NEW YORK — After failed attempts to reach agreement last week on a contract between the League of American Theatres and Producers and stagehands’ union IATSE Local One, the league is set to impose its new work rules (they are not calling it a “lockout”) effective Monday, Oct. 22, while the union will meet Sunday, Oct. 21, for a strike authorization vote.When speaking of the tensions surrounding the negotiations, Local One Spokesman Bruce Cohen says while the league has promoted a 16.5 percent pay increase in its press releases, it never publicizes the “38 percent cuts they’ve attached to it.”
Last week, each side made its offer and rejected the other’s — the league demands flexibility in the hiring of stagehands, while the union demands the league take into account safety concerns and implements fair wages.
Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the League of American Theatres and Producers, said in a prepared statement, “We are forced to implement [new work rules] because Local One will not pursue meaningful change.”
“We feel producers don’t understand what it is stagehands do and how they do it and what the safety issues are,” Cohen says. “Not just for us, but for actors and dancers running around and changing clothes in the dark while tons of scenery is flying around. These are things we are better equipped to judge. Producers don’t run around backstage, they don’t see how a show operates.”
Local One learned about the imposition of work rules from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who contacted Local One President James J. Claffey Jr. offering mediation, Cohen said. The league sent out a press release about the imposition of work rules to the media and city hall before contacting the union.
“We respectfully declined the Mayor’s intervention because we negotiate our own contract, but the league didn’t have the courtesy to pick up the phone and tell (Claffey),” Cohen said.
According to an article on Backstage.com, St. Martin said implementation of the final contract offer made Oct. 9 will begin Monday, but did not specify what terms in the contract would be enforced.
The league is permitted to enforce the rules without a collective bargaining agreement; the only defense Local One has is to withhold labor.
“A strike vote doesn’t mean a strike or other job action, it just means we have the authority to do so if the leadership feels it needs to,” said Cohen.
Cohen admits the situation, which he describes as very fluid and unpredictable, could continue for months. Rumors have spread alluding that a strike could take place, causing the lights to go dark on Broadway during its busy holiday season.
“We have theatrical traditions that go back over 100 years, Cohen says. “The union is 121 years old, and we’ve never struck on Broadway.”
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