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Casting Director and Broadway League Rift Deepens Over Unionizing Efforts

Casting Director and Broadway League Rift Deepens Over Unionizing Efforts
Photo Source: Isabelle Lichtenstein

The dispute between the Broadway League and Broadway casting directors appears to be escalating.

Amidst casting directors’ efforts to unionize in order to receive benefits including health care plans and pensions, the Broadway League has made clear its willingness take legal action, not just against casting directors, but against unions supporting them, as well. 

Broadway’s casting directors—of which there are approximately 40—have worked alongside the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 817, attempting to strike a contractual agreement with the Broadway League that would be similar to those held by union-represented facets of the business including actors, designers, musicians, and stage managers.

The League has refuted the movement, stating that casting directors are not employed by productions themselves. “Like other outside agencies, including general managers, advertising agencies, accountants and lawyers, who are also intimately involved with a show and whose collaborations we also value, casting companies are engaged as independent contractors,” the League recently said in a statement to Backstage.

Days before the 2017 Tony Awards, more than 100 casting directors and allies, including high-profile casting forces Bernie Telsey and Tara Rubin, rallied outside of Radio City Music Hall, demanding their requests be heard. The event also kicked off a social media campaign using the hashtag #FairnessForCasting, that has been heavily circulated by big-name stars including Bette Midler and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

In response to the rally, Broadway League attorney Bernard Plum wrote to attorney Stuart W. Davidson, representing Local 817, ordering an end to striking, as well as efforts on social media, lest charges by filed.

“[E]arlier today, Local 817 organized and led a picket line of more than 100 people in front of Radio City Music Hall, the sole purpose of which was to pressure League members to recognize the Union,” Plum wrote on June 8 in the letter, attained by Deadline. “The Union’s conduct must stop immediately.... Such collective action, undertaken for the purpose of increasing the cost of casting director services, is a per se violation of the antitrust laws.... Local 817 must cease and desist from any further picketing, publicity campaign, rally, or social media activities....If any such conduct occurs, the League and/or its members will file charges with the National Labor Relations Board.”

In a separate letter to attorneys representing four prominent Broadway unions, Plum clarified further. “League productions will not undertake an obligation to bargain over employment terms of employees of those companies any more than they would agree to bargain over the employment terms of employees of the numerous other independent businesses that they deal with, such as general managers, marketing companies or advertising agencies,” he wrote. “[W]e want to make sure you are aware of our view that—to the extent they participate in activities supportive of Local 817—your clients stand in the shoes of that union, which means that any interruption of work, including a sympathy strike or refusal to cross a Local 817 picket line, would be unlawful under both the NLRA and federal and state antitrust laws, and would subject your clients to significant monetary liability.”

Local 817 president Tom O’Donnell responded to Plum’s letters: “Just like Donald Trump, Broadway producers need to learn that you can’t threaten to sue everyone who disagrees with you,” he said. “We are talking about healthcare and retirement for 40 people in an industry that grossed $1.5 billion last year. It’s time for Broadway producers to come to the table and treat the casting directors who work for them with respect.”

In addition to Midler and Miranda, casting directors have received sprawling industry support from cast members in 20 currently-running Broadway productions including “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Hamilton,” “Waitress,” and “The Book of Mormon.”

Questions about the unions? Learn more about Actors’ Equity Association here.

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