Broadway Producers Respond to Local One Strike

News   Broadway Producers Respond to Local One Strike Several Broadway producers joined Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League of American Theatres and Producers, for a press conference Nov. 10 that was televised locally on NY1.
Paul Libin
Paul Libin

The producers spoke about their recent negotiations with Local One, the stagehands union, and the strike the union began earlier in the day. The producers said that negotiations between the two sides ended the evening of Nov. 8. "We were willing and able and anxious to negotiate on Friday," said St. Martin, "and [the union] responded by not showing up and not giving us the opportunity to do [so]."

Paul Libin, producing director for Jujamcyn Theaters, said the producers received no verbal or written notification from the union that the strike would commence Nov. 10. "The men came in to work at the St. James Theatre for their work call to set up for the 11 o'clock performance [of How the Grinch Stole Christmas], and at 10 o'clock in the morning, they walked out. No one told us they were going to do that until they did that."

Richard Frankel, a producer and general manager currently represented on Broadway by Young Frankenstein, addressed the issue of employing more union workers than the producers consider necessary, a practice that has been central to the contract negotiations. "There are several ways that the featherbedding manifests itself. It starts with the load-in of the show . . . We cannot hire the number of men we need, we have to hire the number of men [the Union tells] us to hire . . . The second thing is that men get paid exorbitant amounts of money for doing small pieces of work. The guy who mops the stage every day in the theatre, which takes about ten minutes, gets paid an extra $500 a week for doing that, even though he's doing it while he's on the clock and getting paid his regular wages."

Frankel added, "We have offered [the union] a three-and-a-half percent increase per year for five years, compounded, in exchange for reducing some of the most egregious practices, and they have refused to agree to any of them. It's not that we're not willing to pay them or we're not willing to give them substantial raises — we are — we just need some relief from these practices."

Shubert Organization president Phil Smith said that producers "want the right to be able to assign the employees to their work and reassign them when there is no work. We're not looking to fire them or get rid of them. We want to reassign them. The flyman is an easy example because if there's no work for them on the fly floor, as we've all said, they'll be reassigned something on the stage deck." When asked how long she believed the strike will last, St. Martin answered, "As we've never had a strike with Local One, we don't know the answer to that. I have to believe that there will be pressure from the men to come back to work. We are ready to negotiate. We're sending that message as loud and clear as we can send it."

Although the union has not issued an official statement, picketers have been handing out flyers in front of several Broadway theatres. The flyer states, in part, "We truly regret that there is no show. . . Broadway is a billion dollar a year industry and has never been more profitable than now. Cuts in our jobs and wages will never result in a cut in ticket prices to benefit the public, but only an increase in the profits for producers. Unlike the producers, we are not fighting for our second or third homes: we are fighting to keep the one that we have."