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Musicians, SFX ready to sit out legit season

Florida's 'Fiddler' first casualty

MIAMI — Both sides of a musicians’ strike against SFX Theatricals’ national touring presentations appear ready to sit out the entire season if necessary.

After a year of negotiations over wages and pension since their last contract expired, the American Federation of Musicians, Miami Local 655, struck SFX Theatricals’ presentations throughout south Florida beginning Nov. 25.

Immediately affected was Theodore Bikel’s current tour of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, which played its final performances through the weekend with a conductor and twin pianos.

“We’d like this to be over as soon as possible but if it takes several months, we’re prepared to go on with alternative methods,” said Miles Wilkin, CEO of SFX Theatricals.

Wilkin said the “Fiddler” production team, although warned weeks in advance of a strike possibility, did not make alternate plans in advance. He said the other eight musicals scheduled in the months ahead are making plans involving replacement musicians, synthesizers, digital electronic or tape.

The musicians, about 55 of the local’s 900 members, are seeking a 30% wage increase over four years, retroactive to Nov. 30, 1999, plus a pension increase from 7% to 10%. SFX’s latest offer is a 12% wage increase and pension topping at 8%.

Falling behind

The musicians claim their scale has fallen seriously behind comparable cities in the past decade, citing Dallas, Atlanta and Norfolk, Va., where “Fiddler” appeared before moving to West Palm Beach. South Florida pit wages are $799 for an eight-show week and one four-hour rehearsal. Dallas pit musicians earn $1,120 for the same work week and just signed a contract taking them to $1,212 in 2002-03. Atlanta and Norfolk figures are higher.

Half of the 18-piece “Fiddler” orchestra were Local 655 members who walked, the other musicians following them in support. Some patrons demanded refunds at intermission during the struck “Fiddler” performances.

Temporarily unaffected is the tour of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which also opened on Nov. 25 after several previews at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale. The 16-piece orchestra travels with the company and, although all are AFM members of other locals, the musicians are not required by the union to honor the Miamians’ picket lines until Dec. 15. “Phantom” closes Dec. 16.

AFM’s national headquarters could declare SFX Theatricals unfair beginning the 15th, which would require all its musicians to honor Local 655’s picket lines, according to New York attorney Leonard Leibowitz, Local 655’s counsel. Leibowitz is also counsel for New York’s Local 802.

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