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Talks Stall as Broadway Strike Presses into Day 3

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let us move from news of Venezuela's great political showman to the lack of shows in New York City. The stagehand's strike on Broadway shut down more than two dozen shows over the weekend.

Yesterday, members of the stagehand's union spoke to the press for the first time in a suitably theatrical way.

Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: James Claffey Jr., president of Local One, the stagehand's union, stood on the podium of St. Malachy's Church, known as the actor's chapel, in the heart of the theater district. He was flanked by a dozen union board members in identical union jackets. Behind him was a giant freeze of Jesus on the cross, and Claffey was angry.

Mr. JAMES CLAFFEY JR. (President, Local One): We have made a point of not bargaining in the press. We believe it's inappropriate. We believe that amongst ourselves that we can come up with a deal that's honorable. And we believe that that time has passed and it's necessary to defend ourselves in the press because we are being attacked.

LUNDEN: Both sides are at loggerheads over decades-old work rules. The producers claim the union forces them to hire people who do little or no work and pay wages that can hover around $100,000 a year.

The union is willing to offer concessions, says Claffey, but they need to look after their members in an industry that's highly unpredictable.

Mr. CLAFFEY JR.: $115,000 or whatever number you come up with at the end of the day, is if you're working 52 weeks a year - that's why we need to protect the job security that we have. You have a show that runs for three weeks. We're working for three weeks and then we're loading it out. If the house is dark for three months, we're not working there for three months.

LUNDEN: It's here that producers and stagehands agree. The League of American Theaters and Producers say that only one out of five Broadway shows makes money.

Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the league, told NPR last month that the producers are trying to control costs they feel have gotten out of hand.

Ms. CHARLOTTE ST. MARTIN (Executive Director, The League of American Theaters and Producers): In the past, a successful show would take six months to recoup their investment. Today, it takes almost two years, so a lot of even successful shows are not able to continue running because they just can't continue to fund the losses. So we have to get rid of these archaic rules.

LUNDEN: And two weeks ago, after negotiations with the stagehands broke down, the producers took matters into their own hands and implemented new work rules without the union's approval.

Union president James Claffey says that made a strike inevitable.

Mr. CLAFFEY JR.: If we accept what they're trying to do, you know, you want us live with a strike for three or four weeks or three or four months, what they're implementing is something we'd have to live with for three or four decades.

LUNDEN: While both sides insist they're willing to be flexible and willing to negotiate a new five-year deal, no further talks have been scheduled. And Broadway, New York's number one tourist attraction, remains dark.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.