Broadway stagehand strike comes to end

Times Staff Writer

A crippling strike that had shut down most Broadway shows in the heart of the holiday season ended late Wednesday night as striking stagehands finally hammered out a new contract with theater owners and producers.

The strike, which had entered its 19th day and drained millions of dollars in revenue from the theater district, was settled after a 12-hour bargaining session that had begun Wednesday morning between the League of American Theaters and Producers and members of Local 1, representing about 3,000 stagehands.

“We are pleased to announce that we have a tentative agreement with Local 1 ending the Broadway strike,” said Charlotte St. Martin, the league’s executive director. “The agreement is a good compromise that serves our industry. The most important thing is that Broadway’s lights will once again be shining.”


St. Martin, who emerged to cheers from the Midtown law offices where negotiations had been held since Monday, announced that the 26 Broadway shows temporarily shuttered by the strike would resume performances today. Plans have yet to be announced, however, for new shows whose openings were delayed, including “The Little Mermaid” and “The Farnsworth Invention.”

As he left the final bargaining session, Local 1 President James Claffey held up one finger signaling victory, and stagehands gathered outside broke into cheers. “Brothers and sisters of Local 1, you represent yourselves, and your families and your union proud,” he said. “That’s enough said, right there.”

Few observers expected the strike to last as long as it did, recalling that Broadway’s last strike, a 2003 work stoppage by musicians, was settled in four days. But both sides dug in their heels, even as the strike all but wiped out the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday week, which has traditionally been Broadway’s second most profitable week of the year.

Nine shows were able to remain open during the strike, because they had signed separate labor agreements with Local 1. But most other Broadway productions, plus restaurants, tourist shops, parking garages and other businesses in the theater district, took a major economic hit. Prominent local restaurants, such as Sardi’s, said their business had fallen off 30% to 35%. New York officials estimated the strike was costing the city $2 million a day.

It was not clear how the work stoppage would affect shows that had been struggling at the box office. But several productions that had been thriving announced plans to lure customers back immediately: Producers for “Chicago” announced they would offer all remaining tickets to tonight’s performance for $26.50. Tickets for the show typically cost as much as $111.50.

“We’re so happy that this is over,” said Bruce Cohen, a spokesman for the union. “Now everyone should go back to work -- and everyone should go see a Broadway show.”


None of the principals would comment on the terms of tentative settlement, which must be ratified by the local union, a branch of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, within 10 days. The key sticking points had focused on the number of stagehands required to work on Broadway shows.

From the beginning, the league had argued that the previous contract, which expired July 31, had required it to hire too many employees, an arrangement that some likened to featherbedding.

But Local 1 members contended that the league’s proposed cutbacks threatened workplace safety and jeopardized hard-won jobs.

In recent days, sources close to the negotiations said both sides had found common ground on the most contentious issue, involving the “load-in” period, when stagehands install a new show in a theater. One by one, the talks resolved other issues, including the question of “continuity pay,” for those periods when stagehands work before and after their scheduled work shifts, as well as the amount of a wage increase being sought by the union.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose offer to help mediate the strike was twice declined by Local 1, hailed the settlement as “great news,” expressing the hope that the industry would recover in time for the upcoming holidays.

John Connelly, president of the local Actor’s Equity, told reporters that news of the settlement was announced during the curtain calls for Wednesday night’s performance of “Young Frankenstein.”


The audience broke into enthusiastic applause, he said, adding: “I know that I speak for everyone when I say, I couldn’t be happier.”