Hard Words on Either Side as Broadway Strike Goes on

News   Hard Words on Either Side as Broadway Strike Goes on The third day of a Broadway labor strike that has shut down eighteen musicals brought little in the way of hope or advancement toward a resolution.

Ticketholders desirous of seeing a Broadway musical were left out in the cold. Also in the cold (literally) were members of the musicians, actors and stagehands unions, who are picketing in front of affected theatres.

There were no scheduled negotiations between the American Federation of Musicians' Local 802 and the League of American Theatres and Producers on Saturday. Recriminations rang out of either side over the weekend.

"We have no negotiating partner," League president Jed Bernstein told the New York Times. "In order to resolve this we have to have someone across the table to negotiate with."

Local 802 president Bill Moriarity, meanwhile, told the daily, "They have for all intents and purposes left the building. We're not anywhere near where we need to be to ratify something."

The night the lights went out on Broadway was Friday March 7. At 12:01 AM that day, Local 802 called a strike, after weeks of negotiations with the League failed to produce an agreement. Producers had intended to bring in so-called virtual orchestras, so that their shows might continue, but when Actors' Equity and Local One of the stagehands union decided to honor the musicians walkout, the move effectively shut down nearly every musical currently playing on Broadway. Producers were reportedly surprised by Local One's action. Many showmen had had tacit assurances that the stagehands would not side with the musicians.

The League announced at 7 PM Friday that the affected musicals were canceled for the entire weekend. "This is a sad night for Broadway and for New York," said League President Jed Bernstein. "The economic impact for the entire New York Metropolitan area economy will be severe. And it is a terrible disappointment for theater goers, for the people who hired a babysitter and planned a big night out on Broadway, and all the others. The League is committed to resolving this dispute in an equitable fashion."

Income losses to shows are expected to reach $4 to $5 million over the weekend, according to the New York Post. Equity salary losses will top $1.3 million. New York City Mayor Bloomberg has pleaded with the involved parties to return to the bargaining table.

The strike, which cripples one of New York's biggest industries, comes at a particularly dire moment in the city's history. Still reeling from the economic hit it took as a result of Sept. 11, 2001, the city economy is currently struggling with a lingering recession and a severe budget shortfall.

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Midday Saturday, members of Local 802 held a mock funeral procession through Times Square, reported 1010 WINS. The musicians marched and held up tombstones with the names of the 18 closed shows.

Equity delivered its decision at a 5 PM March 7 press conference following an emergency meeting by its council. President Patrick Quinn, who was flanked by executive director Alan Eisenberg and actors Bebe Neuwirth and Harvey Fierstein, said the union would "endorse and support."

Quinn also stated its conclusion was not influenced by a similar one from Local One of the powerful stagehands union.

The strike also interrupts rehearsals of three musicals due to open on Broadway this season: Nine, Gypsy and The Look of Love. It does not affect Broadway's plays, or the musical Cabaret, which works under a different contract with Local 802. The eight remaining shows have experiences sell-out crowds as a result of the sudden disappearance of musical competition.

Picket lines made up of members of Local 802 began to form in front of selected Broadway theatres Friday morning.

The two sides are still deeply split on the crucial issue of minimums, the number of musicians the union mandates producers must use for Broadway musicals. At its press conference, the League said it was willing to accept minimums of 14 at the big musical houses (the number is currently 26). The union wants to bring the count down by only one or two players and rejected the producers' offer.

The League's Jed Bernstein said that audience members could ask for refunds or ticket exchanges.