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Broadway producers, stagehands open talks

July 14, 2007|From Bloomberg News

NEW YORK — Broadway's most anticipated summer drama opened Friday, as producers and stagehands began contract talks. Their goal: Avert a strike like the one by musicians four years ago that cost the city $10 million in lost revenue and wages and shut down shows for four days.

The stagehands' contract expires July 29.

The League of American Theaters and Producers, the Broadway trade association, is seeking more flexibility in employing stagehands, who install and maintain scenery, props and lighting. Most stagehands are represented by Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

The producers say outdated rules for stagehands, who include electricians and carpenters, add unreasonable costs to the capitalization and running budgets of shows. Their major complaint has been that union work-rules force them to employ more workers than they actually need, contributing to the fact that 80% of new shows fail.

"Faced with escalating costs and a high rate of failure," league Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin said in an interview, "the league seeks a new contract that would require each show to hire only the number of stagehands needed to perform the work, and to pay only for work performed."

A spokesman for the stagehands, Bruce Cohen, declined to address the specific issue raised by the producers.

The talks affect 22 of Broadway's 39 theaters: the Shubert Organization's 17 and Jujamcyn Theaters' five. Houses owned by the Nederlander Organization and Walt Disney Co. are governed by separate contracts.

Local 1 hasn't called a strike since the union was founded in 1886. But with only 16 days until their contract with the league expires, the union's leadership has suggested they'll take a hard line.

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