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Philly Stagehand Strike Continues

Philly Stagehand Strike Continues
Photo Source: Dustin Slaughter

The stagehand strike in Philadelphia continues to rage on. Negotations between the Philadelphia Theatre Company and Local 8 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the union representing its 27 stagehands, dissolved Jan. 22 after six hours, PTC Artistic Director Sara Garonzik told Backstage.

According to a statement from Garonzik, both parties have made some progress but have yet to reach a resolution. The union hasn’t confirmed if they will meet to continue talks tomorrow.

The stagehands reportedly walked out Jan. 16 and their strike started Friday, Jan. 18, with a picket line in front of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, where the not-for-profit Philadelphia Theatre Co. is in residence. A Jan. 18 preview performance of “The Mountaintop,” Katori Hall’s play that imagines Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last night before his assassination, was canceled as a result.

Negotiations continued over the weekend but broke off before the Jan. 20 matinee preview performance of “The Mountaintop,” which was apparently conducted without stagehands. The show is now expected to continue its run “without elaborate tech,” Garonzik said, until the stagehands return to work.

The union says it is battling the theater company’s “unrestricted right to hire as many non-union workers as they decide” to perform duties covered by the union’s jurisdiction. PTC’s stagehands secured union representation for the first time last year, but the agreement expired in November. And while an interim agreement was reached last fall, says Philadelphia Theatre Co.’s managing director Shira Beckerman, it has since expired.

“We will continue our efforts to negotiate a reasonable contract that is fair to all parties,” said Garonzik in her statement. “It is baffling that, while we are honoring the legacy about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who urged cooperation and consensus, the union is unsuccessfully attempting to disrupt this production with the stagehands’ union walkout.”

“The management of the Philadelphia Theatre Company is guilty of hypocrisy in putting on a show about the last days of Dr. Martin Luther King—a man who lived and died for the cause of social justice—at the same time they are threatening the job security of the men and women who make the theatre work,” Local 8 spokesman Frank Keel said in a statement. “IATSE Local 8 is walking in Dr. King's footsteps by walking the picket line in protest of the Philadelphia Theatre Company's anti-worker policies.”

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