on Monday morning.

In 1998, the contract between Local 802 and the League passed its March 8 expiration date and talks continued without a strike or work stoppage. A tentative agreement with producers on a new agreement was finally reached on March 14, nearly a week later. If all goes well, it looks as if the current tussle could conclude the same way.

Members of Local 802 of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York voted in favor of a strike authorization early evening, March 1. The vote was 482 to 15. The vote came after a full day of negotiations between Local 802 and the League of American Theatres and Producers. The two parties reconvened early in the morning and broke at 4:30 PM. They reassembled at 7:30 PM and worked late into the night. At the time, Jed Bernstein, president of the League, would not characterize the talks beyond saying they had been “intense.” He added however that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, “the show will go on. We have a responsibility to Broadway, to the audiences, and, frankly, in this economy, to the city.”

Management and labor are trying to ward off a strike by pit musicians, which would cripple, but perhaps not halt Broadway musicals. Broadway producers have all along contended that they are prepared to employ so-called "virtual orchestras" to keep their shows going, should musicians walk out. Most musical productions currently on Broadway rehearsed with technological music-makers this week.

Throughout the talks, the issue of minimums has been the battle cry of both sides. Minimums are the number of musicians the union contract mandates producers hire for each show. This sometimes results in one or more union members being paid, but not used. The union maintains the statute is needed to prevent producers from dictating orchestral needs, such as using synthesizers or two pianists in lieu of a full orchestra. But producers have labeled it "featherbedding" and charged that composers and orchestraters, not the union, should dictate the makeup of a pit. (The union countered with a petition signed by many leading composers and music directors stating they were in favor of minimums.)

In recent days, there has been talk on both sides of a possible compromise, where the minimums would not be eliminated, but the number of required musicians reduced.