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Why Won't Broadway Recognize This Union?

May 26, 2017
By Joe Maniscalco

B'way casting directors need a contract.

New York, NY - Broadway casting directors fighting for a fair contract since 2016 as members of Teamsters Local 817, say that the refusal of producers to sit down with them at the bargaining table is both unfair and threatens to undermine the very diversity that has helped the theater industry rake in a whopping $1.5 billion in gross revenues this past season alone. 

Casting directors are responsible for finding the brightest lights on Broadway, but unlike set designers, actors, stage hands, press officers, ushers and virtually every other job associated with the theater industry, their union has gone unrecognized, leaving vital health insurance and pension benefits non-existent. 

Last year, after more than a decade of organizing, casting directors successfully joined Theatrical Teamsters Local 817. Since then, however, Broadway producers partnered in the Broadway League have refused to negotiate a contract with them, claiming that casting directors are independent contractors and not employees of the lucrative productions they help to create from the start. 

“I feel really deeply frustrated,” veteran Broadway casting director Will Cantler told LaborPress this week. “It seems crazy that everyone from the ushers to press representatives — every single person is getting health benefits and pensions — and w’ere left out in the cold.” 

In response to the standoff, the Broadway League has issued a statement saying in part, “We have had a respectful dialogue in the past year with Teamsters Local 817 but do not believe it would be appropriate for the Broadway League or its producing members to recognize a union as the bargaining representative of professionals who are not employees of our productions.” 

Casting directors had the same fight with film and television producers more than a decade ago, but were ultimately able to hammer out a negotiated agreement that recognized their duly elected union representatives.  

Broadway casting directors don't understand why now is any different. 

“Broadway likes to pat itself on the back on the diversity we’ve seen in the last few years — the fact of the matter is, without pension benefits and health insurance, we are not going to grow diversity in casting directors,” Cantler said. 

Bernie Telsey, casting director for “Hamilton” — the most diverse show on Broadway and the reigning box office king — told LaborPress that that young people just entering the casting field are incredulous about the way the theater industry currently regards their talents.

“I look into these young faces who don’t understand why there is no pension, ’Is this not a job [they ask] — shouldn’t we be treated like everyone else?’” Telsey said.  

However, instead of sitting down with Local 817, the Broadway League and its member producers are pushing casting directors to go to the National Labor Relations Board and have their disputed employment status determined there. 

But Local 817 casting directors say that’s unnecessary because Broadway producers have the ability under U.S. labor law to recognize their union and begin bargaining a contract immediately. 

“Twelve years ago, with the film and television producers it was the same argument," casting director Cindy Tolan told LaborPress. "We consider ourselves part of the artistic team — not managers. It’s just time to recognize the craft of casting directors.”

Indeed, theater insiders often maintain that casting directors should even have their own category for the Tony Awards. Broadway producers, however, don’t see it that way. Instead, likening them to accountants and lawyers. 

“Like other vendors such as advertising agencies, accountants and lawyers, whose collaborations we also value, casting companies are engaged as independent contractors; they are separate businesses with their own employees and typically work on more than one show at a time within and outside our industry,” the Broadway League’s statement goes on to state. 

Local 817 President Tom O’Donnell calls the Broadway League’s refusal to negotiate a contract with its casting directors the “biggest snub” of the entire Tony Awards season.  

“Every actor, director, stage hand, costume designer, and set designer on Broadway has a union and has a contract,” O’Donnell said in a statement. “Other Broadway workers don’t have to choose between paying the rent and going to the doctor. There is no reason these wealthy producers can’t take care of their casting directors too.”

The 71st Annual Tony Awards show is set to air on June 11 with actor Kevin Spacey hosting. 

"I don’t think they have a good reason [for not negotiating] -- excpet they're supposed to say no to a good union."

 

 

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