Stagehands' dispute may close down Broadway

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The Independent US

The New York theatre world was on the brink of its second shutdown in five years last night after Broadway producers and theatre owners were unable to reach agreement with the stagehands' union after two-and-a-half months of fractious negotiations.

In last-ditch negotiations that went on all day on Tuesday, the League of American Theatres and Producers laid down what it called its final offer. It was not immediately clear how the union responded, but the producers' league put out a late-night statement saying the counter-offer "made no progress on any of the issues we have identified as crucial to these negotiations". Charlotte St Martin, executive director of the league, said: "In fact, the union's offer has made things worse for all productions."

Nobody has called a strike so far, but no further negotiating sessions have been scheduled and seasoned Broadway-watchers suspect a shutdown is becoming ever more likely.

The stagehands' contract expired in July, and the producers originally wanted to negotiate no longer than the end of September.

The talks have thus been running on fumes for the past couple of weeks.

The last time Broadway shuttered its theatres was in 2003, when a musicians' stoppage forced a four-day closure. The previous shutdown was almost 30 years before that.

The sticking point in the stagehands' negotiation is the producers' insistence that they have some flexibility on how many workers they hire on a big production. In other words, they want the ability to dismiss some if they discover they have too many.

The union has accepted that in principle but wants a laundry list of concessions in return, starting with higher salaries across the board – concessions that the producers say go way too far.

It's proving a rough season all round for entertainment industry labour disputes. In Hollywood, the threat of a writers' strike is also looming large as the old Writers Guild contract with producers expires on 31 October and the two sides remain far apart on the issue of royalties on DVD and internet sales.

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