Talks Stall as Broadway Strike Presses into Day 3 The stagehands' strike on Broadway shut down more than two dozen shows over the weekend. Producers say the union forces them to hire people who do little or no work at wages that can hover around $100,000 a year. Union representatives say they are willing to offer some concessions.

Talks Stall as Broadway Strike Presses into Day 3

Talks Stall as Broadway Strike Presses into Day 3

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The stagehands' strike on Broadway shut down more than two dozen shows over the weekend. Producers say the union forces them to hire people who do little or no work at wages that can hover around $100,000 a year. Union representatives say they are willing to offer some concessions.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let us move from news of Venezuela's great political showman to the lack of shows in New York City. The stagehand's strike on Broadway shut down more than two dozen shows over the weekend.

Yesterday, members of the stagehand's union spoke to the press for the first time in a suitably theatrical way.

Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: James Claffey Jr., president of Local One, the stagehand's union, stood on the podium of St. Malachy's Church, known as the actor's chapel, in the heart of the theater district. He was flanked by a dozen union board members in identical union jackets. Behind him was a giant freeze of Jesus on the cross, and Claffey was angry.

Mr. JAMES CLAFFEY JR. (President, Local One): We have made a point of not bargaining in the press. We believe it's inappropriate. We believe that amongst ourselves that we can come up with a deal that's honorable. And we believe that that time has passed and it's necessary to defend ourselves in the press because we are being attacked.

LUNDEN: Both sides are at loggerheads over decades-old work rules. The producers claim the union forces them to hire people who do little or no work and pay wages that can hover around $100,000 a year.

The union is willing to offer concessions, says Claffey, but they need to look after their members in an industry that's highly unpredictable.

Mr. CLAFFEY JR.: $115,000 or whatever number you come up with at the end of the day, is if you're working 52 weeks a year - that's why we need to protect the job security that we have. You have a show that runs for three weeks. We're working for three weeks and then we're loading it out. If the house is dark for three months, we're not working there for three months.

LUNDEN: It's here that producers and stagehands agree. The League of American Theaters and Producers say that only one out of five Broadway shows makes money.

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the league, told NPR last month that the producers are trying to control costs they feel have gotten out of hand.

Ms. CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN (Executive Director, The League of American Theaters and Producers): In the past, a successful show would take six months to recoup their investment. Today, it takes almost two years, so a lot of even successful shows are not able to continue running because they just can't continue to fund the losses. So we have to get rid of these archaic rules.

LUNDEN: And two weeks ago, after negotiations with the stagehands broke down, the producers took matters into their own hands and implemented new work rules without the union's approval.

Union president James Claffey says that made a strike inevitable.

Mr. CLAFFEY JR.: If we accept what they're trying to do, you know, you want us live with a strike for three or four weeks or three or four months, what they're implementing is something we'd have to live with for three or four decades.

LUNDEN: While both sides insist they're willing to be flexible and willing to negotiate a new five-year deal, no further talks have been scheduled. And Broadway, New York's number one tourist attraction, remains dark.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

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Broadway Stagehands Go on Strike

Broadway Stagehands Go on Strike

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Broadway stagehands walk a picket line Nov. 10, 2007, in front of the Broadhurst Theater in New York. Stand Honda/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Stand Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Broadway stagehands walk a picket line Nov. 10, 2007, in front of the Broadhurst Theater in New York.

Stand Honda/AFP/Getty Images

After months of bitter negotiation, Broadway's stagehands went on strike Saturday, shutting down most shows on the Great White Way.

At about 10 a.m., the picket lines started appearing in front of Broadway theaters. Charlotte St. Martin, who represents the producers, said the stagehands really knew how to hit Broadway where it hurt.

"The first show they chose to strike was How the Grinch Stole Christmas," St. Martin said. "And we realized that it was just very appropriate that that's the first one that they would do it for, because they are like the Grinch, stealing the magic of Broadway to all the children and families who are here to see Broadway shows and to kick off their holiday season."

Of course, who the Grinch is, is up to interpretation. Broadway's stagehands — the backstage workers who install and operate the sets, lights and props in theaters — have been working without a contract since July. Negotiations have been tense and have broken off a couple of times.

The dispute is over long-established work rules which the producers say are archaic and expensive. Officials of Local One, the stagehand's union, would not speak to the press, but handed out leaflets to Broadway patrons saying "theater owners and producers are demanding a 38 percent cut in our jobs and wages."

But try telling that to the thousands of patrons who came to New York to catch a Broadway show this weekend, like Emily Weissberg from Raleigh, N.C.

"We were planning to see The Drowsy Chaperone for my mother's 50th birthday, that I planned over a month ago," Weisseberg said. Asked how she felt about the strike, she said, "Really angry."

In all, 28 shows are affected by the strike, including some of Broadway's biggest hits, like Wicked, Hairspray and The Phantom of the Opera. Eight shows will continue to perform - among them Young Frankenstein and Mary Poppins - because they play in theaters that aren't covered by the expired contract.

Some shows are already feeling the pain, Grinch producer James Sanna said.

"We just opened last night," he said. "We had a fantastic opening, great notices, and we wake up this morning to find out that [there will] be no performances. We have four shows scheduled for today and 6,000 people were coming to the theater and it's very, very disappointing that we have to turn them away."

And some smaller shows could even close, said St. Martin, of the League of American Theaters and Producers.

"Certainly, the shows that don't have advance sales or who are teetering on even breaking even will be challenged by a lengthy strike," she said.

And many other businesses will be affected, from hotels to restaurants to parking garages — an estimated $17 million a day. As curtain time for the matinees approached, the cast members of Broadway's shows assembled in front of theaters in solidarity with the stagehands.

Tony winner and television star David Hyde Pierce stood under the marquee of the show he's starring in, Curtains.

"We're here to support our fellow workers in the stagehand's union, first of all, because these guys literally have our lives in their hands every night," the actor said. "And we're also here because we hate strikes and we think this is a terrible way to do business."

Unfortunately for Hyde Pierce and his fellow cast members, no new negotiations have been scheduled between the stagehands and producers, so the curtain won't raise on Curtains in the near future.