Broadway shows could be shut down by a strike as soon as Friday

Jul 20, 2023, 9:30 AM | Updated: 1:19 pm

Image of Broadway theaters in New York City. A strike vote Thursday by the union representing 1,500...

Broadway theaters could close if stagehands go on strike. (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images via CNN)

(Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images via CNN)

Originally Published: 20 JUL 23 06:58 ET
Updated: 20 JUL 23 09:05 ET

New York (CNN) — A strike vote Thursday by the union representing 1,500 stagehands and other backstage workers could shut down Broadway shows as soon as Friday, according to the union. The vote will be held throughout the day Thursday.

“This strike vote will send a strong message that we will not accept substandard contracts that fail to acknowledge our workers’ contributions,” said Mathew Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). “We will not back down unless we have a deal the members can accept by the end of the week.”

The Utah Angle: Hollywood strike having big impact on Utah economy

A strike would halt performances not just of 28 shows in New York City but also 17 touring shows across the United States and Canada, the union said.

The Broadway League and Disney Theatrical, the two groups representing management in talks with the union, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Strike authorization votes almost always pass with an overwhelming majority of rank-and-file members voting yes. Most union labor negotiations include such a vote as part of the process, and most reach a labor deal without there actually being in a strike.

“We need to show strength and unity to ensure we win the wages, benefits, and rights that all members at IATSE have earned and deserve,” said an email sent to union members urging them to vote to authorize the strike.

The Utah Angle: The show that’s being allowed to continue filming during the strikes

But it is rare that a strike vote is held just hours before the start of a possible strike. Typically they take place weeks or months before a strike deadline, allowing for further talks before union members walk out. The fact that this vote comes so close to the union’s threatened walkout increases the chance that there will be a strike this time.

However, it is still possible that a work stoppage can be avoided. There are no matinee performances of Broadway shows on Friday, giving negotiators about a day and half from Thursday morning to Friday night to reach an 11th-hour deal.

The union’s statement said that while it reached a tentative agreement to protect employer-provided health care without cuts or increased out-of-pocket costs and to secure employer-provided housing for touring crews for the first time, the two sides remain far apart on other union priorities, including increased salaries and reasonable weekly and daily rest periods.

A summer of strikes

The strike threat comes as 160,000 actors who are represented by SAG-AFTRA, as well as 11,000 members of the Writers Guild of America, are already on strike against major film studios and streaming services, shutting down most of the movie and television shows in production nationwide.

Even if Broadway actors don’t go on strike themselves, they are unionized as well and are not likely to cross picket lines by IATSE. This strike would shut off one of the few places actors can work right now, with work stoppages shutting down film and TV production.

And beyond the world of entertainment there are a large number of other unionized workers threatening to go on strike. The Teamsters union, which represents 340,000 members at UPS

, said it will go on strike against the package delivery giant on August 1 without a new contract. The two sides just agreed to return to the negotiating table next week after talks broke down in the early hours of July 5.

That would be the largest strike against a single employer in US history.

The nation’s three unionized automakers — General Motors

, Ford

and Stellantis, which makes cars under the Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep brands — are also facing mid-September strike deadlines with the United Auto Workers union, and talks are off to a contentious start.

Additionally, about 15,000 hotel workers in Los Angeles and Orange counties, who went on strike against 65 hotels over the July 4 holiday weekend, are threatening a new round of walkouts following what the union said is a lack of progress at the negotiating table.

The Broadway strike would be a blow to the New York City economy, which is still suffering from the shift from in-office work to people working from home for part of the work week. Tourism is a major driver of the city’s economy and Broadway is a significant magnet for those tourists.

The Broadway League reported that in the season that concluded in May, the first full season since Broadway shows were disrupted by the pandemic, theaters reached a total attendance of 12.3 million and grossed $1.6 billion in ticket sales.

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Broadway shows could be shut down by a strike as soon as Friday