Updated: Stagehands Revolt at Philadelphia Theater Company

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An IATSE Local 8 stagehand pickets outside Suzanne Roberts Theater this afternoon. Photo by Dustin Slaughter.

UPDATE: The Inquirer’s Peter Dobrin reports that talks between IATSE Local 8 and the Philadelphia Theater Company management broke down at 2 a.m.

The stagehand’s union issued a statement today:

The employer will not agree to back off its demand to have the unrestricted right to hire as many non-union workers as they decide to perform the work covered in the union’s jurisdiction and previously performed by the workers of the PTC who chose to be represented by the union.

However, Sara Garonzik who is producing director at PTC, told Dobrin:

Progress has been made and we are all eager to wrap up as soon as we can.

The Mountaintop is expected to run previews tonight and Sunday, but “without elaborate tech” says Goronzik. Talks between the union and PTC management will reportedly continue tomorrow.

See our coverage of yesterday’s press conference below.

Just three days before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, stagehands intent on forging an equitable contract with the Philadelphia Theater Company brave a crisp Friday afternoon to hold a press conference on the sidewalk outside the $22 million Suzanne Roberts Theater.

The strike, which began on Tuesday, has canceled tonight’s preview of “The Mountaintop“, which is billed as “a gripping re-imagining of the events taking place the night before the assassination of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Members of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 8 are demanding “long overdue” health benefits and a pay increase, according to Local 8 media liaison Frank Keel.

The company’s media contact, Deborah Fleischman, was not immediately available for comment. However, the PTC’s Shira Beckerman sent The Philly Post’s Victor Fiorillo this email:

Philadelphia Theatre Company is a small non-profit group that is working to meet the financial challenges it faces in a tough economy, just like many non-profit arts organizations in our region. The Company’s stagehand employees voted in September to become members of IATSE Local 8 which did nothing to change these facts or address the challenges we face. PTC and the Union negotiated an interim labor agreement in October. Since the agreement’s expiration in late November, members of the PTC management team have been in negotiations with representatives of the union on an ongoing basis. PTC is eager to complete negotiations as soon as possible and expects all performances and theatrical events to proceed as scheduled. We remain focused on the goal of working together to ensure the future success of our Company.

Michael Barnes, a business agent for IATSE Local 8, promises that the picket will continue “until justice is won.”

From the IATSE Local 8 press release released today:

The management of the Philadelphia Theater 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 theater work.

The press conference started shortly after noon. Local members took turns at the mic as a giant inflatable rat – a ubiquitous visual at picket lines – swayed in a bitterly-cold wind.

“I’m sure it’s easier to look at us as line items rather than people,” said Terry Smith, a stage electrician who has been with the Company for 12 years.

Another employee in his mid-twenties spoke about how he and his wife are expecting a child “any day now.”

“I want some healthcare for my baby,” he added.

Shortly before the press conference began, Michael Barnes received word that Company lawyers agreed to meet with IATSE representatives. As of this evening, however, no agreement has been reached.

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There are 4 comments

  1. Stagehands of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre

    Day 4 of the The Stagehands of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre Iatse Local 8 strike against Philadelphia Theatre Company. We don’t want to be standing in the cold another day, we WANT to be back in the warm theatre putting on our show. So why are we still fighting? Please read:

    After three days on the picket line, management suddenly found the time to meet this evening. After seven and a half hours talks broke down at 2:30 in the morning as PTC suddenly reintroduced language that we had understood to be settled. They insist on the unfettered ability to utilize unpaid interns to replace stagehands.

    We agree that the education of the future workforce should be a goal of any organization and in that spirit we continue to propose that interns in bona fide college level programs have a place in the work force of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, but not at the expense of an existing workforce. No show should be built on the back of an unpaid worker. Management rejects this suggestion.

    It is disingenuous on the part of PTC to suggest that an internship outside of a college program is a learning experience, unless the lesson is that “people will take advantage of you if you let them.”
    Outside of an accredited college program the use of unpaid internships is unethical. We will continue to fight for the rights of all of PTC’s workers and students.

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    1. A Professional Theatre Artist who loves INTERNSHIP PROGRAMS.

      I disagree with the stagehands at Suzanne Roberts about the value of internships. If I am not mistaken, several of these striking stagehands actually began their professional careers as interns themselves. To call those same kinds of internships “unethical” is hypocritical. Part of practicing one’s craft as a professional theater artist is passing down these skill by mentoring young aspiring interns… and, in my view, one of the best parts of the work. I wonder if these stagehands are acting out of paranoia, and fear of not measuring up to healthy competition, rather than any credible ethical or moral stance. Internships have been part of theater education around the world for many centuries and, I hope, always will be. Twenty years ago, I did several unpaid internships at nonprofit professional regional theater companies as a college student and college graduate. These internships were BY FAR the best educational experiences I had in my training as a theater artist. I first interned in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, while I was in college. After graduation, I interned at programs in Louisville, Chicago and New York. Then I went back for my Masters degree. These internships taught me much more than even my MFA degree did! I was never taken advantage of by anyone at any of these theaters. Instead, I worked side by side with generous, welcoming theater artists to better my craft. I was was mentored, guided, championed and supported by these artists and members of management alike, who worked hard to make sure I was being served well by the internship programs and NOT being taken advantage of. I relished every minute of my time working on sets, tech crew, sound, props, costumes, literary management, new play development, dramaturgy, dressing, stage management, PR, play readings, acting in small non-union roles in AEA shows, doing nonunion children’s theater and school tours, taking acting classes, and attending career development lecture-demonstrations. I was so thrilled to be able to work with so many incredible artists, many of whom are still close friends and colleagues. These internships helped me make the professional contacts I needed to pursue what is now a very successful career in the theater. I would not have gotten where I am without these experiences. There were also some of the happiest times I have ever spent. As a result of these great experiences, I make it a point to continuing mentoring young artists, as I have done continually for the past 20 years, in productions at professional theaters, one-on-one and even in prisons. I feel sad for theater artists who cannot find the generosity to welcome this as an integral part of the work of creating live theater.

      Like

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