What's in a word?
Plenty, apparently if the word is "featherbedding" and you're James J. Claffey, Jr., President of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (I.A.T.S.E.), which represents Broadway stagehands union striking The League of American Theatres and Producers since Saturday.
In a news conference yesterday, Claffey said that the union would not return to the bargaining table until The League stopped using that particular word to describe what it believes to be employing of more stagehands than are necessary to load-in a Broadway show. Claffey has also said that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has offered to intervene, but his offer has been declined.
According to Playbill, Claffey also said:
"[The League] tried to provoke us to strike for weeks and weeks and weeks. Why do you implement on a group that you know is capable of taking you on if you don't want them to strike? They wanted public support. . . They implemented on us without bargaining. There's no honor in that. None.
I ask for [the theatregoing public's] understanding. We're fighting for our lives, just as I expect they would [fight for theirs]. . . . This isn't just about us. This is about a middle class job that we're trying to protect. We suggest to the public that's trying to pay for that ticket -- we're trying to keep our wages so we can afford that same ticket that they have to pay for.
We're not going back to the table with that lack of respect. . . . We can't negotiate under those circumstances. . . If I keep seeing featherbedding in the paper, it's just going to enrage my members.
[A]s the shows get so much bigger, they get so much harder [to work], and my members are getting hurt. I can't deal with [the producers'] bottom line, I have to deal with the protection of my members. If there's a four-person piece that needs to be moved, [the producers are] going to want to do it with three. And, I can't count on them because our relationship is not the same as it used to be because their bottom line is more important than keeping the people safe in our theatre.
Right now if you have 32 stagehands on a load-in . . . it requires if you start the call at 8 am and you go to midnight, all 32 stay on from 8 to midnight. We said at 5 o'clock, you can reduce that number to a minimum number that we've decided. They want that minimum number to be lower.
We have made [other] compromises. It's just never enough. We've granted 9 or 10 things. They want 30 or 40. They cannot go through our contract after 121 years in one negotiation and just annihilate us.
We need to defend our families, and we took action. I'm very proud of what my members have chosen to do, and I'm even more proud of our brothers and sisters out there, who understand what we need to do. . . They know it's going to be them next. They're going to go after you if you're not able to protect yourself. I want to demonstrate to everyone in the theatrical community we're going to defend ourselves, and when you need to defend yourselves, we're going to be there with you. . . . We are going to come back to the table at some point. Broadway has to continue, and we know that.
We have an $88,000 annual salary [for department heads at each theatre]. . . if they're working that week. . . .[You] can't say an average salary unless you know exactly how many weeks you're working . . .The $150,000/$1600,000 that I heard yesterday [at the producers' press conference] is not factual. If you build in more hours and you work more time, you can accrue more earnings . . . The majority of people that work in the theatres from Local one [are making] $67,000. We're not going to apologize for the talent and skill that we bring to the table.
Not to be outdone, The League issued a statement from its Executive Director Charlotte St. Martin after the news conference that said in part:
Local One, IATSE, the stagehands union, has shut down Broadway. They left the negotiating table and abruptly went on the picket line. They refused to budge on nearly every issue, protecting wasteful, costly and indefensible rules that are embedded like dead weights in contracts so obscure and old that no one truly remembers how, when or why they were introduced. The union wants you to believe they are the victims, the little guys.
We have the highest regard and respect for our stagehands. But, they are not, as the Union leadership characterizes them, the typical "little guys" as far as compensation is concerned. Their "average annual earnings," in salary and benefits, is more than $150,000, with many stagehands earning more than $200,000.
*They are professionals and should be well paid, and will remain the best paid in this industry in the world. We simply don't want to be compelled to hire more workers than needed and pay them when there is no work for them to do.
These issues can only be resolved at the bargaining table, not on the picket line. We remain prepared to meet 24/7 until we reach an acceptable agreement.
- It takes a few minutes to move a piano, but we are forced to pay stagehands for four hours of work. As a result, over the course of a year, many stagehands add another $50,000 dollars to their six figure salaries from moving pianos or mopping floors.
- Head Electricians earn a six figure salary, but their contract only permits them to work a total of 80 minutes a week.
- A flyman making $160,000 annually in salary and benefits is required for all productions, even when there is no fly cue in the production and no flyman is needed.
- We are required to keep the same number of workers loading in a show as hired on day one for the entire load-in process regardless of how many workers are subsequently needed.
- We have offered a significant raise in wages, but the union says there will be a cut in wages. The only explanation is that this would be the result of fewer people being paid for not working.
OK League. Stop using the "F" word and get back to the bargaining table.
In other developments, Duran Duran moved its show to Roseland Ballroom yesterday.
For the list of shows that remain open during the strike, click here.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Union Of The Snake? Duran Duran Moves Remainder Of Broadway Gig To Roseland (November 11, 2007)
Strike: Day Two (November 11, 2007)
STRIKE! (November 9, 2007)
A Broadway Stagehands Strike Appears Imminent (November 9, 2007)
Roll Up Your Sleeves And Get To Work! (November 7, 2007)
Now That The Union Has Spoken... (October 22, 2007)
It's Unanimous! (October 20, 2007)
D-Day Indeed (October 21, 2007)
$5 Million Per Day (October 19, 2007)
Nederlanders: On Their Own Again? (October 18, 2007)
The Broadway Theatres Not Impacted By Labor Dispute (October 17, 2007)
Bloomberg Appears Ready To Step Into Fray (October 16, 2007)
If You're Holding Tix For Broadway This Week, You're Safe (October 15, 2007)
Stagehands To Vote On Strike...October 21 (October 12, 2007)
The Shows Must Go On...At Least Over Weekend (October 12, 2007)
Still No Lockout (October 12, 2007)
No Lockout Tonight (October 11, 2007)
Lockout Likely (October 10, 2007)
Is This The One For One? (October 9, 2007)
Stagehands' Union Concedes Key Point (October 5, 2007)
Stagehands Talks To Continue This Afternoon (October 5, 2007)
No Monday Lockout (September 29, 2007)
Before The Holidays Strike? (September 25, 2007)
Thanks, Mel! (July 6, 2007)