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I’ll Take Your $150,000 and Lower It to More Like $70,000

Numbers quickly became a PR tool in the stagehands’ strike. Some key figures in the battle for your sympathy.

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DISPUTED NUMBER
A stagehand’s average salary, per producers: $150,000 +

The Producers Say…
This is the figure the League of American Theaters and Producers released as “average annual earnings” for a stagehand. It includes all benefits (which adds 44 percent to wages) and assumes that most stagehands work a 40-hour week and also earn well above the lowest-rung rates. The producers say the salaries that unions are listing only account for 28 hours per week.

The Stagehands Say…
Those listed salaries, Local One spokesman Bruce Cohen said last Monday (before a media blackout), range from about $70,000 for the two lowest rates (which he says 75 percent of stagehands make) to $88,500 for the three “head” hands on every show. He adds that the league’s number is based on almost-unattainable 52-week years and overtime that less than half of employees get.


DISPUTED NUMBER
Flyman required at every musical: 1

The Producers Say…
Though most musicals need these specialists in raising and dropping props, low-tech ones like Company don’t—but they have to hire one anyway. It typifies what producers say are onerous work minimums. Another figure they cite: a four-hour minimum for moving a piano.

The Stagehands Say…
Cohen says only two recent musicals have not needed flymen, and besides, such rules will be dropped only in exchange for other benefits of equal value. “They call it flexibility,” he adds, “but really what they want to do is hire at will.” He also sees no reason to abandon decades-old rules in a time of plenty.


DISPUTED NUMBER
2006 capital losses on Broadway: $96 million

The Producers Say…
The league released this number to demonstrate that Broadway is riskier than ever. Over the past four years, the producers cite an annualized rate of return of 2.7 percent—pretty crappy for investors—and add that four out of every five shows fail to recoup. In other words: poor, sad producers.

The Stagehands Say…
Cohen counters that capital losses from big flops don’t have anything to do with profits from blockbusters. “There are two profit centers on Broadway,” he adds. Yes, producers often lose money, but owning a theater is “100 percent profitable. If not, the theaters would be Gaps or Benettons.


DISPUTED NUMBER
Tax-Relief Fund: 4.5¢

The Producers Say…
This is the amount on every revenue dollar that’s paid into all union pensions, as required by law per a sixties settlement that replaced a city “amusement tax” with a percentage taken out of every ticket. The league doesn’t want to revoke it but includes it in its salary estimate.

The Stagehands Say…
The union says including this in the salary figures inflates them by 30 percent, and the stagehand reps don’t consider it theater money because it’s tacked onto the ticket price and is enforced by the state. “They add in the benefits that they don’t pay for,” Cohen says.


DISPUTED NUMBER
Proposed raises/cuts: 16.5% vs. -38%

The Producers Say…
The league has repeatedly said it offered 16.5 percent in raises, which it says is well above a standard-of-living increase, over the next five years. It admits that jobs will be cut if the rules are changed but says that’s because Broadway’s 350 stagehands haven’t been doing enough real work.

The Stagehands Say…
The union says stagehands would lose 38 percent of what they have—not just jobs but overtime—and that the raise doesn’t account for much more than cost-of-living increases. The bottom line, according to Local One president James Claffey Jr.: “We will not accept cuts.” Last Wednesday, the two sides announced they would finally meet over the weekend.


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