After 16 months of negotiations, stagehands at Washington, D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts unanimously voted to authorize a strike October 7. The vote by the members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 22 gives the Local 22 executive board the authority to call a strike and for members and supporters of the union to set up picket lines outside the famed performing arts center.
Among contentious issues are cut wages for backstage workers and others related to health and safety protocols.
The potential strike could lead to the cancellation or postponement of the Hadestown tour at the D.C. venue, which is scheduled for October 13–31 at the Opera House, as well as other Kennedy Center events.
“A strike can be avoided and Hadestown can take the stage, but that’s up to Kennedy Center’s managers,” said IATSE Local 22 President David McIntyre in a statement. “We’ve been more than willing to tighten our belts and help the Kennedy Center during this difficult time for the arts. However, the Kennedy Center’s management team has decided to use the pandemic as an excuse to gut our contract while taking millions in federal relief dollars just as large audiences are scheduled to return.”
In response to the announcement, the Kennedy Center says that negotiations have stalled over one stipulation, following agreements on wages, benefits, and COVID-19 safety: that the Center employ IATSE stagehands for all of its events, including for programming off of its D.C. campus. "A work expansion of this scale would be cost-prohibitive and unsustainable in the near and long term, forcing us to make further reductions in programming, entailing cuts and reductions to historically free or low-cost community outreach events, and higher costs for rentals and outside vendors," the organization said in a statement.
The Kennedy Center added that the organization remains "committed to working with our stagehands to identify a path forward and reach an agreement that reflects the complexities of the pandemic landscape," a step the union says it has already accomplished elsewhere in the region. “Through this pandemic, every other major venue in and around Washington has managed to successfully maintain their agreements with our union and work with us to prepare for the return of audiences,” says IATSE Local 22 President McIntyre. “Putting on a Broadway show, any show, is a team effort, the Kennedy Center’s managers will have a hell of a time putting on Hadestown without us.”
The strike at the Kennedy Center lands as fellow IATSE chapters across the entertainment industry prepare for similar moves. A nationwide crew walkout over disputes, ranging from compensation on streaming projects rest periods, could put a halt to myriad screen shoots. On the theatre front, a strike by the Greater Boston chapter (Local 11) led to the cancellation of an October 6 performance of Mamma Mia! at North Shore Music Theatre.
At the time of publication, the Kennedy Center says it has not been notified of any work stoppage. All performances and events are currently slated to proceed as scheduled.