New York, NY – Casting directors responsible for some of the Great White Way’s most lucrative shows, marched on the Broadway League’s 7th Avenue offices on Monday morning, in open defiance of the organization’s tough talk and mulish refusal to bargain for healthcare and pension benefits.
“There has been some small progress, [but] there is still a lot of ridiculous and pointless resistance,” Broadway casting director Will Cantler told LaborPress this week. “It’s just very frustrating to have producers continue to want us to jump as high as they like at every given moment. But not show us the respect of a contract, and not show us the respect of health insurance and decent work rules.”
Unlike the rest of the unionized artists and craftspeople who have helped Broadway generate more than $1.4 billion in revenue this year, casting directors who belong to Teamsters Local 817 do not enjoy a collectively bargained contract with healthcare and pension benefits spelled out.
Instead of collectively bargaining with the union, the producers, theater owners and general managers who comprise the 700-member Broadway League, decided to intimidate Local 817 casting directors against further action when they rallied outside Radio City Music Hall during Tony Awards season this past June.
“They deserve unionization — It’s ridiculous at this point,” Council Member Daniel Dromm [D-25th District] said on Monday morning.
Dromm, along with Council Members Brad Lander [D-39th District] and Jimmy Van Bramer [D-26th District] — chair of the Cultural Affairs Committee — assured casting directors and their many supporters that the City Council is backing them one-hundred-percent.
“Casting directors are workers, too,” Council Member Van Bramer said. “And everybody should share in the joy and the wealth and the miracle that Broadway is. Even in Donald Trump’s America — workers matter.”
In addition to Council Members Dromm, Lander and Van Bramer, casting directors rallying outside the Broadway League’s 7th Avenue offices also included Tino Gagliardi, president of Local 802 AFM, Anthony DePaulo, from the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds and Demos P. Demopoulos, secretary-treasurer, Teamsters Joint Council 16, as well as other labor leaders in the industry.
Talent Agent Ashely Landay, presently fighting Stage 4 breast cancer, said that she knows only too well how vital healthcare is to casting directors, and urged the Broadway League to “sit down and have a conversation.”
“We have the capacity to do it, we have the availability to do it, we have the support to do it — so, why don’t we do it?” Landay said. “We need to sit down and have a conversation with our leaders in the league and say this is what we need and why — that’s how it starts.”
The Broadway League continues to insist that Local 817 casting directors are independent contractors, and therefore not eligible for healthcare and pension benefits — a claim often echoed across many different industries by owners looking to skirt workplace protections.
“Twelve years ago, the Hollywood studios made the same arguments to casting directors in TV and feature films,” Local 817 President Tom O’Donnell said. “But they came to understand the vital contributions that those people make.”
Advocates argue that just a few cents from the average $100-plus theater ticket could cover healthcare and pension benefits for casting directors.
“I’m old enough to remember an America where benefits like health insurance, pension and welfare, were American worker rights,” casting director Tara Rubin said. “That you grew up in a family where your dad had insurance; he saved a little money; you went to college; and you had a good American life. I want the generation of casting directors who are coming up now to have the opportunity to have that kind of life.”
Cantler said the he wants to make Broadway stronger than ever by cultivating younger and more diverse talents in casting — but that won’t happen if the Broadway League continues to shirk its responsibilities.
“We cannot look to the future of our business, and build diversity, and build new voices into this business if we don’t create working conditions that allow people to get in without the barrier of having to find outside health insurance,” Cantler said. “I call on the Broadway League to sit down and talk to us. Make this right. Be American,
[and] build the future. Build diversity — and let’s make our business stronger than ever.”