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League to Implement Its Final Offer to Stagehands

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The League of American Theatres and Producers has declared an impasse in its negotiations with stagehands and will begin unilaterally implementing portions of its final offer to the union, league executive director Charlotte St. Martin announced Tuesday night.

St. Martin did not say which portions of the final offer, which was made Oct. 9, would be implemented, only that the process would begin Monday. The stagehands' union, Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is scheduled to hold a strike authorization vote Sunday. If the authorization passes, the stagehands will not necessarily walk out, but they would have the option of doing so.

Bruce Cohen, spokesman for Local One, released the following statement: "We heard about the implementation not from the league but a phone call from Mayor [Michael R.] Bloomberg offering his help. With great admiration and affection for the mayor, Local One respectfully declined his kind offer. Local One is open to continuing its negotiation with the league at any time. We have no indication as to what work rules they will impose, and will take no action prior to a meeting of our membership Sunday. Additionally, we would never blind-side the theatregoing public."

The league has been seeking to reduce the number of stagehands and/or work hours required to set up and run Broadway shows. In exchange, it has offered a 16 percent wage increase over five years and other inducements. Local One has been tightlipped throughout the negotiating process and has not publicly announced exactly what it wants. Local One president James J. Claffey Jr. has said only that the union "would accept no cuts."

If the stagehands strike, it is unclear what the other Broadway unions will do. Claffey and other Local One officials met with Actors' Equity Association, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, and other Broadway guilds Sept. 29 to seek their support in the event of a lockout. A spokeswoman for Local 802 said the musicians' union would have no comment. Equity is currently weighing its options, according to spokeswoman Maria Somma.

Though it is quite possible the other unions would not cross a Local One picket line, it is not certain. The last work stoppage on Broadway came in 2003, when Local 802 staged a four-day strike that Local One and Equity honored.

The league and stagehands have been negotiating continuously, at times intently, since their contract expired July 31. Unconfirmed rumors had suggested the league would stage a lockout if Local One refused the producers' final offer. When final offers were exchanged and rejected last week, Broadway continued to operate as usual but the talks were pitched into limbo, with many people inside and outside the New York theatre community uncertain what would happen next. With the league's latest step, however, things could begin to move more swiftly.

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