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The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ management and IATSE-affiliated stagehands have reached a new three-year contract agreement, avoiding a potential strike that would have seen the union picket Hadestown and possibly other upcoming productions.
Ratified by the union’s membership at a meeting Saturday, the new deal establishes COVID-19 protocols for protecting Kennedy Center workers and creates two new positions in the union’s bargaining unit. It also covers compensation increases, with a wage freeze in the first year, followed by slight bumps in compensation during years two and three.
The union also secured jurisdictional rights for the REACH, a new wing of the performing arts center, with the Kennedy Center’s management gaining some added flexibility for staffing load-out calls.
“This was a long hard slog, but we now have a contract we can live with that protects our members and gives the Kennedy Center the relief it needs to recover from the pain caused by the pandemic,” IATSE Local 22 President David McIntyre said in a statement. “We could not accept the Kennedy Center’s managers using the pandemic as leverage to gut our contract and we would not go along with the fiction that an expansion of the building wasn’t part of the Kennedy Center.”
On Thursday, IATSE Local 22 voted to allow a potential strike amid contract talks lasting 16 months. The authorization vote occurred in response to management threatening to cut backstage employees’ wages by 40 percent and remove certain positions, with other negotiations centered on health and safety arrangements and scheduling information for workers, according to IATSE.
Kennedy Center’s vice president of public relations, Eileen Andrews, said that talks on Wednesday had “stalled over a single issue” following an agreement between the Center and the union on wages, benefits and COVID-19 protocols. That issue was about jurisdictional rights for the REACH, which Andrews said the union had demanded Center management agree to require “the Kennedy Center to exclusively use IATSE stagehands for not only events held at the Center, but also in programming we present beyond our campus.”
Financial difficulties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic landed the Kennedy Center in a $9 million deficit for the 2021 fiscal year, with a projected $7 million deficit in 2022, according to Andrews.
Per the union, during the 16-month bargaining process, the center’s management took the stance that the REACH wing should be considered a separate facility that could be staffed by lower-wage, non-union labor. They also said the Kennedy Center sought to eliminate jobs and end Sunday overtime pay. IATSE members had offered to take a 10 percent wage cut, along with other changes, during the pandemic.
Now that an agreement has been reached and the contract ratified, the potential strike has been averted. A strike would would have resulted in the cancellation or postponement of the Broadway musical Hadestown, which is slated to begin its run Oct. 13
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