Saturday, November 10, 2007

Stagehands Local One on strike

Pictured here, a sub level of Radio City Music Hall, a domain of New York City stage hands.

Riding on the subway to see a show at the end of this past September, I listened in on a conversation between two stage hands. They were discussing a potential lock out by the Theatrical Producers on Sunday, September 30. That didn't happen -- just another bluff, but tensions have remained high and negotiations were going no where. So today, the stagehands walked and many Broadway shows are shut down.

According to Local One:

We are professionals and unashamed to state that we are defending good middle class jobs that pay our mortgages, feed our families and allow our children to attend good schools.

The producers' numbers, so widely distributed, are misleading at best and often bogus.

Their press release celebrated an offer of 16.5% increase in wages. But the producers failed to mention their offer was accompanied by a 38% cut in jobs and income.

We are the caretakers of the theatre, the protectors of the workplace. We keep it safe for all of us. Six days a week, sometimes seven, we are the first to arrive and last to leave.

What are the strikers fighting for? Shockingly, the producers want to get rid of the job of the flyman/woman. This is the person responsible for any piece of scenery, object or person hat "flies" into the performing area.

The producers' attack on flymen is ignorant to the basic safety concerns in any theater. Without a flyman, who would be addressing safety problems over head? Who would be checking rigging eight times a week? Who is the first line of defense against any fire in the fly space?

Why do you think there are still fire hooks and extinguishers, by law, located on the fly floors? And, if there were not a flyman on the grid, how long do you think it would take for someone on the stage to reach that fire-fighting equipment?

Automation? We've long embraced it. Local One is more productive thanks to automation. We've modernized along with the newest technology. We build, install, manage, and repair all of it. We operate safely tons of scenery moving around in the dark and at breakneck speed without injury to you or us.

And they do an excellent job of it too. There's something sublime about watching Broadway scene changes -- not a second wasted, and it is all live -- happening like magic before your eyes, not something made of pixels and digital tape.

So what about Broadway ticket pricing? Ticket prices these days amaze the heck out of me -- as I stand in line to pay $60 to a hundred bucks for 2 1/2 hours of entertainment? I'd feel a lot better if I know the actors and the technicians are making a decent wage and can afford to live and raise a family in the city where they work.

The producers will also fail to tell you and the press that Local One labor over the last few decades remains 8% of the overall cost of producing a Broadway show. We get raises only when negotiated, but the producers raise ticket prices with every new hit, not to mention $450 premium pricing.

Last year, the League announced Broadway box office grosses of $939 million. Secret is the income from licensing, secondary rights, film rights and the hugely lucrative merchandise sales.

The biggest secret of all is the producers' real profits.

The producers are also insisting on cutting minimums for load-ins/outs. A load is much more than unloading trucks. It is heavy work and it is also highly technical as scenery, lighting and effects are unloaded, set up in a new space and configured to work safely and according to plan.

The Village Green salutes the stage hands on Local One and stands in solidarity with them. I had been thinking about shooting up to NYC over one of the upcoming breaks. There were some shows I wanted to see that are now dark and shuttered. I'll gladly go Off and Off off B'way to satisfy my play going needs. I'm thinking the strike won't go nearly as long as the writers' strike as the theatres will be dark without any possibility of re-runs or reality programming!

Hang tough, stage hands:

In these negotiations, we put everything on the table except the safety of the stage crew and everyone entering the theater. The producers' attack on minimums is an attack on the safety and efficiency of the load-in of shows. It is also an insulting failure to recognize the size, the scope and the technical difficulty of the work we perform and the industry that is our life.

We stand ready to resume negotiations at any time and we stand ready to defend ourselves from the implementation of unsafe, unsound and unacceptable work rules that the producers are threatening to enact.

We are Local One. We are all under attack.

Respectfully and Fraternally,

The Membership of Local No. One


microdot said...

Howdy, here I am posting from the very same State, Ohio. This place is wild with all the giant inflatable turkeys on the lawns, is it some kind of cult?
I will be in New York on the 15th for a few days, but I plan to see some music in some clubs.
My friends are playing in a bar at 9th and C on Sunday night.
I just read an interview with Ray Davies in MOJO Magazine and a very good review of Workingmans Cafe.

Village Green said...

Hey Microdot! I wish I weren't so tied up with the fall play, or else I'd try to track you down. Hope you are having a good time visiting Ohio. Although it is in a sad state these days, some of the best people I ever met came from Ohio.

Enjoy NYC -- hope your friends let you join in the music making.