Carnegie Hall: the union side

Carnegie Hall: the union side


norman lebrecht

October 02, 2013

Here’s IATSE’s reason for blacking out opening night:





Local One has unfortunately been left with no choice but to exercise its legal rights at Carnegie Hall after 13 months of bargaining. Carnegie Hall Corporation has spent or will spend $230 million on its ongoing studio tower renovation, but they have chosen not to appropriately employ our members as we are similarly employed throughout the rest of Carnegie Hall.

The Union has been very respectful and honorable throughout the entire bargaining process. Carnegie Hall Corporation continued for 13 months to fail to acknowledge the traditional and historic work that we perform and after no significant progress, we found it absolutely necessary to take action to protect the members that we represent.

Contrary to today’s press statement released by Carnegie Hall Corporation, Local One has never proposed the elimination of any current Carnegie Hall employees, whether Union represented or otherwise and we remain willing and always available to bargain for a successful resolve.

James J. Claffey, Jr.


Local One, I.A.T.S.E.


  • Paul says:

    I just want to say that if there is an arts administrator anywhere that is the polar OPPOSITE of Minnesota’s notorious Michael Henson, that person would be Clive Gillinson. He seems primarily concerned with growing the art form of classical music, not diminishing it. That includes this new education center.

    He has the credentials to prove it too. He helped grow the LSO into what it is today, and has significantly grown Carnegie Hall’s own budget and programs since he arrived in NYC a few years ago. I hate to say it, but from my point of view the stage hand union is being incredibly greedy here. Shame on them. They are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year (the top stagehand earned 500K+!!!) from helping to operate the hall itself. Now they’re attempting to go after more territory, but it’s not a concert hall, it’s an education building. it might make sense to have professional stage hands running Carnegie Hall (say what you will about their extraordinary compensation as it stands now), but paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to move chairs and stands around, turn lights on/off in an education center that serves low-income populations and students. Are you kidding me!?!

    Every dollar that the stage hand extracts from Carnegie Hall will be a dollar that is taken from the budgets that go towards hiring musicians and/or teaching artists who actually work with the kids and community members. The musicians and teaching artists are paid far less than the stage hands, and arguably do MUCH more of the actual work. It’s an insane situation.

  • Kevin says:

    They probably can’t afford their own stagehands who make $400K- $500K! (I suppose this isn’t enough money for them, so they have to strike!)

    • You would be supposing wrong, since the issue is not a demand for more money.

      • John Kelly says:

        Actually it is. This new expansion plans to employ folks who are not members of said Union. Hence they would be more affordable (difficult not to be more affordable). Union’s argument is that they should staff the expansion at what one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to comprehend would be higher rates of compensation and cost to the institution. Paul above is correct. This is an insane situation. And of course it’s about money.

  • PK Miller says:

    I am just sooo tired of unions & their outrageous demands. They cut off their noses to spite their faces. Now they have deprived hundreds of people of a concert. A la MNO, there has to be good faith bargaining on BOTH sides. If the union acts collectively like a petulant child well they should be treated like a petulant child. Do your jobs, bargain in GOOD FAITH, stop whining when so many of your colleagues, so many people period are unemployed, including all the people artist, stagehands, office/administrative people who just lost their job at City Opera. You seem as incapable of empathy as the Teabaggers/Republican THUGS in Congress, in governors’ offices, legislatures…ME, ME, ME & to hell with you. “People acting more like children than children” Thank you Ms. Streisand!

  • Fritz Curzon says:

    so what is the issue? It seems from what I have read above, that the stage hands want to move every last music stand in the non technical area. If they do it within their current pay well and good. If they are getting extra hourly rates for that, which some less expensive janitors or the students themselves could do, then my sympathy is totally with Paul above.

    My brother is a senior hospital physician (in New Zealand) who was severely ticked off by the bureaucrats for changing a lightbulb two days after pointing out the need. He pointed out to them that when they required an aspirin they were not required to get him to administer it.

