Striking stagehands shut down Broadway

NEW YORK — On Saturday, Nov. 10, this city’s “Great White Way” dimmed a bit as the lights of most Broadway theaters went dark. The theater district’s stagehands, members of Local 1 of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), walked off the job and went on strike against the League of American Theatres and Producers.

The league represents Broadway’s owners and operators, who rely on the labor of the stagehands to produce the district’s world-famous musicals and dramas. The stagehands are striking over the employers’ demands for work rule changes, job cuts of up to 38 percent and reductions in pay.

The IATSE workers say Broadway generates $1 billion a year in revenue and that the producers are reaping record profits. Despite this, the employers are demanding deep concessions from the Broadway workforce and jacking up ticket prices for the theatergoing public.

As the IATSE workers see it, the Broadway producers are looking to squeeze more profits out of the workers and the public so that they can purchase second or third luxury residences, while the stagehands are only looking for enough to keep the modest homes they have.

In preparation for the strike, the producers, through ticket sales, accumulated a $20 million cushion, which they hope will allow them to starve the IATSE workers out. For its part, however, IATSE is relying on a strike fund that is replenished in part by non-striking members working under separate contracts at other locations like New York’s Lincoln Center.

Up to 500 stagehands work on Broadway; the union counts about 3,000 stagehands among its membership.

On Sunday, one day after the start of the strike, spirits on the IATSE picket lines were high. As the strikers picketed the shuttered theaters, supporters from several other unions and from the broader public stopped by to show solidarity. The well-wishers walked a few rounds on the picket lines and dropped off plenty of coffee, doughnuts and water.

At this point no negotiations are going on and the two sides remain far apart. As of Nov. 11, striking workers had no idea of how long the walkout would last.

gbono @cpusa.org