May 23, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
In the heart of the largest entertainment district in the world and probably one of the highest densities of union workers in the City, Local One stagehands picketed outside a wooden tent on 45th Street between 8th Avenue and Broadway on Tuesday, May 22 to protest the non-union production of the “Empire New York” show.
A gigantic inflated rat stood stoic while non-union workers were hauling in tables and other equipment to prepare for a preview of the show on Tuesday evening. Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees watched as the work progressed, but one union official quipped, “Need help with that?” as the non-union workers tried to push a heavy-weighted pallet into the tent.
The tent, which features a carnival style bar and speakeasy lounge, is being produced by Ross Mollison and David J. Foster. While their publicist, Jaron Caldwell of the O+M Co, would not comment, the two producers wrote in a statement that “We are thrilled to be bringing a circus tent to the heart of midtown, but to be clear: this is not a Broadway show, the tent is not a Broadway house and we don’t charge Broadway prices.”
While the statement might reflect the producers’ justification for not paying union members, the show is being “presented” by The Related Companies, a $15 billion dollar real estate global outfit, and Boston Properties, a $17.7 billion dollar company.
LaborPress asked Bruce Cohen, a Local One spokesman, why weren’t building trade union members standing in solidarity with the stagehands on the picket lines, as Related is a major City employer of tradesmen.
“They’re probably not aware of Related’s role. We just started making other unions aware within the last few hours,” said Cohen.
The stagehands, billing their turnout as one of the largest since the Great Broadway Strike of 2007, were joined by the 1,000-member Teamsters Local 817.
Frank Connolly, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer of Local 817 who has worked in the theatrical industry for the past 35 years, said he and his fellow union members were standing with Local One because “we work together in all the facilities in and around Broadway.”
While Local 817 members load and unload 18-wheelers that contain the necessary equipment used in theatrical productions, Local One members install and construct the lighting and sound equipment that has been dazzling Broadway audiences for over 100 years.
Anthony, an audio technician, who got a call in the morning to work in the tent, said he’s worked alongside union members before but has never worked as a union member.
Asked how he felt about working at a non-union site, Anthony replied, before being whisked away by a supervisor, “I need a job. I was happy when I got the call to go to work.”
LaborPress also asked Cohen was there anything the picketers could do as their work was being done right in front of them.
“We wouldn’t want to stop anybody from gainful employment, but we would welcome the opportunity to speak with that person about the benefits of collective bargaining.” firstname.lastname@example.org