Members of Local 655 of the American Federation of Musicians in South Florida expect to strike SFX Entertainment on Nov. 24 after failing to come to terms over a new contract for the company’s touring shows. The union has voted down SFX’s most recent offer and has pledged to strike SFX tour productions of Fiddler on the Roof and Phantom of the Opera (in southern Florida) beginning Friday.
Peter Graves, president of Local 655 told Playbill On-Line that his union has been negotiating with SFX for about a year. “For whatever reason, the scales (wages) for theatre music have been allowed to slip something fierce,” Graves said.
“Our contract with them ended last year on November 30 and we began talks in October,” Graves said. Graves indicated that the union and SFX had never come to economic terms and that talks with SFX had broken off during the spring and had remained idle during much of the summer. Discussions between Local 655 and SFX resumed on Nov. 3 and 10 in New York City, and again for a few days in Washington, D.C. last week.
“Their last offer to the musicians was taken back to the voting group and was unanimously defeated,” Graves explained. “The truth of the matter is that these guys do an eight-show week with a five-hour rehearsal and they earn $820. The same show playing Norfolk, with a market one-half the size of ours pays $1,290. In Dallas, they make $1,120. That’s a big gap.”
An SFX spokesperson declined comment on the issue and referred calls to a publicity firm. Calls to that office were not returned by press time. Meanwhile, Graves explained that his membership has worked for SFX for a full year without a contract. To date, SFX has offered Local 655 members an “additional two-percent retro payment over what they had been paid while working without a contract for SFX during the past year. In addition, SFX offered an immediate four percent raise with successive three percent raises over the future life of the contract. Graves feels the offer did not satisfy the union’s need to get on par with unions in similar markets.
“SFX has said, ‘We can’t close the gap in one negotiation,’ and we understand that,” Graves explained. “But even if they were offering us five percent now and additional four percent raises in later years, it means that the other unions would be continuing to see increases and we would still be maintaining a significant gap. They need to show us something where we can close the gap.”
The talks between Local 655 and SFX have not been mediated, although both sides agreed to federal mediation and a local mediator in Florida was put on hold at one point.
As of Nov. 22, Graves said a strike was “very likely at this point” and that he had not heard anything from SFX since his members voted down the company’s proposal on Monday. “Things are kind of at a stalemate,” Graves said.
Local 655’s jurisdiction covers the southern Florida, including the greater Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach areas.