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BroadwayWorld Strike Coverage: Unions Speak-Up at Conference

On a cold Sunday afternoon, Veteran's Day November 11, 2007, Local One organized their first press conference to answer questions and give direct-correspondence to members of the media. This opportunity to share their side of the negotiations was held at 1PM in St. Malachy's Catholic Church (239 West 49th Street).

Before the video cameras stood officers of Local One, including President James J. Claffey, union spokesperson Bruce Cohen, Actors' Equity Executive Director John Connolly and Local 802 (musicians' union) representative Bill Dennison; plus Local One officers including Line-Captains, the Negotiating Committee, Business Agents, Financial Security and Treasurer. Behind the podium hung a banner reading: "Theatrical Stage Employees T.P.U. Local One of New York City. Organized April 26, 1886."

In the crowd were union friends and family, wives and children, and several faces of the Broadway community, including musicians and actors. Among them including David Hyde-Pierce, Debra Monk and Karen Ziemba of Curtains, Jeffrey Schecter and Michael Berresse of A Chorus Line, Michele DeJean of Chicago, cast members of Spring Awakening and Legally Blonde) and many more.

Read the Local One pre-Press Conference Announcement here.

The one-hour press conference provided an outlet for Claffey and Local One to explain their position, demands, and plans for progress.  Claffey declined to comment on a time-table for the strike; thus leaving no apparent end in sight.


President James J. Claffey:

"This is everyone's problem on Broadway… We are fighting for our families. We have made a point of not bargaining in the press. We believe that amongst ourselves we can arrive at a deal that's honorable.  That time has passed and it's necessary to defend ourselves in the press because we are being attacked... This did not just happen in the past three days. This is something that's been brewing for months and something we've tried to avoid."

"We have an $88,000 annual salary. Everyone has to keep in mind – that's if you're working 52 weeks a year. That's why we need to protect our job security. If you have a show that runs 3 weeks, we're working 3 weeks. If the house is dark for 3 months, we're not working there. The number lacks facts because that's if you're working 52 weeks a year. You can't say an 'average salary' unless you're working all year.  $150,000 is absolutely not factual… The majority of the people who work in the theatres for Local One, are getting $67,000. We are out there working." 

"We're fighting for the middle-class too.  We're trying to keep our wages so we can afford the same ticket the public has to pay for.  I can't apologize for suggesting that a union is fighting to protect our wages and families and kids. That's exactly what a union does. We happen to have the bargaining strength and capabilities to do so."

"As [The League] continues to say 'feather-bedding' and they keep calling us thieves, we're not going back to the table with that lack of respect. We have told them that it is not the honorable thing to do. We cannot negotiate under those circumstances… it's going to enrage my members. We're going to go back to the table when these people find honor."

"The $5.2 million [strike fund] runs-out when the strike is over. That's a defense fund for everyone in the theatre community affected by this labor dispute."

"After 22 or 23 meetings [with The League], we still go back and forth. We still give and fight; and we keep getting the same things from day one. They need to make a constructive adjustment….They've been trying to provoke us to strike for weeks…They wanted public support. They wanted us on the street. Then they implemented on us without bargaining. There is no honor in that."

"I have spoken to the Mayor several times.  He could not be more of a gentlemen. He's been offering his services but I've respectfully declined.  While we absolutely value the mayor and his intentions we believe that we should make a deal amongst the people.  The best thing we could ask the Mayor is to tell these people that we have a job to do and in 121 years this Local has never struck Broadway, so there must be a problem." 

"When we say there are 'minimums,' it's for our protection and the safety of the theatres that we don't believe are their priorities. Their priorities are the bottom-line. When we have a piece that requires so much weight and so much danger backstage. As the shows get bigger, they get harder. I have to deal with the protection of our members. When there is a piece that requires four-members to be moved, they want to do it with three. We can't count on them and their requirements for the bottom-line."

"We know what we need to achieve and we're willing to get there. There's a price to pay. Right now, we're not willing to pay that price.  You want us to live with a strike for three or four weeks? What they're implementing is something we'd have to live with for three or four decades. We have a future to protect for our children.  We have a future to protect for everyone we have responsibilities for. The future for the other unions as well."

"We are 8% the price of a ticket. They raise their ticket prices to $450 dollars, we don't get a raise. If we have one theatre with a huge amount of stagehands and that show becomes a hit – we get paid the same of a show that isn't a hit. We can't apologize for the product. We want every show to succeed. We're providing a service. We shouldn't get less from one theatre than another theatre because the show is not a good product."

Bill Dennison representing Local 802:

"I believe the responsibility for this work-stoppage on Broadway rests clearly in the hands of The League. You're dealing with a Local with an over one-hundred year history of never striking on Broadway. They've always found a way to reach an agreement with The League. What's different this time is you have a group on the other side of the table who are determined to turn the theatre-business into a profit-making machine…"

"Our worry is that they are driving this industry over a cliff in the search for greater and greater profits at the expense of those who work in the theatres. We are concerned about safety! Our members work in the bottom of the theatre, in the orchestra pit. Those of you who have been in these theatres, you know the kind of equipment that is moving around backstage, that is flying over our heads. We want to make sure those theatres are safe and the confidence we have in the Local One members to run that theatre is what makes our members feel secure."

"Four years ago the stagehands were standing side-by-side with us in our effort to protect live theatre and live music on Broadway. We succeeded because of the solidarity of the other unions. Not because the other side of the table was trying to protect what we were fighting to protect.  I believe that the unions on Broadway, all of us are going to stand side-by-side with the stagehands until this is solved in a way until the members of that proud union are satisfied. And we will continue to be there with them."

John Connolly Executive Director of Actors' Equity Association:

"We are not riff-raff. Whether you're moving a piece of scenery or controlling a sophisticated digital sound board. Whether you're dancing or acting or moving wardrobe from one side of the stage to the other.  This is a highly sophisticated collaborative art that is peopled by professional workers from top to bottom."

"When you have an industry on Broadway where you jam tons and tons of 21st century technology into 19th century buildings, it takes skill, it takes courage, it takes consistency and it takes professionalism and collaboration and that's what makes the magic of the theatre."

"The theatres are not the four-walls on these many streets. The theatres are not the management offices. The theatres are not the advertisements in The New York Times. The theatres are the men and women here today working with the audiences who come to see the work we do.  We regret that these theatres are closed. We are sorry that we are not where we want to be; on-stage entertaining our audiences eight shows or more a week. That's what we do. That's what we live for."

"We didn't shut the theatres. We didn't make $100 ticket prices. We didn't say it is our mission to refashion the economics of the theatre industry. The employers did that. And while they were misquoting the actual wages of real people are, in their news conference yesterday, I did not notice one single person in that news conference tell you how much they make!"

"To get these theatres back on-stage where they belong, and these men and women backstage where they belong, and the orchestras in the pit where they belong is to sit down in an honorable fashion and negotiate with honor. Not walk out of negotiations on October 10 and proclaim that you're going to impose your terms. That is not negotiation."

"I think it's remarkable here in the United States today that what seems weird to some people is that working people will actually stand-up and defend themselves."

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