The Playgoer: Strike Facts

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Strike Facts

Finally--someone in the press taking the time to actually educate the reader on what the strike is really about. Without resorting to anti-labor shortcuts like "featherbedding". Or for that matter, anti-producer simplifications like "profit-hording MBA's."

Kudos to the intrepid Campbell Robertson for getting enough NYT space today for this must-read primer.

What's striking here is how even within Robertson's strict NYT standards and practices, you see that the union side has been utterly reasonable. Perhaps unrealistic in today's economic landscape. But reasonable. The article does a good job showing the stagehand's potential flexibility, even if we still don't know all the exact terms ($'s & #'s) they're still not willing to accept.

I also can't help pointing out an observation that seems to confirm my hunches yesterday about a new stridently anti-union game plan for the producers' league.

The league is somewhat of a self-contradictory organization, made of producers and the theater owners to whom they pay rent. Producers, who provide the money for salaries, even though the owners are technically the employers, had grumbled for years that the owners had been too willing to sign labor contracts that were costly and inefficient.

But a younger generation of producers decided that the contract now up for renewal would be the one in which they pushed for big changes, and the theater owners are, this time, pushing with them. By taking a few cents out of each ticket over several years, the league amassed a $20 million fund in preparation for a strike like this one.

The League acted shocked, shocked on Saturday that stagehands would all of a sudden ambush them without warning. And that word got passed out to the media and to turned away ticketbuyers on the street. But I wonder what those endlessly "disappointed" tourists and crying children would say if they knew this strike was "several years" in the making--by the producers themselves.

By the way, those "few cents out of each ticket" couldn't have anything to do with those "Theatre Restoration Fees," could it...?

I don't have time to paraphrase all the important facts in the article, so if you want to know what's going on--read it. And the more you do, you might find yourself, like me, realizing what's at stake here is defining the nature of "work." The producer position (and I mean the official League position--not some Fox News spin) is that all the union is fighting for is the right to be paid for doing nothing. They might as well tell "How Many Stagehands Does it Take to Screw in a Light Bulb" jokes. I don't doubt that many stagehands on any given days end up not doing any lifting, moving or screwing (light bulbs, that is.) But the reasons for these provisions are well known to producers (as opposed to Ms. "we were duped!" St. Martin) and aim to provide full employment to the membership at large regardless of how large or how small the particular shows on Broadway in a given season may be. The union leadership is looking out for union members first, which means guaranteeing steady employment. That's their job. If the producers can't respect and address that need, then no wonder these negotiations aren't getting anywhere.

One more point from Robertson that echoes something I was saying yesterday, is how unusual it is in labor negotiations to completely overhaul labor-management relations in one fell swoop.

Union officials also said that these rules were the result of years of bargaining, and that the league could not expect to rewrite the entire book, or even a large part of it, in one contract.

League officials said that the current contract was far out of line with industry practices in the rest of the country and that they would not sign another one with these provisions.

I'm curious which "industry practices in the rest of the country"--and where--they're referring to. Non-Equity tours? Dinner theatres? Ok, I wouldn't be surprised if the union stipulations in other cities are not as demanding. But, hey this is Broadway. It's a larger workforce, and, in case you didn't notice, a much higher standard of living. Of course labor will have different demands.

(On a related note: here's a NY Post story singing the praises of the "weaker" West End unions. What goes unsaid is how those London stagehands can afford to be less demanding. They live in a welfare state.)

Hey, if you think I'm just one-sided, please do give us the other side. But if you simply counter with "no more something for nothing," I'm only going to ask in return: "And does no one at the Shubert Organization get paid for doing nothing?"

BTW: Steve On Broadway has some interesting resources: including a video of Monday's Local One press conference and some revealing stats.

PS. For more hard facts, I also still recommend a summary from a while ago on what the producers started implementing once the old contract expired. This gives some more indication of what the most hotly negotiated items were outside of just the "load-in" issue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anybody read the letter published today in the NYT's opinion section?

Makes you wonder who in fact is being more selfish--the union, the producers... or the public?