No word as of late Sunday afternoon on the new round of strike negotiations. Perhaps tonight or tomorrow a.m. It's tempting to predict a settlement. But if it's gone on this long, why not a little longer, eh?
Meanwhile, if you can stand to read one more article about it all, then make it this one, tucked away in the Times Sunday Metro section. A fruitful collaborative piece between Campbell Robertson's nose-to-the-ground theatre reportage with Steven Greehnouse's incisive labor/business analysis.
Lots of detail, reminding us all once again this is about a lot more than the load-in "featherbedding" issue. There's the 4-hour overtime minimum, for instance, which the producers have also used to paint the stagehands as unreasonable. Maybe in a normal job. But did they think we forgot that working "overtime" on a Broadway show usually means working past 11pm?
One of the work rules that management is eager to change involves what is known as the continuity call. A continuity call happens when the stagehands who are working on a running show are called for an hour’s work before or after a performance to do work relating to that performance. Any work that goes beyond that hour requires a costly four-hour work call.
The league says it is wasteful to pay for a four-hour work call just because it had already called for an hour’s work before the performance. But Mr. Cohen said the four-hour work call makes sense because it discourages theaters from ordering stagehands to continue working until midnight or 1 a.m. For the many stagehands who supplement their income working day jobs like loading in other Broadway shows, setting up trade shows at hotels or working at other cultural institutions like Lincoln Center, late nights can be troublesome, he said.
“They want all this great flexibility after a performance,” Mr. Cohen said. “They want us to work one hour, two hours, three hours after a performance. We want to go home and make our train. We live in the suburbs, and we want to make the last train out of Penn Station, and they don’t seem to recognize that.”
No doubt (or, at least, I assume) the League is offering to increase the hourly overtime pay, so that one hour means more money than before. Still, as the union says, this about "discouraging" overtime. Maybe it would be better to speak the business jargon of the producers and call it a "disincentive."
Speaking of business jargon, imagine public reaction to this strike if we called the producer's stance what it is: downsizing. Sure it sounds like a no-brainer when the producers appeal to the sense of "no pay for no work." But when bosses come into other workplaces in America, and start reducing the workforce down to "essential employees," even if it means putting lifelong workers out of employment, I think the public is right to urge caution and moderation. And the League, looking at its balance sheets, is clearly in the mood to downsize Broadway as much as possible.
Funny enough, the expense of stagehand labor is hardly the biggest expense they have these days. And the League's insistence on keeping the strike going for the sake of a relatively small piece of the pie--relative to the stagehands' indispensability--is actually what's giving the stagehands their leverage. According to labor experts, at least.
Lois Gray, a professor of labor management relations at Cornell University, said the teachings of Alfred Marshall, the British economist, show that the roughly 350 stagehands who are on strike have a lot of bargaining leverage.
“The stagehands have classic bargaining power,” she said. “They’re essential to the production. They cannot be replaced in the short run, and they are a relatively small percentage of total costs. That puts them in a very strong position.”
In this way, she said, the stagehands are like airline pilots. A small number of workers can shut down an industry, and it rarely pays for management to endure a long strike because those workers represent only a small fraction of overall costs — and management can often pass the increased cost on to consumers. For Broadway producers, the cost of the stagehands’ labor is far outweighed by the cost of advertising and theater rent.
Ha! But you won't see the strike blamed on stratospheric ad rates. At least not in the pages of the New York Times...