New York, NY – Broadway producers, theater owners and operators may be rolling in revenues in excess of $1.4 billion this year,
but they are demonstrating that they would rather do anything under the sun than have to bargain a fair contract with the casting directors largely responsible for making them successful.
For more than a year, the industry’s leading casting directors have been trying to get the 700-member Broadway League to recognize IBT Local 817 as their designated union representatives.
The Broadway trade association has steadfastly refused, however, opting instead to sue casting directors in court, alleging the existence of a “cartel.” And, most recently, in a uniquely rich case of irony, deciding to axe renowned casting director Cindy Tolan from the Broadway adaptation of “Norma Rae.”
On the latest episode of LaborPress’ Blue Collar Buzz set to air on AM970 this Sunday night at 9 p.m., Off-Broadway League President Adam Hess was asked for his take on the ongoing battle between the Broadway League and Broadway’s top casting directors.
“It’s a very tough situation, and I see both sides of the coin,” Hess said. “On the one hand, a lot of the casting directors are companies, and as you know, you can’t unionize a company — it’s the employee who gets unionized. Often, you’ll hire a company who has several employers to cast your show. So, while you approach the key man in terms of them having them cast it, they have three or four people working for them…and it might be that person who’s actually doing the casting on your behalf. So, you’re really hiring a company and not an individual to cast your show.”
That position, however, puts the Broadway League in opposition with their counterparts in film and television who, for over a decade, have successfully bargained with many of those same Broadway casting directors and their union.
“No one has been able to tell us what makes casting directors different from costume designers, set designers, press agents, and other Broadway workers who all have union contracts with the Broadway League,” IBT spokesperson Alex Moore told LaborPress. “Casting directors are asking Broadway producers to provide healthcare, retirement, and fair treatment to casting directors who work on their plays, just like they provide to everyone else who works on Broadway.”
IBT Local 817 President Tom O’Donell earlier dismissed the Broadway League’s lawsuit against the casting directors and their union.
“To be clear, the casting directors are not attempting to ‘fix prices’, neither in wages nor benefit contributions,” O’Donell said in a statement. “They simply want the same workplace fairness and healthcare afforded to everyone else who works on Broadway. Broadway made over a billion dollars last year. Rather than engage in a dialogue with forty working men and women who have been instrumental to their success, the League spouts fake facts, bullies, and files lawsuits. Sound familiar?”
Despite their vital contributions, the history of Broadway casting directors is one of having to fight long and hard to have the work they do recognized as a legitimate profession.