Update on Broadway Community Initiative

Volume CVI, No. 9September, 2006

Larry Rawdon and Tino Gagliardi

As part of an ongoing effort to be fully prepared for the upcoming Broadway negotiations, the Broadway Community Initiative was launched on June 22. The Broadway Theatre Committee and the Theatre Department are bringing the initiative to the Broadway community with generous support from the Local 802 Executive Board and supplemental funds from the Coordinating Advisory Committee.

These sessions are really educational seminars at which questions can be asked of the experts conducting the sessions — namely Local 802 legal counsel Leonard Leibowitz along with Margaret Leibowitz, arbitrator and professor of labor relations.

The first of the four training sessions dealt with an overview of legal prerogatives and restrictions, including a look at the National Labor Relations Act. This was essential in establishing the legal underpinning of negotiations: the obligation to bargain in good faith. This obligation extends both to management and us as musicians — through Local 802, as our “exclusive bargaining representative.” This understanding is key to the rank and file in order to more effectively bring to the table the issues that we need addressed.

The second session dealt with the history of recent Broadway negotiations combined with frank and in-depth discussions on possible issues affecting us now, some of which may be brought to the negotiation table in 2007. Notable past negotiations that were discussed were the strike in 1975, which culminated in the establishment of minimums that were determined by theatre seating capacity size; the 1993 negotiation that created the Special Situations clause; and the 2003 negotiation that led to the most recent strike.

The Special Situations clause was initially created to allow a production to hire “… an orchestra composed of fewer musicians than the minimum required…,” if the production could prove that it was warranted due to demonstrable artistic considerations alone. Prior to this clause, “walkers” were sometimes utilized. Walkers were hired as understudies to fulfill a theatre minimum when management decided to have an orchestra size that was smaller than required in that theatre. Musicians detested this practice because it defeated the real purpose of minimums, which was to maintain the musical excellence we felt Broadway audiences deserved. Management used “walkers” as a public relations tool to be used against us by accusing us of “featherbedding.” (Featherbedding was the practice of unions forcing management to hire non-essential personnel — hardly a description one could truthfully apply to hiring musicians for a Broadway show.)

The third and fourth sessions will concentrate on interpretation of our current collective bargaining agreement with a special invitation to those of us who perform the duty of in-house or designated contractors. Because these individuals act on behalf of musicians in an administrative capacity, it is important for them to have a clear understanding of all the provisions of our agreement consistent with the intent of the language as it was negotiated. It is our desire to have an open dialogue between the house contractors and union representatives as to how each could better help the other within the parameters of our agreement. It will be useful to have legal counsel present who have intimate knowledge of both the law and the contract covering our unique field of employment.

As Allegro went to press, definite dates for the final two sessions of the Broadway Community Initiative were not secured. We hope to have them scheduled for mid-October. In an effort to make the times as convenient for as many people as possible, the next session will be on a Wednesday between shows, followed by a final session that will take place on Friday of that same week. Covered in both sessions will be the matter of raising workplace issues so that members feel safe from reprisal, and the legal perspective on the grievance and arbitration process itself.

It is regrettable that in spite of efforts by the Theatre Committee’s delegates to promote the sessions, and even though a large portion of a recent president’s report in Allegro was devoted to the sessions, the turnout by the Broadway community was very disappointing. Very few individuals have actually taken part in negotiations themselves and that leads to a lot of misconceptions about what goes on during negotiations. Misunderstandings about the negotiation process often lead to misguided conclusions about such basic things as the real role of the legal counsel, the rank-and-file Theatre Committee, and the union’s president in the negotiations. How many members have the erroneous notion that legal counsel has been the lead negotiator at the table and made the decisions in recent Broadway negotiations, for instance? This and many other misconceptions can cause the brush fires of false rumor and innuendo to turn into full-blown forest fires during and after negotiations.

As to how greater attendance at these sessions might benefit us during negotiations, we could borrow from the “Syms” commercial that says, “An educated consumer is our best customer.”

For more information about the sessions and to find out the next dates, contact Principal Theatre Rep Mary Donovan at (212) 245-4802, ext. 156 or

Larry Rawdon is the chair of the Local 802 Broadway Theatre Committee; Tino Gagliardi is the co-chair.