While Broadway Reels, Off Broadway Deals

802 Wins a Contract with Four Nonprofit Theatre Companies

Volume CIII, No. 4April, 2003

Tina Hafemeister and Mary Donovan

Even as Local 802 and Broadway producers were locked in a bitter dispute, the lights were shining brighter Off Broadway.

Local 802 and four nonprofit Off Broadway companies – representing nine theatres – have signed an agreement covering performances, rehearsals and music preparation. This is the first multi-employer contract the union has ever negotiated with Off Broadway producers.

The companies are Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, the Public Theatre and the New York Theatre Workshop. The agreement covers houses with 100 to 499 seats.

“This is an important first step towards an Off Broadway master contract,” said Financial Vice President Tina Hafemeister.

Efforts to establish area standards in this field, which is characterized by a wide variety of theatre sizes and production budgets, have proven to be extremely difficult.

For more than 20 years Local 802 has organized Off Broadway productions on a show-by-show basis. The going was tough and sometimes seemed impossible because by the time the union discovered a show, musicians had already been hired and the budget set.

Musicians were often more committed to the employer than they were in helping get the show under a union agreement. In addition, musicians often felt that working Off Broadway was a temporary situation until the “real” work of Broadway came along. These musicians would tell the union to concentrate on Broadway and leave Off Broadway alone.

Also, the organizing window was often very short because many Off Broadway shows only run a few weeks. A show would close before it could be organized.

However, Local 802 did make progress and musicians began to realize the value of a union contract – and health and pension contributions. Organizers carried the battle to the streets with shows such as Love Janis and Reefer Madness. This made an impression on members of the Off Broadway League, and they approached Local 802 about coming to terms.

But from the beginning the employers said music preparation would be a major sticking point.

In the past, even though the union was able to negotiate some language covering music prep Off Broadway, much orchestration and copying work was done off the books. In the mid-1990’s, the union began enforcing the language in the agreements. Increased enforcement led to increased resistance from the employers.

Last year the union sat down with the approximately 60 members of the Off Broadway League to negotiate a master agreement covering the entire field. The League refused to discuss any of Local 802’s proposals without concessions in music prep.

In the previous ten years, the wages for music preparation services were based on either Local 802’s General Price List or the Broadway agreement – or some percentage of the two. The employers proposed a scheme based on their agreement with the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. Local 802 maintained that the General Price List page rates were appropriate for both orchestrators and copyists.

With the parties so far apart, negotiations broke off.

Shortly thereafter, discussions resumed with the nonprofit segment of the Off Broadway League – a group of four theatre companies. After several negotiating sessions, a tentative agreement was reached on all outstanding issues, including music preparation.

“This agreement indicates a new level of respect for the value of live music and professional music preparation, whatever the size of the venue may be,” said Frank Lindquist, conductor/keyboardist and chair of the Small Theatres Committee.

The minimum scale wages and benefits for the three-year agreement are based on the size of the theatres. Click for wage scale summary.