Broadway talks break off

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Negotiations between the Broadway stagehands union and the League of American Theatres and Producers broke off Sunday night with no settlement and no apparent end to the nine-day strike in sight.

All Broadway shows have been cancelled until Sunday.

"Just before the talks broke off, the producers informed Local One that what the union had offered was simply not enough," read a statement from Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. "The producers then walked out. Local One will have no further comment."

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the league, said in a statement: "We are profoundly disappointed to have to tell you that talks broke off tonight, and that no further negotiations are scheduled. We presented a comprehensive proposal that responded to the union's concerns about loss of jobs and earnings and attempted to address our need for some flexibilities in running our business. The union rejected our effort to compromise and continues to require us to hire more people than we need."

The talks Saturday and Sunday were the first since the strike began Nov. 10, and they began with cautious optimism, for two reasons: The Thanksgiving holiday week, which starts today, is usually Broadway's second-most-lucrative of the season. The other reason was Robert Johnson, the lead labor negotiator for Disney, which has strong connections to each side. The company has historically had a good working relationship with IATSE and its president, Thomas C. Short, and it is liked by the league, especially for its efforts in revitalizing Times Square in the mid-1990s.

Disney, which is not part of the league, has three shows on Broadway ("The Lion King," "Mary Poppins" and "The Little Mermaid"). Although "Mary Poppins" remains open, the other two shows have stopped because they are housed in theaters owned by the Nederlander Organization, which locked out Local One members when they struck.

Along the picket lines, the mood has remained one of grim determination since the strike began nine days ago, though the level of optimism for a quick resolution did vary a bit, ranging from pessimistic to noncommittal. "It's pretty negative," said a line captain leading a picket at a theater on West 44th Street who refused to give his name. "They aren't getting anywhere."

Asked if the "they" meant the negotiators in general or theater owners in particular, he said, "The 'they' is them, the producers. If I was talking about us, I'd say 'us.'"

"As long as they're still talking, that's a good thing," another captain said. Rank-and-file members are not authorized to speak to the media.

"I didn't think things would get this far," a third captain said. "We've never struck in 121 years. We don't want to be here, they don't want us to be here. All of us just want to get back to work."

According to a report on New York 1, a local cable news station, a principal sticking point remains the minimum number of stagehands the owners and producers are required to hire for load-ins — the period when a show's set is first installed and constructed. That would fit into the general pattern of demands for each side: The league wants greater flexibility to hire only those workers it believe it needs, while Local One wants to protect the number of jobs.

There are about 350-500 stagehands who work at Broadway's 39 theaters, though Local One's ranks shrank by one Friday night, when Frank Lavaia, 57, died of a heart attack while walking the picket line outside the Minskoff Theatre, where "Lion King" is housed.

Since the strike, 27 shows have been shuttered, and several could close for good if the two sides don't reach a settlement soon.

Andrew Salomon is news editor at Back Stage East.
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