Stagehands, League Fight Over Nederlanders

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The union for Broadway stagehands and the League of American Theatres and Producers issued dueling press releases Thursday evening in an attempt to spin in their favor a lack of action by a third party: the Nederlander Organization, which owns nine Broadway theatres and is not part of the league.

On Tuesday night, the league announced it had reached an impasse with the union, Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and that it would begin to implement portions of its final offer unilaterally, beginning Monday. Local One will hold a vote Sunday seeking strike authorization from its rank-and-file members. (A vote for authorization does not necessarily mean the stagehands would strike; it merely gives them the power to do so.)

On Thursday, Local One issued a press release stating the Nederlanders would not impose new rules mandated by the league. "The Nederlander Organization ... will not be joining the League of American Theatres and Producers' call to implement onerous work rules on Local One," wrote Bruce Cohen, spokesman for Local One.

"With a third of the Broadway houses either not participating or not affected by the producers' call for the implementation of onerous work rules for the 350 to 500 stage technicians on Broadway," the statement continued, "the producers' effort to maintain a unified front is crumbling."

Representatives for the Nederlanders could not be reached immediately.

Though they are participating in the talks as observers, the Nederlanders have their own contract with Local One that is still active. Because they are not an impasse, they do not have the legal authority to implement new work rules unilaterally, a point that was made by Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the league, in her own press release that followed 90 minutes after Local One's.

"We have been authorized by the Nederlander Organization to state that they have reviewed and are strongly supportive of each proposal made by the league and that they intend to seek the same objectives in their own negotiations with Local One," St. Martin said.

High noon for the long-running labor situation, which began July 31 when Local One's contract with the league expired, could come as early as Sunday, when the strike-authorization vote is scheduled. The league is scheduled to put its new work rules into effect Monday.

If Local One were to strike, chances are the other unions, including Actors' Equity Association and Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, would honor the picket line and much of Broadway would go dark. Equity and Local One honored the musicians' four-day strike in late winter of 2003. City officials played a part in mediating a compromise, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made an official offer to do the same this time, but Local One president James J. Claffey Jr. has declined so far.

Broadway contributes $5 billion annually in direct and indirect revenue to the city, and theatre is on the cusp of its most lucrative portion of the calendar: the Christmas tourist and shopping season. Bloomberg, and almost everyone connected to Broadway, fears a lengthy work stoppage.

If there is a strike or lockout, not all of Broadway would shutter. Theatres run by nonprofit companies -- American Airlines, the Biltmore, Studio 54, and Vivian Beaumont -- would continue to operate, as would the Hilton Theatre, which is a nonleague venue. Disney, which owns and operates the New Amsterdam, has its own contract with Local One and is not part of the league. It also seems the Nederlanders' theatres, which include the Gershwin, Minskoff, and Palace, would continue to operate.
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