By Michael Kuchwara
Striking stagehands and theater producers traded accusations but not much else as the work stoppage that has shut down more than two dozen Broadway shows entered its third day Monday.
James J. Claffey Jr., president of Local One, fired the first salvo Sunday, declaring that the stagehands would remain off the job until producers started acting "honorably" at the negotiating table.
Speaking at a somber news conference, Claffey said the League of Theatres and Producers needs to make a "constructive" adjustment to its counter offers.
"We want respect at the table," he said. "If there's no respect, they will not see Local One at the table. The lack of respect is something we are not going to deal with."
Shot back Charlotte St. Martin, the league's executive director: Local One "left the negotiating table and abruptly went on the picket line."
She said the union "refused to budge on nearly every issue, protecting wasteful, costly and indefensible rules that are embedded like dead weights in contracts so obscure and old that no one truly remembers how, when or why they were introduced. The union wants you to believe they are the victims, the little guys."
The dispute has focused on numbers rather than wages — how many people are required to get a production up and running. The producers want to keep the number flexible, depending on a show's individual requirements; the union has been specific in its personnel demands — how many people and how long are they required to work.
Local One includes more than just the men who move the scenery; it also represents a show's electricians, carpenters and sound people.
"We simply don't want to be compelled to hire more workers than needed and pay them when there is no work for them to do," St. Martin said.
The stagehands say their benefits have been hard-won and that they won't give them up without something in return.
"We are being attacked," Claffey said. "We're fighting for our lives. ... A middle-class job we're trying to protect."
Both sides have not talked since Thursday. The strike started two days later, closing 27 shows including "The Lion King," "Wicked," "Rent," "The Phantom of the Opera," Jersey Boys" and "Mamma Mia!"
The lengthy negotiations, which began over the summer, have been acrimonious as both sides sharpened their positions on what has proved to be the thorniest issues: work rules and staffing requirements.
On Sunday, pickets again walked quietly in front of struck theaters in the normally crowded area west of Times Square. Pedestrians were few. Still, theatergoers could be found at the few shows that were still open because their theaters have separate contracts with the league. The productions include "Young Frankenstein," "Mary Poppins," "Xanadu" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Four other shows — "Pygmalion," "The Ritz," "Mauritius" and "Cymbeline" — also were open because they were playing at nonprofit theaters.
The same-day discount ticket booths in Times Square and at the South Street Seaport remained open, serving the Broadway shows unaffected by the walkout as well as all off-Broadway productions, which were up and running.
No new negotiations have been scheduled, and resumption of talks appears uncertain. Mayor Michael Bloomberg again offered his assistance on Sunday, saying "the city will do everything it can to help."
There were lines Sunday at the Times Square location, but it was not as crowded as usual. A sign said there were no Broadway shows available and suggested off-Broadway options.
Perry Welch, in town from Seattle, was in line hoping to get tickets to "The Fantasticks" or "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."
"We had tickets for 'Rent,' (but) that's not going to happen," he said.
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