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Broadway To Begin Labor Talks

Broadway To Begin Labor Talks

New York Times 4/16/2008


Yes, this again. But no, you probably don’t have to worry about it.

Officials from Actors’ Equity Association, the union representing actors and stage managers, are scheduled to begin contract talks with Broadway producers and theater owners on Friday. But officials from both sides said these negotiations were not likely to be as contentious as last year’s talks with the stagehands’ union, which culminated in a 19-day strike that shut down most of Broadway.

To the surprise of many producers, John P. Connolly, the executive director of Equity, was a fiery defender of the stagehands’ union during the strike, and some producers worried about what his belligerent tone would mean for the Equity talks. But Mr. Connolly has since met one on one with various officials from the Broadway League, which represents the producers and theater owners, and expressed hope that an agreement could be reached before the current contract expires on June 29.

“While there is no such thing as an easy labor negotiation in modern America, we anticipate that this will be a collegial and professional negotiation,” Mr. Connolly said in a statement.

Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the Broadway League, was equally optimistic in her statement: “We anticipate that the Equity talks will proceed with both sides seeking to forge a timely and mutually beneficial agreement.”

The rosy prospects are largely the result of Equity’s big battle with the Broadway League in the last round of contract talks. In 2004, disputes about touring contracts brought the actors’ union to the verge of a strike. That was averted when both sides worked out a system of tiered pay scales that in theory made union labor more affordable for smaller touring productions.

The bargaining this time will be about less earth-shattering topics, according to officials on both sides of the talks. There are still issues to be resolved about the experimental touring rules that were worked out in 2004. Both sides want to cut down on non-Equity tours that are being taken on the road by producers who are not members of the Broadway League. Equity officials also have concerns about stipends for actors on the road and the schedule of promotional work; league members are looking for ways to contain costs on the road.

Both sides are expected to discuss publicity and promotional activities related to Broadway shows as well. The union is likely to propose ways to manage the growing demands on actors’ time for publicity work; the league wants to loosen some of the current restrictions on filmed or recorded promotional work.

Both producers and union officials said they believed that these issues could be worked out without much fanfare, and so the theatergoer can relax — until this winter, that is. That’s when Equity begins negotiations with the League of Resident Theaters, the 75 or so large, nonprofit institutional theaters around the country, including New York powerhouses like Lincoln Center Theater and the Roundabout Theater Company. Those talks will revolve around a completely new set of issues.