Local One okays move at union meeting

Membership of stagehands’ union Local One voted to authorize a strike during a union meeting Sunday at which Local One prexy James J. Claffey Jr. told members they would not work on Broadway in December if a new deal with producers has not been reached by then.

Claffey’s declaration makes explicit the union’s threat to shut down Rialto productions during the holidays, the most profitable season on Broadway.

Approximately 1,000 Local One members turned out for the meeting, according to the union. The authorization resolution, which reps the mark of rank-and-file approval required for union leadership to call a strike, passed unanimously.

Local One and Broadway producers have been enmeshed in contentious labor negotiations for several weeks. Talks have been stalled since Oct. 9, when both sides laid what they called their last, best offers on the table.

Last weekthe League of American Theaters and producers announced that beginning today they would implement some work rules from their final offer without the agreement of the union.

Although a strike has now been authorized, the union plans to continue working this week even if the new work rules are implemented.

Three resolutions were approved at the Local One meeting:

The first authorized a strike against the League if union leadership deemed it necessary.

The second authorized what a union statement called a “work stoppage” — a semantic difference that looks like a safety provision in the face of rumors that the international leadership of umbrella union IATSE would not grant strike approval to the local.

The third measure earmarks $1 million of the union’s general funds as aid for other unions affected by a Rialto work stoppage. (That sum is in addition to the approximately $4 million the union has set aside as its own shutdown fund.)

Until recently the most likely cause of a Broadway shutdown looked to be a lockout initiated by producers. Now that a strike has been authorized, the League has seized the PR advantage of placing the blame for a potential work stoppage on the union.

“No one on the League wants Broadway to go dark,” League prexy Charlotte St. Martin said in a statement. “The responsibility for a decision to shut down Broadway rests squarely with Local One.”

The League reps the 22 Broadway theaters owned by the Shubert Organization and Jujamcyn Theaters. Although the Nederlander Org, owner of nine Rialto theaters, has its own agreement with the union and will not implement new work rules today, the company is said to have sent out a letter declaring its unity with the League’s positions.

In response to the strike vote, the League also stepped up its rhetoric, calling existing contract obligations “featherbedding.”

“The ‘featherbedding’ practices of the past are simply no longer acceptable,” St. Martin said. “Our position is clear: no work, no pay.”

Producers aim to change contractual employment obligations they view as outdated and onerously expensive. Stagehands refuse to give up these protections without an equal benefit gained in exchange.

Both sides say they remain willing to return to the table — although each is waiting for the other side to blink first.

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