Seven individual Locals of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes (IATSE) are giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "organized labor." The Locals have banded together to form a "Broadway Council" that will be able to speak for all members, if the current uncertainty over terrorism and tourism should continue long enough to necessitate future negotiations.
IATSE members have been agreeing to (and in some cases, proactively offering) wage concessions as a way of keeping Broadway musicals running after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Other unions, as well, have consented to salary reductions of 25%—and, in the case of "Kiss Me, Kate," to plow yet another 25% back into the box office as the workers bought tickets for donations to rescue workers—but the communication problem was most difficult for IATSE, whose members work in literally every area of Broadway theatres except upon the stage and in the pit. Local 1 represents stagehands; Local 306 represents ushers; Local 674 represents wardrobe workers; Local 751 represents box office personnel; Local 829 (United Scenic Artists) represents those who paint the sets; Local 798 represents hair and make-up artists; and Local 18032 (the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers) represents press agents and managers.
With such a wide range of employees, it became necessary to form a coalition that could represent all IATSE members in meetings with producers, theater-owners and the League of American Theaters and Producers, according to Local 1 President Ed McConway. "During the recent crisis, producers would invite two or three of the larger stage unions to hurried meetings to find a means to save Broadway shows and union jobs," he said. After the president of the whole union, Tom Short, left it up to the individual Locals whether to grant those producers' requests, the need for the Broadway Council—to "press for the development of a comprehensive plan for marketing, advertising, and labor relations should a similar crisis ever arise again"—became self-evident.
"This crisis brought us together," said McConway. "We found sitting as a collective a positive experience that united us. As organized labor, we learned to become a lot more organized."
According to representative Bruce Cohen, the council will press producers to create a "rainbow fund" that could be used to maintain Broadway shows and union jobs if future events lead to another precipitous drop in Broadway attendance.
The next step will be to offer coalition membership to other stage unions, such as Actors' Equity Association and the American Federation of Musicians Local 802.