Broadway Stagehand Strike Ends Broadway stagehands and theater producers reach a tentative agreement to end a strike and almost immediately return to the stage most of the two dozen plays and musicals that have been shut down for more than two weeks. The settlement came after months of negotiations.
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Steve Inskeep and Jeff Lunden discuss the end of the stagehands strike on Morning Edition

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Broadway Stagehand Strike Ends

Steve Inskeep and Jeff Lunden discuss the end of the stagehands strike on Morning Edition

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All of Broadway will be back in business tonight. For nearly three weeks, most Broadway theaters have been dark because of a strike but stagehands and theater producers late last night reached a tentative agreement.

Jeff Lunden has been following this strike. And Jeff, what broke the deadlock?

JEFF LUNDEN: Well, the pressure to resolve the differences was really high because it's the middle of the holiday season, which is traditionally Broadway's biggest moneymaker. And just to give you a sense, last Thanksgiving week Broadway brought in about $23 million in box office. And this year only nine shows were playing and they brought in about six million. So the producers really needed to stanch the bleeding. And the stagehands, actors, musicians and all the other workers on Broadway were only getting minimal strike benefits. So everybody was really starting to feel the hurt.

INSKEEP: This is a business that people love to point out hardly ever seems to make any sense as a business and it seems to have been making even less sense in recent days. So why did the stagehands walk out?

LUNDEN: Well, the main issue was a series of work rules that have been negotiated over the decades. And they determine how many stagehands are hired to load sets into theaters and how many stagehands work backstage, the length of calls before and after shows. And the producers wanted flexibility to hire only the stagehands that they felt they needed. And the stagehands wanted to make sure that safety wasn't compromised and that there was some sort of equal exchange for the inevitable loss of jobs.

Now, when the agreement was announced, neither side divulged any specific detail. Here's what Charlotte St. Martin, who's the executive director of the League of American Theatres and Producers, said in a press conference on Wednesday night.

Ms. CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN (League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc.): The agreement is a good compromise that serves our industry. What is most important is that Broadway's lights will once again be shining brightly.

LUNDEN: So she said it's a good compromise but she didn't really say what compromises were made. Some inside sources tell me that both sides finally came to terms last Sunday over the work rules, and that the last couple of days were mainly all about coming to terms on a raise in salary over the course of the next five years.

And as a matter of fact, James Claffey Jr., the president of Local One, which is the stagehands union, didn't address this issue either. He gave a very brief statement at the press conference and it was clearly meant for his members.

Mr. JAMES CLAFFEY JR. (President, Local One): Brothers and sisters of Local One, you've represented yourselves and your families and your union proud. That's enough said right there.

(Soundbite of applause)

INSKEEP: So neither side is saying precisely what this agreement about, only that there has been an agreement. And let's talk about what happens next, Jeff. Last night people didn't know when or if they'd be going back to work, and all of a sudden they know they've got a show tonight.

LUNDEN: That's right. All 34 shows are scheduled to open tonight, and it's going to be quite a logistical feat to get everything up and running again. There are probably going to be some rehearsal calls this afternoon. The box offices have to re-open. And there's going to be a real scramble among producers to find new opening dates for shows that were in previews when the strike hit. Among them: Aaron Sorkin's new play "The Farnsworth Invention"; "August: Osage County," which is a transfer from the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago; and Disney's stage version of "The Little Mermaid."

INSKEEP: And they're going to race back to the stage even though the union hasn't formally ratified this contract?

LUNDEN: That's right. The stagehands union has 10 days in which to go over the contract, meet and vote to ratify it.

INSKEEP: So if you're worried about that and you really want to see a show, now is the time.

LUNDEN: That's right.

INSKEEP: Jeff, thanks very much.

LUNDEN: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Reporter Jeff Lunden is in New York, where the Broadway stagehands strike has ended.

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