  • Rick says:

    Whatever your opinion of unions in general is, it’s a union leadership’s responsibility to protect the wages and working conditions of it’s members within it’s jurisdiction. Carnegie Hall is adding work needs that will be under the jurisdiction of Local 1, but will not add it to the contract after a year’s worth of negotiations. That’s a refusal to bargain on Carnegie Hall’s side. It’s doesn’t matter what the work is, or even if anybody thinks that they’re being over or under paid for it. Just because it would be cheaper to hire somebody else to do the work isn’t the point either.

    It would be the same for unionized 32BJ workers – who I’m sure will be represented in the new spaces. Really, is a living wage so odious as to have contempt for all unions – which were created in the first place because of a long american history of management taking advantage of their workers? I don’t think so.

    The notion that the “artists” or the “children” deserve something more for some reason is absurd. Entertainment product is the #2 export of the USA, second only to the defense industry. For an industry that robust – all workers within it deserve to have health insurance and retirement funds. In fact every american deserves it, and it’s only the unions who are protecting the jobs of workers and enabling them to live a middle class life with their families, and retire with defined benefit pensions.

    And, need I point out that all of the artists that work at Carnegie Hall are unionized. Box office, Ticket takers, Door men, Teamsters, Designers, Hair and makeup workers, Wardrobe workers, Projectionists, Actors, Stage managers, and on and on. They will ALL negotiate jurisdiction for the new space, regardless of whether there will be any work for them there or not, because the contract is with the employer, and when one day in the future Carnegie Hall produces a show for the public to view, everybody will be rightfully represented and properly paid.

    • JJC says:

      Rick, this is the kind of marxist crap that has reduced the arts in New York City to beggary. The time to think outside the union box has long passed. I’m a union member, by requirement, and these people are insane, delusional. Four decades of professional activity, full time, in this city has left me with many tales to tell and what I have seen is not pretty, its tragic. Tone deafness is what the union is all about. Go ahead, just wish all that money into the coffers, I’m sure it will materialize, keep dreaming…

      • MWnyc says:

        JJC, I think you’d have many of us agreeing with you completely if not for the “marxist crap” bit.

        Even the Chinese Communist Party isn’t really Marxist anymore, and they only barely bother to pretend otherwise.

        Usually the only people in America who toss around accusations of “Marxist!” and “Communist!” anymore are the same ones who support shutting the federal government down in order to repeal or gut the Affordable Care Act. Those people don’t have much credibility this week.

        If you actually want to persuade anyone reading, phrases like “marxist crap” won’t help.

        • If you actually want to persuade anyone reading, phrases like “marxist crap” won’t help.

          …But they do effectively reveal the true agenda behind the anti-union rhetoric.

          • robcat2075 says:

            When did haggling for the best possible financial result become “Marxist”?

            When a company demands a price for its services we call that “capitalism” but when workers demand a price for their services we call that “Marxism”.

          • “When did haggling for the best possible financial result become ‘Marxist’?”

            When “Marxist” became the label automatically applied to “anything I dislike, or don’t understand”.

          • Sefik Yuksel says:

            Would anyone know the amount to be paid for stagehands services for a piano recital at Carnegie Hall today, which includes putting a piano and a chair on the stage? Last time we checked, nearly ten years ago, it was $46.000.

    • ... says:

      Um………Not true. First of all, please distinguish doormen and box office staffs from “artists”. Second of all, most soloists (including chamber musicians) that perform on stage, are not unionized. They actually are the attractions that produce ticket sales (i. e. revenue for expenses) and bring in donors (grants and donations), hence making it possible for Carnegie to pay its staffs, including stage hands.

      • They won’t have much of an audience without the services provided by stagehands and box office staff.

