Contract Talks Between Musicians' Union and Broadway Producers Go Down to Wire

News   Contract Talks Between Musicians' Union and Broadway Producers Go Down to Wire Representatives of Local 802 of the Associated Musicians of Greater New York and the League of American Theatres and Producers will talk through the weekend in an effort to win a new contract before the current pact expires on midnight, Sunday March 2.

Meanwhile, the membership of Local 802 will hold a vote on a strike authorization on March 1 at 5 PM. Both sides met on Thursday, Feb. 27, to no avail. No talks are scheduled for Friday.

The union, which held a press conference at virtually the same time as the League on Feb. 25, will stage another conference in midtown at 1 PM Friday. Scheduled to appear arguing the musicians' cause are Congressman Anthony Weiner; State Senator Tom Duane; Assemblyman Scott Stringer; Councilwoman Christine Quinn; Councilman David Yassky; Councilman Miguel Martinez; Councilwoman Gail Brewer; the New York City Central Labor Council; the Hotel, Restaurant and Club Employees and Bartenders Union, Local 6; the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 100; the La Boheme Orchestra; and members of American Federation of Musicians, Local 802.

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 reportedly rehearsed with technological music-makers this week.

It's not clear what steps are being taken for shows which have their orchestras on stage (Movin' Out, Rent, Chicago). The absence of those players, who are more part of the visual worlds of those shows, would be more keenly felt. Neither have the producers stated their policies should audiences, angry about a show bereft of live music, demand refunds.

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 labelled it "featherbedding" and charged that composers and orchestrators, 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.) Both sides have refused to budge on the issue, the League wanting minimums eliminated altogether and Local 802 demanding the rule not be touched. Each party has tried to bolster their position with a series of ads in print and on the radio.

Some observers contend the fight will be resolved in the nick of time, as have previous Broadway labor disputes. Others are more grim. A backward glance offers a third scenario. 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 contract was finally reached on March 14, nearly a week later.