On the heels of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Writers Guild of America (WGA) strikes, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)—the “union behind entertainment”—authorized a strike earlier this week for members working under The Broadway League and Buena Vista Theatrical/Disney Theatrical. However, as of today (July 20), “the strike has been averted, though the contract must be approved by the membership,” Director of Communications Jonas N. Loeb told Observer via email, calling the accord “a tentative agreement.”
It’s good news for Broadway fans. The IATSE doesn’t represent actors or writers but rather the people who work behind the scenes doing everything to keep shows up and running. The approximately 1,500 workers covered by the IATSE include stagehands, hair and make-up artists, wardrobe personnel and others who are essential to staging live Broadway productions, both in New York and those touring across the United States and Canada.
In a press release, the IATSE noted that the decision to approve a potential strike was, “unanimously made by the contract’s bargaining committee, which is comprised of International Leadership and rank-and-file theater workers, after negotiations with The Broadway League and Disney Theatrical Productions failed to meet key worker demands.”
These demands include fair wages, benefits and adequate rest periods. Many skilled people employed by theatrical productions have experienced financial hardship owing to salaries not commensurate with the cost of living—a struggle shared by on-stage and backstage workers alike. Earlier this year, touring actors took to social media to decry their living situations while they’re on the road, including that they had to continue to hold expensive New York City leases to keep their permanent residencies while still paying for their own housing on tour. Touring company workers often have to pay for expensive lodging near downtown theaters or commute from less expensive areas—often while exhausted after performing physically demanding shows.
President of the IATSE, Matthew D. Loeb commented that the union would “not leave anyone stranded” and “will not back down unless we have a deal the members can accept by the end of the week.”
Positive progress in the negotiations earlier this week included “a tentative agreement to protect employer-provided healthcare without cuts or increased out-of-pocket costs, and another securing employer-provided housing for touring crews for the first time,” according to the release.
Should the agreement fall apart and the strike proceed, it could go into effect as soon as July 21. At that point, most Broadway shows in New York would shut down, as would touring productions. Any that did go on would be “crossing the picket line,” with the exception of the two Broadway shows not covered by the “pink contract” currently under negotiation.
Loeb told Observer via email on Wednesday that this is “an extremely fluid situation.” Between now and tomorrow, any number of outcomes could occur, and if the WGA and SAG strikes are any indication, a Broadway strike still seems quite possible.