Many Broadway Unions Ready to Protect Members During Local One Strike

News   Many Broadway Unions Ready to Protect Members During Local One Strike As the stagehands strike continues to darken most of the Great White Way, the Broadway community and its various unions are taking measures to protect those working within the industry.

Broadway comprises various unions, all of which protect and represent the concerns and labor conditions of their members. Most of the public are aware of the more visible unions and their negotiations of late, including Actors' Equity Association; the Broadway musician's union, Local 802; and Local One, the Broadway stagehands union.

However, the Broadway work force is also unionized for ushers, box-office representatives, directors, choreographers, press agents, playwrights, composers, wardrobe and make-up personnel, as well as scenic and lighting designers, and those responsible for the construction of the physical production.

Barbara Hauptman, executive director of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, states that SSDC members whose Broadway shows are currently darkened will not receive royalties, pension or healthcare disbursement for the length of the strike.

SSDC members with Broadway productions currently in rehearsal are reporting to work per their contractual requirements. There are currently no picket lines at rehearsals of Broadway-bound productions, according to Hauptman.

Hauptman commented that SSDC is "very supportive of Local One reaching a fair and equitable contract. We urge the League and Local One to return to the table." Hauptman also states that SSDC members represented by a darkened Broadway production are permitted to join picket lines in solidarity with Local One. Currently, SSDC does not have plans to shield members from lost royalties and pension resulting from the Local One strike. Hauptman confirms that the reserves SSDC has in place are to safeguard SSDC members in the event of a strike on its own behalf. However, a meeting scheduled for Nov. 19 could determine whether any of the reserves will be appropriated to currently affected SSDC members.

Local 802, the Broadway musicians' union, also stands with Local One members. Bill Dennison, the recording vice-president of Local 802, reminded members of the press at the union's Nov. 12 press conference that most Broadway musicians traditionally work in the orchestra pit, located beneath the stage deck. Broadway scenery is not only complicated, but also quite heavy – often weighing several tons and flying high above the stage floor. Dennison commented, "We want to make sure those theatres are safe, and the confidence we have in the Local One members to run that theatre is what makes our members feel secure in going in to those theatres."

Recalling the 2003 musicians' strike, Dennison remarked, "Four years ago the stagehands were standing side by side with us in our effort to protect live theatre, in our effort to protect live music on Broadway. We succeeded because of the solidarity with the other unions, not because the other side of the table was trying to protect what we were fighting to protect. I believe that the unions on Broadway, all of us, are going to stand side by side with the stagehands until this is solved in a way that the members of that proud union are satisfied with, and we will continue to be there with them."

Members of Actors' Equity Association will also not cross picket lines. The union representing Broadway actors and stage management has stated "the responsibility for the shutdown of Broadway rests squarely with the League of American Theaters and Producers." Union representatives are informing members to continue to arrive and sign in for their standard half-hour call so that producers are aware that Broadway actors are ready and willing to work.

Actors are required to sign in and remain at their respective theatres until the scheduled show time in order to qualify for the Actors' Equity strike fund – emergency unemployment-level pay. The sign-in documentation could also be used to as evidence to producers that AEA members were reporting to work and should be paid by management for their duties. Some Broadway actors stated Equity could seek imbursement through arbitration should producers not comply.

Actors' Equity Council has amassed $2.3 million in its strike fund, which is in place to sustain members until the state-funded unemployment would commence in about seven weeks. However, there is currently no timeline as to when AEA will begin dipping into its strike fund. Most unions are hoping that a swift resolution to the Broadway work stoppage will curtail the need to touch reserves.

However, should AEA begin to provide its members with money from its war chest, every Broadway actor, regardless of role or current salary, would share the same payment of $405 per actor each week. AEA members are encouraged, but not required to join picket lines with Local One.

Bruce Cohen, president of IATSE Local 18032, the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM), states that its members will honor the Local One picket lines. Those press agents, company and house managers currently serving darkened Broadway productions will not be working on those shows during the Broadway stagehands strike.

Cohen confirmed that ATPAM does have reserves to alleviate the impact of the current work stoppage. Like Actors Equity, ATPAM has reserves in place to pay its members $405 per week should the strike be prolonged, sources state. Local One has also pledged to financially assist its sister unions during the strike.

In a statement of solidarity Cohen noted, "Some of our members have been seen on the picket line with Local One. As president of ATPAM, it makes me very proud."

Broadway ushers, represented by Local 306, are currently required to report to work an hour-and-a-half prior to curtain. While there are no patrons to direct to their seats, Broadway ushers, like many other unions, are arriving to work in the hopes producers may pay them for duties.

Local 306 does have a reserve in place for its members, which would pay ushers about half of their regular salary in the event of a work stoppage.

The Dramatists Guild, representing Broadway playwrights, composers and lyricists, will also feel the effects of the Local One strike. Guild members currently represented on Broadway will not receive royalties from their darkened productions. The Guild does not provide pension or healthcare to its members, nor does it maintain emergency reserves.

It is also being reported that box-office personnel, represented by IATSE Local 751, are not crossing picket lines, and tickets are not being sold at the box offices of darkened productions. However, theatregoers are still able to purchase tickets via ticketing services such as Telecharge and Ticketmaster.

Local 798, the union which represents the make-up and hair-styling departments of Broadway productions, declined to comment as to whether its members are reporting to work or joining the picket lines with Local One.

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