Boston’s Wang In Union Scuffle

Union-busting allegations have been leveled at Boston’s biggest legit theater, the 3,700-seat Wang Center for the Performing Arts, by the Assn. of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers, one of the theater industry’s smallest and most vulnerable unions. At the same time, action by Actors’ Equity at the Wang’s neighbor, the Wilbur Theater, has been averted with a settlement.

“To put it bluntly, when we least expected it, the Wang just kicked us out,” says the ATPAM’s secretary-treasurer Berenice Weiler, who was among the association’s members who took part in informational picketing at the Wang on Nov. 8, the opening night of the Boston run of the touring musical “State Fair.” ATP AM requested that audiences boycott the Wang until the union’s jurisdiction is regained there.

ATPAM represents press agents and house and company managers on Broadway, Off Broadway and in major cities.

Wang defends move

In a message to patrons issued from the office of the Wang’s president and CEO Josiah A. Spaulding Jr., the Wang states that it “prides itself in its excellent relations with the five labor unions that represent its box office employees, ushers, stagehands, musicians, and wardrobe employees. In all, more than 500 of the Wang Center’s employees are represented by these unions.”

According to the Wang, the ATPAM picketing “involved that union’s efforts to coerce the Wang Center into recognizing ATPAM as the bargaining representative for the Wang’s one house manager.” The Wang believes that it has no obligation to allow ATPAM to represent a supervisor in a one-person bargaining unit, claiming that it opposes ATPAM’s “inappropriate demands” in order to assure the proper operation of the theater.

ATPAM’s union-busting charges and picketing followed the Wang’s hiring of a new, nonunion house manager, Leonard Lee, after its previous ATPAM house manager, Janis J. Lippman, moved to Boston’s newly renovated Colonial Theater.

“After leading us to believe we had an agreement with them through December of this year with the usual successor agreement,” Weiler explains, “the Wang unilaterally kicked us out of a venue we have had contracts with for 15 years. Until recently we enjoyed positive labor relations with the Wang Center. I believe that suddenly denying our jurisdiction signals the beginning of a precise and determined campaign of union busting.” Weiler points out that ATP AM is the smallest union at the Wang, claiming that that’s the reason why it has been targeted first.

The Wang Center for the Performing Arts is a nonprofit venue that regularly houses touring commercial product including such long-running blockbusters as “The Phantom of the Opera.” It’s also the home of t he Boston Ballet.

At the 1,200-seat Wilbur Theater next to the Wang, where a local production of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” was set to reopen the long-dark theater on Nov. 15, there were a few rocky days when it appeared that picketing by members of Actors’ Equity was inevitable, because the production had both Equity and non-Equity actors in its cast. According to director Frank Annese, who is co-producing “The Mousetrap” with the Wilbur’s owners, Louis Delpidio and Robert Merowitz, he had an Equity guest artist contract (such contracts allow for a mixture of Equity and non-Equity actors) along with “a canceled check to prove it.”

But as Equity’s Carol Waaser points out, such contracts are only available in a nonprofit situation – which does not apply to either the “The Mousetrap” production or the Wilbur Theater. In the end, the production went ahead, as the non-union cast members were given their union cards (along with union salaries and benefits).

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