Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day 5: Oh Mi God You Guys, It's Still Going On

You know, I didn't want to officially cover the whole strike because, well, after getting home from sitting shiva, I just wasn’t in the mood. (Not to mention the fact that I missed 3 deadlines.) So I helped out a paper on Saturday by doing some reporting from the lines and then I thought I’d put it behind me. But I get 20 phone calls a day about it, so I feel pretty much like I’m officially working on it. And, in that spirit, I’ll of course talk about it. Because what else is there anyway?!?!

I hope everyone read this as a basic primer unless, well, you yourself or in the negotiations or are getting reports straight from them:

Now… Does everyone remember that, after the Local 802 strike, it seemed like the producers won? I kept telling people “no… not really…” Because, let’s think back, the whole time during that negotiations, the producers kept saying “We will not accept musician minimums in any way.” Yet, we still have them. They are lower than they used to be, but they are there.

We had a situation where a bunch of producers were saying “Well, we’ve agreed to these things for years, but we never should have. They don’t exist in the West End, and now we don’t want them to exist here. We need to change this industry!” They failed to do that. There is an argument that Rome wasn’t built in a day (a cliché argument, but an argument nonetheless) and the concessions the producers won then began a dissolution of the system, but, basically, in a very significant way, it didn’t work out the way the producers wanted. (There are those that say the producers knew all along they’d never get eliminate the system, they wanted just what they got, but, let me tell you, I worked on it 24 hours a day and I think that is crap.) Yet somehow the public thought the producers won. Everyone I spoke to thought that. Why? Is there some kind of thing that we assume if a striking party makes any concession they lost? Was the world anti-union at the time (and, if so, are they now)? It never quite made sense to me. I think a lot of it has to do with media spin. It was all “Musicians agree to reductions, go back to work.” Now, that’s a valid characterization of events, but it sort of leads consumers to the wrong mental conclusion about the underlying battle.

Fast forward to 2007. We have a sort of similar situation in a lot of ways now. There are a bunch of producers and theater owners saying: “We’ve been doing this for too long. I remember why we did some stuff to begin with, but not others. And, anyway, it’s all not valid now. It doesn’t exist anywhere else. We need to change this industry!” Now, those of you who know the theater, know that it doesn’t exactly embrace change on any level. So there are those, outside the producers’ room, who are supporting Local One because, well, they support tradition. But, I’m not going to go into such things in depth. (I will say there is a certain “The producers made their bed”-type argument. For the union to agree to a lot of these things in 2007, after the producers have been going along with the previous system forever, it would be costing stagehands jobs. That sucks for Local One membership and it also sucks because then Local One leadership has to go to IATSE and say “Hey, we agreed to cost our members all of these jobs.” This is where the union’s whole “We need an exchange of equal value” drama comes in. But, this is all to in depth for this blog post.)

Anyway, getting back on track. Just like we had after the musicians strike, we have a little problem with semi-misleading coverage. This is playing to the public like an anti-minimum fight, just like the musicians strike was. I believe this is because all the talk about featherbedding makes it seem like “We have to hire all of these people we don’t need.” This is especially enhanced by the whole “We need to pay a flyman $160,000 a year even if there is no fly work in the show” sexy producers tidbit. So normal people think the issue is that producers want to eliminate existing minimums. In fact, this isn’t a fight about existing minimums because there aren’t technically stagehands minimums, beyond the hiring of one flyman (and maybe some other random assorted things like that). Read Campbell Robertson’s Times story linked to above and you’ll get a better idea of the actual battle points, but know that the general public, those that won’t read and really analyze Robertson’s story, is hearing something else. They’re hearing minimums and payment for mopping. And it’s going to be interesting to see how public perception plays out post-strike based on what the public is thinking now.

Why does this all matter? Why do the unions care who the public thinks won after a strike is done? There are a bunch of reasons, but I’ll give you just one. It’s true, no one is going to remember the exact settlement (or even what they thought it was) of this Local One settlement by the time the next Local One negotiation rolls around. But they will remember this spring when Equity starts talking to the League. And, even though theater is so insular in a lot of ways, a union is still helped a lot by public support. When a union negotiation is made so public, it in many ways lays the groundwork for another union’s negotiations. So if the public is really, really only pro-producers and thinks the producers made Local One cry, the producers have a little more leverage going into the Equity negotiations. If, on the other hand, the public thinks producers are rich evildoers and just keep trying to beat down working people, the producers know that Equity has the sympathetic momentum going into the fight. In the latter case, the producers are also going to fear that people eventually won’t want to support them.

Oh my god, this is so long I’m not even going to be able to get through it myself. Sorry about that. Stopping soon. I just want to say a couple of major last things: 1) I’m so happy that they’re at least going back to the table. 2) If it isn’t going well that first day, if I were running the stagehands and I wanted to swing public support a little, I’d give in on some of the sexy points and then hold a press conference. Of course, Local One is on muzzle mode and so this probably won’t happen. But, honestly, this negotiation is so not about flymen and mopping, that I might say, if I were a stagehand person: “Well, we eliminated the mopping charge and the flyman requirement and still the greedy producers want MORE, MORE, MORE.” This would also be something to show Bloomberg they are trying, incase somehow city leadership does become involved. Again, I don’t think that will happen, but that’s the Full Force musing on what I’d do if I were James Claffey. (Though hopefully we’ll amazingly have a settlement quickly and then if I were James Claffey I’d play “We Got The Beat” and dance.)

It’s 3am, I've lost track of whether this makes sense and I must go to sleep now. Know that I had an extra 30 minutes on my way to Young Frankenstein tonight and I decided to make my mother (who was with me) walk around so I could see what was up on the lines. There were a lot less people than there were Saturday, which I suppose is to be expected. But know that the cheeriest stagehands seemed to be outside Grease. I share incase you are in the mood to chat with one.


One NYC StageHand said...

This is an excellent post and a very astute analysis of the situation. If you're this bright at 2:30AM, you must be very impressive by midday.

carajoy said...

Thank you very much for your nice comment. I wish it went better this weekend!

(Sadly, midday is my sleepy time... though it may be because I'm writing at 2:30am. :) )