Carnegie Hall Becomes the Latest Fine Arts Institution to Endure Protests and Strikes

by Corinna Kirsch on October 4, 2013 Newswire

Orchestras and dance companies are striking across the nation. The latest such strike is taking place close to home, at Carnegie Hall. On Wednesday night, stagehands picketed outside the hall, where the Philadelphia Orchestra was supposed to open the season. An inflatable rat stood at attention outside, warning orchestra-goers to stay outside. And stay out, they did. For the first time in its history, Carnegie Hall was forced to close due to a union dispute.

Over the last year, Carnegie Hall stagehands, represented by IATSE/Local One, have been in dispute with management over a new educational wing slated to open in 2014. Carnegie Hall has responded that they have no plans to employ any of the stagehands in the new wing, citing a lack of jurisdiction.

Clive Gillinson, the executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall told The Wall Street Journal that the educational spaces are outside the zone of the stagehands’ purview, as they “have nothing to do with the performance-related work they do in the concert halls.” Without seeing the architectural plans, the logistics of such a stagehand-free zone appear unknown.

What seems to be sparking the ire of journalists is the high wages currently paid to some of the union members. The Star Tribune, among a number of other outlets, reports that a number of the Hall’s “highest-paid employees are stagehands, some of whom make more than $400,000 a year—more than Carnegie’s finance director earns.” That, however, skirts around the issue, that there are dozens more stagehands who work for much smaller wages. The union seeks to secure a sustainable future for its current employees within the Carnegie Hall expansion.

In response to Wednesday’s protests, James Claffey, Jr., president of Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, issued the following statement:

Local One has unfortunately been left with no choice but to exercise its legal rights at Carnegie Hall after 13 months of bargaining. Carnegie Hall Corporation has spent or will spend $230 million on its ongoing studio tower renovation, but they have chosen not to appropriately employ our members as we are similarly employed throughout the rest of Carnegie Hall.

Critics such as James Panero seek an end to the strike. In his piece, “Don’t let the unions call the tune,” Panero makes a public plea on behalf of the Carnegie’s audience, who will “pay dearly” with a continuation of such protests. Surely, the Carnegie should appease the Hall’s many fans, but it’s just as crucial for management to reach a compromise with its staff, whose future relies on the Carnegie.

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