        • This is just silly. To restate the premise: every cog is vitally important. Remove one and the whole enterprise collapses. For starters, this idea of the equality of all the parts is false on many levels. Other workers in most firms can fill in, however imperfectly, if one group goes out on strike (or stays home sick). Secondly, the issue is how much Carnegie Hall could save if it replaced its existing stage hand contracts with new ones at (or even above) market rates for that kind of labor. The current stage hands — or ticket takers, or managers — could be replaced with others from the general pool of willing employees. The incumbent job holders usually aren’t special. They may have some learned skill and experience, and that skill/experience is often worth a premium. But if Carnegie Hall could go out into the open labor market and replace their stage hands and ticket takers quite easily, then we don’t have to fear that the musical world as we know it will come to an end if the faces behind the stage are changed.

          • I know that most of the anti-union posters here are absolutely certain that they could do what stagehands (not just at Carnegie Hall) do. I also know that in most cases, they are absolutely wrong.

          • MWnyc says:

            But we aren’t talking about most cases here, Jeff. We’re talking about one case, that of Carnegie Hall.

            I think most of us are certain that we couldn’t do what stagehands in theaters do during fully-staged productions.

            I know that the Metropolitan Opera’s top stagehands and technical experts are paid very well, and I don’t begrudge them a cent. Putting up six operas a week plus rehearsals plus the design and construction and maintenance work plus the extra requirements of the HD broadcasts is an extraordinary achievement. (And they deserve hazard pay for having to deal with The Machine.)

            I also know, from clicking on your name and having a quick look at your website, that you are a lighting designer. You surely have worked with hundreds of skilled and dedicated backstage professionals who are unionized. Naturally you want to defend them, and in general principle I agree with you. In general principle I expect many of us do.

            But this is a particular, and unusual, case. Carnegie Hall isn’t the Metropolitan Opera. In terms of production requirements, it isn’t even Avery Fisher Hall.

        • So let’s charge people to watch stagehands push chairs around. Renée Fleming can sell the ice creams.

  • JJC says:

    Having dealt with Carnegie Hall stagehands for over 30 years, I have taken their measure. They are thugs, the most of them, and I make it a point of pride not to take an ounce of crap from them, and they know it (me a mere fiddler). They should be rejected in their attempt to spread their ruinously expensive tentacles any further. This strike will cost me a lot of money but it will be well sacrificed if these bastards come up against a wall of sanity too long denied them.

  • “I am just sooo tired of unions & their outrageous demands.”

    And I’m even more tired of corporations that screw their workers. If our corporations and other large institutions could be trusted to treat their workers fairly, there would be no need for unions.

    • John Kelly says:

      $300-$500K a year sounds more than fair to me and certainly to almost everyone commenting on this on the NY Times site. New Yorkers know a shakedown when they see one.

      • Most of them don’t make anywhere near $500K, although it’s convenient for union-haters to speak as if they do.

        • Andrew Balio says:

          One doesn’t have to be a union-hater to see the absurdity of the Stagehands horning in on a simple educational project. This is a shakedown, as is often done by this union. That we should have a right to be in unions doesn’t make this just. They are part of what is strangling the arts.They have a sweet deal.

    • MWnyc says:

      Exactly so.

      But we’re not talking about big corporations like Wal-Mart on Monsanto or Bank of America here.

      We’re talking about Carnegie Hall. And I don’t ever remember hearing suggestions that Carnegie Hall treats its employees unfairly. (Well, not since Franz Xaver Ohnesorg left.)

  • blogpurity says:

    $400k per year? R U F K M?

  • This is the sort of thing that could only have happened if the institution was flush with cash at some point. Many companies have saddled the future with obligations that were unsustainable (short of open-ended public bailouts). It’s not a shock that some non-profits would fall into the same behaviors. But the only big bailout that can save them is richer endowments and contributions from well-heeled private donors.

    If I were one of them, Carnegie is decidedly not an institution that I would see as a good place to park my earned income or my assets/bequest. A well run organization does not structure its costs this way, a way that is quite out of line with other similar institutions serving the same purpose. Carnegie may be unique in many ways (we all like to think we are), but the labor market for backstage crew is probably not one of them.

    There is a good case for an enterprise to pay a solid wage premium above market, if they have some advantage that permits them to do so. They will get their pick of talent, and that labor force will be keen to hold onto those jobs.

