After 16 months of negotiations, stagehands at Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts unanimously voted to strike today, in response to plans by the performing arts center's management to slash wages 40 percent, eliminate jobs along other related cuts and changes to working conditions - per a statement made today from the union.
The vote by the members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 22 gives the Local 22 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.
If the Kennedy Center's management doesn't reverse its position before the end of the week, workers will go on strike, withholding their labor, and setting up picket lines before the trucks hauling sets, lights, wardrobe, and other production elements.
"A strike can be avoided and Hadestown can take the stage, but that's up to Kennedy Center's managers," said IATSE Local 22 President David McIntyre. "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."
Per the union, in addition to cutting wages for backstage workers nearly in half, other contentious issues relate to health and safety protocols and management's refusal to provide even basic scheduling information to workers so that they can better plan both their work and home life.
"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," the Kennedy Center is the one exception, said McIntyre. "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 a statement, the Kennedy Center said "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. We have cooperatively resolved all other issues, including wages, benefits, and COVID-19 protocols. 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 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 to 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."