Sunday, October 07, 2007

I'm a bad motherfucker now but I once was cool...

I wonder if anyone reading this knows what that title line is from. It's totally unrelated to theater.

Anyway... I’m back! And, while I’m not caught up on everything in the world quite yet, I couldn’t sleep well if I did not discuss the Local One/League negotiations.

So Local One and the League have agreed to another negotiation session to take place on Tuesday, October 9. That’s where we are.

I’ve heard from a bunch of people that there is a Bloomberg story saying the union is bending, but I’m not reading that story (a previous Bloomberg story completely misrepresented where information came from, so, for a couple of months I just won’t read that outlet). I’ve heard from my people on both sides of the aisle that there has been some agreement, but things are still very, very contentious. This is what we heard at this stage during both the 802 and Equity negotiations, so, you can’t really predict what will happen based on what is coming out of the room. (Remember, employment minimums, a main point in this negotiation, is what also killed the pre-strike 802 negotiations.) I could report to you all I’ve heard on detailed points—but would you care or even be able to follow it? It would be sort of pointless.

Instead, I need to discuss the difference between a lockout and a strike. The musicians had a big fat strike. That means that people coming to the theater from, let’s say, Kansas, arrived at Mamma Mia! to find that the people who play the instruments were refusing to work. Some of those Kansas folks understood, but some yelled at the musicians. Public perception-wise, the musicians were the greedy ones. (Though, of course, there is always the perception that producers are greedy… but, during that strike, it just about evened out…)

In this case, we’re talking about a lockout, which would be the producers not letting Local One members work. This move would effectively shut down the theater for a period of time and some shows would likely not survive. It’s true that the League has been shoveling away money for just this eventuality, but, that won’t save certain individual shows. But, that’s beyond what we’re talking about tonight.

So, the public this time is going to be for the union. They already see producers as fat cats (despite the fact that some have had to mortgage their houses to keep shows running). Now these fat cats are going to be seen as taking food off a stagehand’s table. That’s a big problem for them. It’s a problem not because people will immediately stop buying tickets to Wicked because of the lockout, but because the League wants to be perceived as a shiny happy organization reaching out to everyone. They want the city--and, especially, the city’s mayor and council--to see them as people trying to contribute to the city. The League does not want to be perceived as an evil organization. League members know they don’t want to piss off city brass—they will eventually need them. This is especially true now—with Equity negotiations just around the corner. League folks know they need to be strong before those start up.

So why lockout? Some League members say that exercising their lockout power will make the producers stronger; still others say what they lose power-wise is more substantial than what they gain. So we need to move past this one dimension of the issue.

Local One has been working without a contract since August 1, 2007 and the union is still making tough demands. If it were the case where, let’s say, the union was only asking for more health benefits, a lockout would be completely ineffective. In that case, it would pay for producers to keep living under the old contract until the union was fed up and decided to strike. But here we have the producers asking for something—they want to have to pay less people. So they know it doesn’t pay for Local One to strike. If they want their thing, they have to go out and get it. Many League members believe a lockout will put enough pressure on the union that they’ll buckle on key issues just to get their people back to work with a paycheck. They believe any heat will be worth it in light of the concessions they’ll gain. I personally disagree with this strategy because I think it underestimates the strength of the union they are up against. 802 is not the strongest of unions; Equity makes so many concessions on a daily basis, there is some assumption that a concession is coming even before talks start. Local One is different. IATSE is a big tough force. The union has its own money to help out its members and a lot of its members could get jobs in film and TV if a lockout were to persist. Of course a lockout would never persist because the mayor would get involved. He might not be able to get everything solved as quickly as he did last time, but, it’s not like we’d be sitting here in December only able to go to off-Broadway shows. The League is also well aware of this--they may get some of their demands by being obnoxious because once they mayor steps in, there will be some sort of compromise.

Yeah, so, if anything happens, we’re talking lockout and not strike and they are very different things. That’s basically what I wanted to say. Note, I am not expressing my views about who is right issue-wise because, well, they are too complicated to express in under 2 pages. This post is just to explain things as I see them strategy-wise.

To end, I just want to touch a little bit about what the other unions would do if there is indeed a Local One lockout. The majority of unions (maybe all) have no lockout/no strike contract clauses, so, if Local One is locked out, the likelihood is the other unions would not strike. On the contrary, they’d show up to work knowing full well they cannot work because, well, then they’d get paid. This won’t be seen as crossing a picket line because Local One is all for it. Get the producers to pay the other union folks for not working. Why not? And it won’t be like crossing a picket line because Local One members won’t object and, besides, all they’ll have out there is an “information line,” not a real strike-like picket line. Note, I have no idea what the difference in appearance is between an information line and a picket line…. But I’ve heard there is a difference. Hopefully, Campbell Robertson’s next Times piece or a Gordon Cox Variety story will clarify. I think Riedel will probably call it a picket line because that name is more colorful. Though, again, I always assume settlement. Always. So, as far as I'm concerned, we won't have to worry about any of this.

3 comments:

maninchair.com said...

As always, a well written, articulate, and informative post.

I want to be you when I grow up.

And your title is from Birthday by Jesus and Mary Chain.

carajoy said...

Thank you for the compliments. Appreciated. (Not many people want to be me, so, that's a huge thing.)

I'm very excited you have given the Jesus and Mary Chain credit. They don't get enough.

Sharp said...

As always, a well written, articulate, and informative post. I want to be you when I grow up. And your title is from Birthday by Jesus and Mary Chain.