The board of Local 802 of the Associated Musicians of Greater NY voted this morning, March 10, to authorize its members to strike, if necessary - a move which could shut down most musicals on Broadway.
Spokesperson Judy West told Playbill On-Line (March 10) the next step comes when the musicians arrive for a Saturday evening meeting, March 14. West says they'll almost certainly ratify the Board's vote -- which doesn't mean the musicians will automatically go on strike the next day. These votes simply give the Union the option of ordering its members to go on strike, should talks with the League of American Theatres and Producers break down completely. Negotiations between the Union and the League are scheduled to resume Tuesday, March 17.
As first reported by The NY Daily News, the contract between Local 802 and the League officially expired Sunday, Mar. 8. The good news is that both sides have been negotiating for weeks, and Bill Moriarty, president of Local 802, told Back Stage newspaper there were no plans to walk out so long as reasonable discussions continue.
League spokesperson Kylie Robertson told Playbill On-Line (March 10) echoed those words, saying, "Contrary to what's been in the press, talks have not broken down. Negotiations are scheduled for early next week. We don't expect a strike; we're hoping to resolve these issues. The most important thing is that [Playbill On-Line's] readers know there's nothing to be concerned about. There's been a lot of premature hype and speculation, but nothing's happening. Communication channels are open, and there's not going to be any change in scheduling."
Union spokesperson Judy West told Playbill On-Line (Mar. 9) the League "refused to recognize the demands we made and offered unacceptable conditions to us." At issue are the usual labor-management sticking points: wages, pensions and economic packages. "The League has asked for a whole bunch of concessionary proposals," said West, "which we find to be totally unacceptable." League spokesperson Robertson would not discuss specific points under negotiation, nor would she comment on a NY Post report that some musicals are readying pre-recorded music tracks just in case the musicians walk.
In a statement released March 9, Local 802 notes, "The Producers are seeking to divert pension money to pay for other union benefit programs. Their proposal would amount to a 41 percent reduction in musicians' benefits... Despite the good economic times, Broadway's producers are demanding a host of contract concessions...including reductions in job security and cuts in compensation to music preparation personnel and conductors."
The letter continues: "The League continues to insist on a further reduction of 17 chairs in the established number of musicians employed in the Broadway Theatres, despite getting significant reductions in the just expired contract, as well as a provision for `special situations' and revivals which allow...fewer than the theatre minimum for artistic reasons... The Producers' proposed economic package would, in real terms, mean a nearly five percent wage cut for the average musician working on Broadway."
Previously, Union president Moriarity told Back Stage. "I will advise my members that I may need to have them for an emergency meeting to discuss [a strike vote]. We have had nine meetings or so. Both sides had a number of proposals which we each put on the table in six of those meetings. We have had two or three in which we have done some small negotiations."
A story in Back Stage noted that levels of smoke and noise in the orchestra pit were also issues of concern to the Union, but West told Playbill On-Line those problems had been dealt with successfully in recent talks, with changes in ventilation and arrangement of the pit given as options. High Society will be the first show to incorporate these changes.
A 1975 strike by Local 802 led to a shutdown of Broadway musicals for several weeks.
-- By David Lefkowitz