Kennedy Center Union Authorizes Strike Over Pay Cuts & Staffing, Setting Stage For ‘Hadestown’ Pickets

·5 min read

UPDATED with Kennedy Center statement: With the Tony-winning Hadestown set to make its Washington D.C. debut at the Kennedy Center next week, stagehands at the celebrated venue have authorized a strike vote over what it calls “draconian” wage cuts, job eliminations and other proposed workplace changes.

In a vote today, members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 22 gave its executive board the authority to call a strike and for members and supporters of the union to then set up picket lines outside the Kennedy Center.

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“A strike can be avoided and Hadestown can take the stage, said IATSE Local 22 President David McIntyre in a statement, “but that’s up to Kennedy Center’s managers. We’ve been more than willing to tighten our belts and help the Kennedy Center during this difficult time for the arts. However, the Kennedy Center’s management team has decided to use the pandemic as an excuse to gut our contract while taking millions in federal relief dollars just as large audiences are scheduled to return.”

The vote follows 16 months of negotiations and arrives just before the Oct. 13-31 Hadestown engagement that will mark the center’s post-shutdown return Broadway stagings. “Through this pandemic, every other major venue in and around Washington has managed to successfully maintain their agreements with our union and work with us to prepare for the return of audiences,” McIntyre said. “Putting on a Broadway show, any show, is a team effort, the Kennedy Center’s managers will have a hell of a time putting on Hadestown without us.”

In its statement today, the union said that Kennedy Center management has “chosen to take millions in federal aid and then treat staff harshly,” noting that the arts center also drew criticism last year after receiving $25 million in federal stimulus aid and then announcing that it would furlough workers.

In addition to the proposed pays cuts and layoffs, other sticking points are health and safety protocols and what the union says is management’s refusal to provide scheduling information so workers can “better plan both their work and home life.” A Kennedy Center spokesperson has disputed that characterization of the talks.

In a statement, Eileen Andrews, Lincoln Center’s vice president of public relations, disputed the union’s characterization of the negotiations, saying that the stumbling block was the stagehands’ demand for a “cost-prohibitive and unsustainable” work expansion that would require the center’s use of IATSE members for various off-site events.

“The union has not notified us of a work stoppage,” she said in the statement. “At this time, all performances and events will proceed as scheduled,” she added. “Patrons will be advised immediately should this change.”

You can read Andrews’ entire statement below.

After more than a year of discussions and over 16 hours of talks yesterday, the Kennedy Center is disappointed that negotiations with its stagehands, IATSE Local 22, have now stalled over a single issue. Despite the Union’s claims, at the time the Union abandoned the negotiations, Center management had offered a multi-year contract which included increases in wages and benefits. The parties had already reached agreement on COVID-19 protocols and various other issues of employment. The only outstanding issue was that the parties’ agreement include the Union’s demand to be the exclusive staff provider for work that traditionally they have not performed.

The Union has demanded that the Center agree to expand the Union’s jurisdiction, requiring the Kennedy Center to exclusively use IATSE stagehands for not only events held at the Center, but also in programming we present beyond our campus. This would entail a fundamental shift in how we manage, staff, and budget for extended programming, impacting both events held in the community and outside events held at the Kennedy Center. A work expansion of this scale would be cost-prohibitive and unsustainable in the near and long term, forcing us to make further reductions in programming, entailing cuts and reductions to historically free or low-cost community outreach events and higher costs for rentals and outside vendors.

The Center takes its bargaining obligations seriously and has negotiated in good faith with IATSE and all 14 of the other unions representing our employees, including during a 16-hour bargaining session yesterday and overnight, which IATSE representatives abandoned. The Union’s claims that the Center has acted in bad faith are purely intended to place pressure on the Center so that the Union can extract those demands with which we are not willing to agree.

The ongoing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have put the Kennedy Center in an unpredictable and uncertain financial position, resulting in a $9 million deficit for the recently completed fiscal year (2021) and leaving a projected deficit of $7 million for 2022. Given the reality of our financial situation and the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic, the impacts on our programming, our community, and our budget make expanded jurisdiction unsustainable. After a year of unprecedented hardship, the Center has been able to reopen its stages and restore work for the union’s members. We remain committed to working with our stagehands to identify a path forward and reach an agreement that reflects the complexities of the pandemic landscape and allows us to continue the world-class performances that are our purpose.

The union has not notified us of a work stoppage. At this time, all performances and events will proceed as scheduled. Patrons will be advised immediately should this change.

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