Local One Members Vote to Authorize Strike if Necessary

By Andrew Gans
October 21, 2007

Members of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees assembled Oct. 21 to vote on whether they would authorize their union's leaders to call a strike against the League of American Theatres and Producers should that be necessary.

According to a press statement released by Local One, the 1,000 members of the stagehands union unanimously agreed to allow the leaders of the union to call a strike should the leaders feel that a necessary action.

Currently, there has been no strike called.

A second unanimous vote will allow the leaders to call a work stoppage if necessary, and a third vote, also unanimous, will allocate $1 million from the union's general fund to help other unions who might be affected by a Broadway work stoppage.

James J. Claffey, Jr, the president of the union, told his members, "No work in December without a deal." The union, according to the press statement, will continue to work should the producers start implementing new rules on Oct. 22. The announcement also says that the union hopes the producers will return to the bargaining table.

The League of American Theatres and Producers responded with its own statement Oct. 21 at 2:40 PM. Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League, said, "Today's strike authorization vote is a typical part of the bargaining process with Local One.

The League wants the theatregoing public to know that all shows will continue to perform until and unless Local One walks out. No one at the League wants Broadway to go dark. The responsibility for a decision to shut down Broadway rests squarely with Local One.

"As it has done twice during the two most recent negotiations, Local One has, once again, threatened to strike during the busy holiday season when the harm would be most severe . . . The League remains committed to our final contract offer. The 'featherbedding' practices of the past are simply no longer acceptable. Our position is clear: no work, no pay. . .

"If the Union is willing to deal with the issues in our final offer, we are available to listen. The League's members remain united in our commitment to achieve positive change and a fair contract."

The Union and the League have been unable to come to agreement on points of flexibility within designated work assignments, as well as in the reduction of labor and cost for the load-in process of scenery for a new production. The union has been working without a contract since July 31.

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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.

On Oct. 16 the League had announced that beginning Oct. 22 they would begin enforcing "portions of its final offer [to the union]. The implemented provisions will govern how work will be performed going forward." The deadline of Oct. 22 is especially noteworthy because Local One has called a meeting for Oct. 21 in order to ask its members to "give authorization to the union leadership to take any job action necessary in light of the possibility of the producers implementing new work rules."

The news about the Nederlanders — who operate the Brooks Atkinson, Gershwin, Lunt-Fontanne, Marquis, Minskoff, Nederlander, Neil Simon, Palace and Richard Rodgers theatres — was announced by Local One Oct. 18. In its press statement, the union said, "Herschel Waxman, Vice President of Labor Relations of the Nederlander Organization, Broadway's second largest theatre chain, today (October 18) informed James J. Claffey, Jr., President of the 121-year-old union that has never struck Broadway, that the Nederlander Organization will not be implementing new work rules on Monday. Mr. Waxman has been an observer in the talks between the union and the league because the Nederlander Organization has a [separate] contract with Local One."

In the same statement, union president Claffey, Jr. added, "Local One has always had a warm relationship with the Nederlander Organization, the Nederlander family and Mr. Waxman. The respect they have for their employees is returned a thousand fold from the stagehands they employ."

A press release from the League was subsequently issued Oct. 18 at 7 PM. Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League, said, "In the wake of the press release from Local One and the statement by Mr. Claffey, we have been authorized by the Nederlander Organization to state that they have reviewed and are strongly supportive of each of the League's proposals as they seek to make necessary changes for this business. The Nederlander Organization intends to seek the same objectives in its own negotiations with Local One.

"The Nederlander Organization has their own agreement with Local One, and therefore is not represented by the League in these negotiations. Before negotiations commenced, The Nederlander Organization requested that Local One negotiate with them and the League simultaneously as coordinated bargaining partners, but Local One rejected that request. Although the League has reached an impasse with Local One, Nederlander is not at an impasse. As a result, the Nederlander Organization cannot legally implement these terms at this time. Regardless, they are fully supportive of the League's effort and will remain so until a resolution is found."

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.

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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.

In order for Local One to strike, its members must first vote in favor and request permission from I.A.T.S.E. leadership for approval. Wary of a lockout or an implementation of the new contract, the union stated it is "unclear" whether this authorization will be necessary.

The announcement of the Oct. 21 meeting set off a ten-day strike authorization process, which I.A.T.S.E.'s constitution states is necessary in order to allow members enough time to consider the implications of a strike. If Local One were to strike, it would be the first in the union's 121-year history.

The New York Post reported Oct. 17 that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has offered to mediate a discussion between the League and the Union. His offer, however, was turned down by the union. Union president Claffey told the Post, "I appreciated his offer, but I respectfully declined. The mayor understands and respects our organization's right to bargain." Bloomberg, it should be noted, was instrumental in helping to end the Broadway musicians strike in 2003.

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Both the League and Local One claim substantial reserves ($20 million from the League and $4 million from Local One), which they hope will ease some of the financial losses, were a lockout or strike to occur. In addition, Local One could relocate some of its members to other venues in television and various venues throughout the metropolitan area, citing "Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, City Center, hotels trade shows, and all of Lincoln Center (there are as many Local One jobs at Lincoln Center alone as there are on Broadway.)"