The illegal transit strike of 2005 did not quite go according to the transit union’s plans. Deep, dark blue New York City quickly lost patience with TWU 100, rewarding the despised MTA a PR draw with the union. The stagehands union Local One might be heading towards a similar fate if they make good on threats to strike. The critical issue at stake, as defined by Patrick Pacheco on NY1’s On-Stage a few weeks ago: “featherbedding.”
Both sides seem to agree the single biggest sticking points are current work rules requiring excess (producers claim) stagehands above and beyond the needs of shows. According to the League of American Theaters and Producers' Charlotte St. Martin: "Were the League to accept the final offer dictated by Local One, the Local One labor costs for new plays and musicals would rise by 30% for new musicals and 44% for new plays, over the life of the contract." In the long run, these production costs will make it ever less likely riskier productions like the recently closed Grey Gardens will make it to Broadway. Instead, theater patrons could expect future seasons chocked full of safe but dull Disney and Hollywood adaptations.
So far, Local One has not appeared to be as publicity conscious, posting no press releases or letters to theater patrons on their website (but according their newsletter, they just held a successful golf tournament fundraiser for their PAC). They “respectfully declined” Mayor Bloomberg’s offers to help facilitate negotiations. Most of their statements in press reports refer to the revenue generated by Broadway’s blockbuster shows (conversely, producers point to an 80% failure rate for new shows). Variety reports the local is formulating justifications for striking without the required approval from the international, which indicates a disconnect between the two.
If Local One does strike, will New Yorkers rally to their cause? So far, they have not really taken their case to the people, but defending unnecessary “featherbedding” is a tough case to make. Of course, it will not just be producers who suffer. The real economic pain will be felt by restaurants, shop owners, and hotels that cater to the Broadway tourist trade, hardships which the union has yet to acknowledge.