Local One Encourages Members to Keep Broadway Lit During Contract Stalemate

News   Local One Encourages Members to Keep Broadway Lit During Contract Stalemate Several days into new work terms implemented by Broadway producers, the head of the stagehands union has asked members to continue working under the disputed provisions while contract negotiations remain at an impasse.

On Oct. 24 president of Local One, James Claffey Jr., issued a statement to members of Broadway's stagehands union commending them for working temporarily under the new rules from the League of American Theatres and Producers. Describing the rules as "a tactic to frustrate, embarrass and provoke [the union] into taking action against [producers] in an effort to gain the public support," Claffey nonetheless encouraged membership to obey them in order to "convince our co-workers and the public that this Union did all we could for a reasonable period of time before we were pushed and shoved into defending our families and ourselves."

Following the Oct. 21 announcement that Local One had authorized its leaders to implement a strike should one be necessary, the League issued an 11-page document outlining the terms of their proposed contract, portions of which they began implementing Oct. 22. Among the terms are new rules for mealtime flexibility, overtime hiring requirements, setting of run-crew minimums, as well as flexibility within what duties can be performed during specified calls.

In his statement, Claffey encouraged Local One members to follow the disputed work provisions to "give the League time to invite [the union] back to the table and make an 'honorable deal'" while affirming the union's "plans as previously outlined." Claffey had told members at the Oct. 21 strike vote, "No work in December without a deal." The union head's statement ended, "I assure you all that the League of American Theatres and Producers will soon realize the full resources and power of the premiere Stagecraft Local in the world."

A summary of the new rules that the League has begun enforcing follow.

Setting the Running Crew
Stagehand crew size and job assignments were previously frozen on the opening night of a Broadway show. The League claims this does not allow enough time to "routine stagehand work and determine appropriate staffing levels." The crew size and job assignments will now be frozen six weeks after opening night. (The Union rejected this proposal.) Electrician Duties
In some instances up to three electricians have operated the board that controls light, projection and sound cues — a job that can be handled by one electrician. The new rule says that "three separate stagehands are not required" to operate such a board. (Local One tentatively agreed to codify this practice.)

Premium Pay for a 7th Day or 9th Performance
Stagehands who work a 7th day or a 9th performance (for example, a Monday performance for a show that regularly plays a Tuesday-Sunday schedule) are paid time-and-a-half. Previously, even those stagehands who had not worked all six days or eight performances were paid time-and-a-half for this extra performance. The League and the Union agreed to a proposed exchange whereby the League would not be required to pay time-and-a-half to those who had not worked the full week; however, the League agreed to pay time-and-a-half for all work "performed on any non-performance day where a production performs only five days per week (Wednesday through Saturday)."

Overtime Hiring Requirements
Previously, if only a few stagehands were required to work overtime, Broadway producers were required to pay overtime to all of the stagehands that had been called that day. Producers will now pay overtime only to the stagehands required to work past a given call period. (The Union rejected this proposal.)

Meal Periods
Meal periods, the previous contract stated, must take place on the hour at 12-1 PM or 1-2 PM, and for evenings at 5-6 PM or 6-7 PM. During many load-in and technical rehearsal days, management was left a choice between "stopping and restarting work for an entire department on the hour or paying everyone a penalty of a time-and-a-half hour." The League will now implement meal time flexibility as long as a break is given within 3 to 5 hours of a stagehand's start time. The new rule would also allow a 30-minute break if a meal is provided for the crew. (Local One has rejected this offer.)

Rehearsals and Work Calls
Currently stagehands called in for a four-hour minimum call can only perform work specific to that type of call. For example, a crew member called in for a rehearsal call cannot be required to do maintenance work — fixing lights or maintaining scenery. Such work would require an additional work call. The League states that they will now require that stagehands perform any work necessary, within departmental lines, on a production while they are being paid, regardless of the type of call. (Local One has rejected this offer.)

