The Show Goes on at Carnegie Hall as Strike Continues

October 3, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013

NEW YORK—The stagehands at Carnegie Hall are still on strike, but agreed to return to work and let the American Symphony Orchestra perform as scheduled on Oct. 3. Future shows, including the New York Pops on Friday and Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra on Saturday will perform as scheduled as well.

The stagehands picketed Carnegie Hall early on Oct. 2 forcing the venue to cancel its season-opening performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra, featuring star violinist Joshua Bell and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

The strikers returned on the morning of Oct. 3, but the picket lines dissolved in the early afternoon. Shortly after, Carnegie Hall issued a statement that the American Symphony Orchestra will perform as scheduled.

The union and the concert hall have been negotiating a new contract for more than a year. Negotiations broke down after the union demanded jurisdiction over Carnegie Hall’s new Education Wing set to open in 2014.

According to Carnegie Hall, the stagehands union, Local One, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), whose jurisdiction is tied to performance spaces, has no collective bargaining agreements over any other education spaces in any New York-area musical observatories.

Carnegie Hall offered the union, where five stagehands earn an average of $420,000 a year each, a contract with wage and benefit increases in addition to continued jurisdiction over Carnegie Hall and equitable access to the new Education Wing. The union opted to strike, effectively rejecting the proposal.

“We are disappointed that, despite the fact that the stagehands have one of the most lucrative contracts in the industry, they are now seeking to expand their jurisdiction beyond the concert hall and into the new Education Wing in ways that would compromise Carnegie Hall’s education mission,” Clive Gillison, executive and artistic director of Carnegie Hall, stated in a press release.

Carnegie Hall’s previous agreements with Local One never included jurisdiction over the Education Wing. Other unionized employees are currently performing work on the Education Wing. A statement from the concert hall charges that Local One wants to displace those employees.

“Acceptance of the union’s demands would not only restrict education work within the new spaces, it would divert significant funds from the Hall’s music education program and into stagehand fees,” reads a statement from Carnegie Hall.

Stagehands on Strike

The top earner among the five stagehands at Carnegie Hall is Dennis O’Connell who earned $464,632 in 2011, according to a 2011 Carnegie Hall tax return. Only two people in the entire company at the time earned more: the chief financial officer and the executive director.

Employees on the picket lines north and west of Carnegie Hall said they were instructed not to speak with the press because the union has a record of negative press coverage, a union representative said. There were nearly 100 people protesting, although only five work inside the concert hall.

When picketers were asked about what stagehands do, a reporter was referred to the union president, who did not make himself available to the press either in person outside the venue or over the phone.

Union members chanted, “No contract, no show,” in front of the main entrance to the venue.

A leaflet distributed by union members to passers-by stated that the union is not seeking to displace any workers in the Education Wing, but wants to perform the same work there as they now perform in the rest of the concert hall.

“It is hard for our members to understand how the Carnegie Hall Corporation is willing to spend over $230 million renovating its historic building in Manhattan, but they are not choosing to acknowledge the work that we perform after 60 years of service,” the union’s leaflet reads.

The Music Goes On

When the Philadelphia Orchestra heard about the strike at Carnegie Hall, the musicians instead performed a free pop-up concert for a lucky crowd at the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall in Philadelphia. Visitors were invited to show up in casual dress and fill the seats on a first-come-first-serve basis. The 75-minute concert was family-friendly with no intermission. Musicians also dressed casually.

Follow Ivan on Twitter: @ivanpentchoukov