As Broadway producers went into the weekend assuring theatergoers that the show would go on despite stalled labor talks, the stagehands’ union called a strike vote set for Oct. 21.
The move by the union marks an escalation in the brinksmanship between the League of American Theaters and Producers and the union, Local One.
Contract negotiations ended Oct. 9 with both sides laying their final offers on the table. The two orgs met Oct. 11 in an attempt to agree on a course of further action, but no subsequent meetings or negotiation sessions were set.
Authorization from union members, gained at a specially designated meeting of which members have been notified ten days in advance, is the first step toward a strike. A work stoppage initiated by the stagehands could not occur before that Oct. 21 vote. (An Oct. 13 meeting of the union’s Broadway membership was called solely to provide rank-and-file stagehands with an update of the state of talks.)
Until Oct. 21, a work stoppage could only occur if producers decided to lock out Local One members, thereby darkening the majority of Broadway shows.
The League, however, sought to assure ticketbuyers that they did not intend to halt performances — at least not until after the weekend.
When asked if or when producers intended to call a lockout, Charlotte St. Martin, exec director of the League, said, “We just haven’t made those decisions yet.”
Another tactic open to producers is the implementation of the League’s last, best offer even without agreement from the union.
According to union regulations, Local One’s ability to call a strike normally requires not only membership approval but also subsequent authorization from the international leadership of umbrella union IATSE.
But in what seems an obvious indication of divisions between local and international union leadership, a carefully worded statement from Local One made it clear that if producers opt for implementation, strike authorization from international IATSE leadership might not be legally required.
Local One and the League have been engaged in tense contract renegotiations for several weeks. Producers seek flexibility in contractual employment obligations they consider outdated and onerously expensive, while stagehands insist they will not give up those protections without an equal exchange. Local One has been working without a new agreement since the previous contract expired July 31.
At least the recent press attention on an impending shutdown hasn’t seemed to weaken Rialto box office.
“We’d thought maybe it would have affected sales, but it really hasn’t,” St. Martin said.