The Playgoer: Strike Quotes: He Said, She Said

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Strike Quotes: He Said, She Said

Right now if you have 32 stagehands on a load-in . . . it requires if you start the call at 8 am and you go to midnight, all 32 stay on from 8 to midnight. We said at 5 o'clock, you can reduce that number to a minimum number that we've decided. They want that minimum number to be lower.

We have made [other] compromises. It's just never enough. We've granted 9 or 10 things. They want 30 or 40. They cannot go through our contract after 121 years in one negotiation and just annihilate us.
James J. Claffey, Jr., President of Local One stagehands union.
(hat tip: SOB)
[the stagehands] refused to budge on nearly every issue, protecting wasteful, costly and indefensible rules that are embedded like dead weights in contracts so obscure and old that no one truly remembers how, when or why they were introduced.
Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of the League of American Theaters and Producers.

Make no mistake. The producers have quite strategically decided to play hardball on this strike. Maybe because they know we live (still) in a right-wing, pro-business, anti-labor political climate and they don't care about the sympathy of average workers.

But it's also clear that new president Charlotte St. Martin has ushered in a new era in Broadway business relations. For starters, she comes from the mega-corporate hotel management--I'm sorry, "Hospitality" sector. The hotel services employees union is famously huge and powerful--but because it's huge I imagine St. Martin is used to dealing with labor impersonally and ruthlessly.

Also, if St. Martin was brought into the League (as an outsider, a non-producer remember) it was to shake things up, no? And to crack down on anything getting in the way of producer profit, I imagine. More stridently than the relatively artist and worker-friendly Jed Bernstein. Perhaps the 2003 musicians strike--where the League was perceived (by members, at least) to have caved to the musicians demand to insist on (can you believe!) live human beings in the pit
--marked a turning point, leading soon to Bernstein's resignation and St. Martin's hiring last year. No more Mr. Nice Guy? Aside from whatever concerns producers genuinely have about the stagehands, you can imagine the intended message sent to other unions--namely Equity & Musicians. Don't fuck with us, there's a new sheriff in town.

I raise this specifically in reference to St. Martin's shockingly impolitic comment above about all previous stagehand contracts being "obscure" and, implicitly, negotiated under either duress or crack and forced upon unwitting producers. The provisions the League is currently so digging its heels in against have basically stood for about 100 years, it seems.

Sure it's reasonable to expect the union to adjust gradually along with the producers to changing economic realities. But, let's face it, there doesn't seem to be anything gradual about the League's demands here at all. St. Martin and her team has virtually declared, by fiat, a whole new way of working. That's why this stand off--even for a labor stand off--is particularly nasty and intractable.

No matter how this ends, I predict she will be a longterm loser out of this--even if she is, for now, feted by her producer-peers.


Anonymous said...

I have trouble seeing the producers are cruel and anti-labor when the stagehands' arguments seem so absurd. Maybe this is spin, and maybe the producers are winning the spin war, but it seems like the stagehands want to be paid to do nothing. The mandatory calls seem ridiculous, and if the old contract is ridiculous, it only makes sense to overhaul, rather than gradually transition into reasonable practices. I've yet to hear (but would love to hear) anyone explain the stagehands' side beyond "They can't change how it's done so fast!" Maybe people will lose jobs, but maybe their jobs are superfluous. It doesn't seem greedy - it seems logical.

I'd love to be set right if I'm wrong.

parabasis said...

Dear Anonymous,

The Union rules are put into effect to disincentivize certain practices. For example, the idea is not to get people paid overtime to do nothing, the idea is instead to make overtime cost prohibitive and therefore keep it from happening except when it is absolutely neccesary. There aren't very many ways to do this beyond demanding producers pay ridiculous amounts to have overtime.

Anonymous said...

What about just paying *individual employees* a good overtime bonus, rather than requiring that the entire crew be called?

One NYC StageHand said...

I think you pretty well nailed it. I personally think a Clear Channel has a lot to do with this, it follows their mo.