    Something leads me to believe that 500K for an “average” unskilled worker is well above the premium necessary to secure the world’s best backstage talent (whether they tune the sound, or idle away the time reading novels and handing out towels to tired musicians). And if there are no incentives for those employees actually to perform well, then all you have done is point the institution toward eventual insolvency.

    Publicity of this sort is a fundraiser’s nightmare. It should be.

    • “Something leads me to believe that 500K for an “average” unskilled worker is well above the premium necessary to secure the world’s best backstage talent”

      Again, that’s with 40+ hours of overtime per week, and it’s not the entire staff.

      • John Kelly says:

        Jeff, leave it out. You know and I know that staffers work for politicians and investment bankers with MBAs work for banks for 80+ hours a week for less. These stagehands are overcompensated and looking to expand territory. Getting one of these unionized positions is even more difficult than joining the Sandhogs union (the guys who dig tunnels under Manhattan).

        • I’m interested in your obvious assumption that stagehands are somehow “lesser” and not as deserving.

          • John Kelly says:

            Well I tend to believe that restrictive labour practices lead to uncompetitive labour markets and higher costs to consumers. We’re not talking health and safety here, we’re talking money. This is a NY shakedown and any New Yorker will see it for same. I also believe that people who make significant investments in their education should earn more over time. In this world, unless something funny is going on, you are paid for high levels of physical risk, or high levels of responsibility. These guys are paid more than the President of the United States. Something funny is going on.

          • “Well I tend to believe that restrictive labour practices lead to uncompetitive labour markets and higher costs to consumers.”

            That’s a matter of opinion (although, “We can have lower prices if we screw working people” is a less than compelling argument, in *my* opinion).

            What’s a matter of proven historical fact though, is that without unions, conditions become abusive and unsafe.

          • MWnyc says:

            Very true.

            But we aren’t talking about doing away with unions here. We aren’t even talking about doing away with unions at Carnegie Hall. (I’m sure that plenty of people who work in the new educational wing will be members of unions like 32B-32J.)

            We’re talking about IATSE – a union with a particularly bad reputation in the New York arts community, which is no hotbed of conservatism – trying to extend its turf into areas that aren’t public performance spaces.

    • MWnyc says:

      @David Feldman – “Carnegie may be unique in many ways (we all like to think we are), but the labor market for backstage crew is probably not one of them.”

      I think Carnegie Hall is at least unusual among venues in New York in that almost every performance they present is a one-time event. Except in rare instances, they don’t present repeat performances of the same work or program. I think that makes them even more vulnerable to a strike than even the Metropolitan Opera or the New York Philharmonic would be (let alone a theater presenting one show four or six or eight times a week). It’s that many more events to try to reschedule, ticket buyers to contact and placate or refund, artists to buy out if necessary, etc.

      Those who have followed classical music in New York for a while have probably heard that the major classical venues are very reluctant to take IATSE on in a battle. (This has even made it into The New York Times on a few occasions.) They’d lose so much, and gain so many headaches, in an extended strike that they think it’s worth it to agree to unappealing pay demands and work rules.

  • Sefik Yuksel says:

    About ten years we enquired the cost of organizing a piano recital at Carnegie Hall for Idil Biret. We learnt that a major cost item was as below:

    Stage Hands – $46.OOO

    We immediately gave up our plans.

    Just so that everyone knows where those who make 400-500k a year get their money from.

  • Rick says:

    @JJC A bit old, but still clear. for a $100 ticket on Broadway, 25% of it goes towards all salaries of every single person working on a show, including deferred benefits and taxes. Less than half of that is for every single worker who is not an actor. Those insane unions are taking almost 13%! Ticket prices have little to do with the cost of labor. Also, with the way that you characterize stagehands, is it any wonder that they treat you so poorly? Try being nice, they might like it.

    @… Distinguish them how exactly? I’m a unionized artist and in no way are ‘artists’ more deserving or worthy than anybody else. The shows could not happen without everyone in the room, just like city life couldn’t be possible without traditional services. The notion that it’s all about the name on the marquee is a bit simple.

