Broadway talks set to resume Sat.

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NEW YORK -- Facing the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday week, striking Broadway stagehands and theater producers go back to the bargaining table Saturday in an effort to settle their protracted labor dispute that has shut down more than two dozen plays and musicals.

Further spurring the talks between Local 1 and the League of American Theatres and Producers will be the presence at the negotiations of two high-powered observers: Robert Johnson, a veteran Disney executive with extensive labor-negotiating experience, and Tom Short, the head of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the parent union of Local 1.

Short has sat in before -- the local needed the parent union's authorization to strike -- but Johnson, who will be sitting on the management side, hasn't.

"(Johnson) is well-respected by labor all over the country," an official from another union, who has knowledge of the negotiations but declined to be identified because the official was not authorized to comment, said Friday. "Disney is one of the biggest employers of union entertainment in the world -- the studio, the theme parks, the ABC television network.

"The league and Local 1 are going to have to work out their contract, but to have a fresh face trusted by everyone in the room can't hurt."

Local 1 and the league would not comment on the resumption of talks.

What could hurt is the missed performances next week, one of the best of the year at the box office, particularly for family friendly shows. For example, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" has 15 performances scheduled for the holiday week and missing them would be an enormous financial loss -- with little chance of recouping its investment because the musical is on a limited holiday engagement ending Jan. 6.

Disney, too, has a stake in the outcome, even though it is not a member of the league. Two of its musicals, "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid,' are shut, playing in theaters owned by a league member. "The Little Mermaid," which was in previews before the strike, was scheduled to open Dec. 6.

Meanwhile, in an effort to boost business at theater-district restaurants, diners will get a 15% discount from Saturday through Nov. 25. More than 25 restaurants are participating in the special program, designed to draw diners to restaurants that usually see most of their business from theater crowds.

"While we hope that an agreement will be reached as soon as possible, I encourage New Yorkers and visitors to take advantage of this great deal and help support restaurants that have been affected by the strike," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. The list of restaurants is available at www.nycvisit.com.

The stagehands, who include scenery and prop handlers, carpenters, electricians, and lighting and sound technicians, walked off the job Nov. 10 in a contract dispute that has focused on how many stagehands are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running.
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