Performance Calls
During the performance of a show, there are strict rules regarding what can be required of a crew member. The Union has agreed to allow "work on equipment and related items for promotion and publicity." The League also proposed that stagehands should be permitted to clean up the set, the show's equipment and repair any problems that occurred during the performance. Should the work require more time than the actual running time of the show, crew members would be paid in one-hour increments. Local One agreed to a two-hour minimum call solely to permit clean up for safety reasons.

Continuity Calls
In the previous Local One contract, stagehands may be called one hour prior to a performance (solely for work related to that performance), or for one hour after the performance, but never both, unless producers schedule an additional four-hour call. Producers now intend to schedule and pay for work up to three hours around any given performance, limited to two hours prior and one hour after. This does not include clean up, which may require two hours. The previous union contract also said that if a show ending at 10:25 PM necessitates additional work, the call-time rolls back to 10 PM, requiring producers to pay for an additional hour's work. And, if more time is needed, the call becomes a four-hour call. The League has eliminated this rule, which Local One rejected.

Canceled Performances
Currently, when a scheduled performance of a show is canceled and replaced by a rehearsal or a work call, stagehands are required to be paid for both the canceled performance and the rehearsal/work call. The League will now not pay stagehands twice for the same hours. (The Union has rejected this proposal.)

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The Nederlander Organization, a major Broadway theatre owner and producer, has distanced itself from measures set to be imposed by producers on Oct. 22.

The Nederlanders, who have been observers in the negotiations between Local One (the stagehands union) and the League of American Theatres and Producers, have announced they will not be implementing portions of the League's final contract offer that was rejected Oct. 9 by the union.

During the lengthy negotiations, the League has been bargaining on behalf of the Jujamcyn and Shubert theatre owners, who account for 22 of the 39 Broadway houses. The Nederlanders, representing nine Broadway theatres, are under a separate, also-expired contract with Local One.

In addition to the theatres owned by the Nederlanders, those unaffected by the current negotiations include the New Amsterdam, the Hilton, Circle-in-the-Square, the Biltmore, the Helen Hayes, the American Airlines and Studio 54. Each of those theatres, Local One says, has a separate contract with the union.

A previous statement from the League discussed why the organization felt it necessary to begin imposing provisions of the final offer that was offered to the union, which has been working without a contract since July 31. In that statement, St. Martin, said, "We are forced to implement because Local One will not pursue meaningful change. They not only rejected our offer; they submitted a counter-offer which would make matters worse by requiring even more nonproductive hiring. During the life of the contract, under these provisions, costs for new musicals would rise by 30% and for plays would rise by 44%. This is indefensible in an industry with a financial failure rate of 80% in which only one in five productions recoups its costs.

"We have moved a long way to address the Union's concerns. But we have not and will not yield on the basic principle: archaic work rules that jeopardize the industry's health must be reformed. Our final offer would make sure that Broadway stagehands continue to be the most highly paid in the theatre industry. But we need, at the same time, to protect and preserve the industry that provides for their own livelihood and the well-being of all the creative people who work on Broadway.

"Our goal remains achieving a fair and balanced contract for the industry, the theatre-going public and the city. We believe, at this critical time, this is the necessary and appropriate step to achieve that goal."

Actors' Equity spokesperson Maria Somma released a statement Oct. 17 in response to the League's latest statement: "Actors' Equity Association is disappointed that the employers' League has chosen to unilaterally impose its final offer on the professional stagehands of Local One/IATSE. We fear that this provocative action will make it more difficult to achieve a timely settlement. We believe this crisis needs to be resolved at the bargaining table. We urge the League to agree to Local One's continued offer to return to that bargaining table."

Local One president James J. Claffey Jr. previously stated why the union rejected the League's final offer: "The union addressed nearly every item on the producers' list and offered imaginative solutions that met the producers' requests… What the producers failed to do was recognize our suggestions with exchanges of its own. What they failed to understand is what I said publicly and privately in the last year: Local One is open to exchanges on work rules and other areas, but would not make a concessionary agreement of any kind. Local One will not accept cuts."

Local One represents the 350 to 500 stagehands working on Broadway and a further 2,500 stagehands employed in TV, arenas, scene shops, opera, and music halls in New York City.