    @John Kelly Today’s NYTimes article says that the CH stagehands AVERAGE 60 hours a week. Try that life yourself and tell me what you think it’s worth. To repeat myself from the other thread, CH management could hire as many Local 1 workers that they wish, they willingly choose not to, but rather ask their employees to work these hours. It’s the employer’s choice to pay the overtime, and they willingly do it.

    The general argument against unions always seems to be that the workers don’t deserve what they have and that they should be happy with their lives, shut up, do their jobs and leave everybody else alone without interference. I would suggest that any casual search will provide evidence that unions in general have strengthened the economy by creating a middle class. How many bankers, lawyers, investors, etc. etc. (the so called ‘educated’ and ‘skilled’) have ‘deservedly earned’ millions of dollars a year when many would observe that they did not? It’s a bit amusing to me to see people be so worked up about five guys who are earning a great living in what’s the greatest concert hall in the USA. I say good for them.

    For me, I happily read my pension statement every year, knowing that I will be able to retire at the exact same economic level as I’ve been living during my working years. If I worked at Carnegie Hall, I would require a union contract and if in five years I worked in their new building, I will expect the same.

    • MWnyc says:

      @Rick – “Today’s NYTimes article says that the CH stagehands AVERAGE 60 hours a week. Try that life yourself and tell me what you think it’s worth.”

      Many of us have tried it; some are doing it now, and for considerably less money. I’m sure there are more than a few staffers at Carnegie Hall who work 60 hours a week for one-fifth of what the top stagehands are making.

      “How many bankers, lawyers, investors, etc. etc. (the so called ‘educated’ and ‘skilled’) have ‘deservedly earned’ millions of dollars a year when many would observe that they did not?”

      Many of them don’t in fact deserve it, and lots of people recognize that. That’s a big part of what the Occupy movement was about.

      Hm – now that I think of it, the top five or six stagehands at Carnegie Hall are part of the 1%.

  • You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate – that is the capitalist paradigm. So it turns out in this case that labor is better at that game than management – so what? The Red Sox just paid some guy $110 million to play a game.

  • José Bergher says:

    Good news. It looks as if the thing is settled. Two hours ago I stopped by Carnegie Hall’s box office and was told that tonight’s concert by the American Symphony Orchestra is on. The orchestra was about to begin its dress rehearsal.

  • José Bergher says:


    Though the American Symphony did perform tonight at Carnegie Hall, the situation with the stagehands has NOT been settled yet. See update in Slipped Disc:

    “Carnegie Hall: Concerts resume as union talks continue”

  • Rick says:

    @MWnyc Um – I see that you have nyc in your name, but “the IATSE has a bad reputation with the arts community”? I’m not sure where you’re reading that, but perhaps it’s in the NY Post or the Wall Street Journal. The relationship between all the New York unions and their employers is for the most part not adversarial. I’m not saying that it’s a love-fest, but they absolutely and respectfully co-exist.

    Your argument about one-time events isn’t logical. A lost day’s revenue is a lost day’s revenue in every performance space. How is Carnegie Hall vulnerable to strikes? We’re talking about the first one in it’s over one-hundred year history.

    @John Kelly is being elitist in thinking that because someone earns more than the President they must need be doing something somehow “grander” or “more important”. In the real world, there is little relationship between value and perception of value. Things are worth as much as what someone is willing to pay – and again, CH willingly pays the overtime to these men – they choose to because they think that it is a better deal for them than to hire other guys to avoid the OT pay. So, that means that its worth about $2,000,000 to them to NOT hire other stagehands, but rather have continuity of workers. Also, based on the numbers reported, I think it’s safe to say that the contract for them is for about $130k when you take out overtime and benefits. To live in NYC – is that unfair for living in one of the most expensive cities in the USA? no. Is there someone in the world, doing God’s work, who should be earning as much as this but isn’t? Of course – don’t be naive. But really – that’s your argument about how they don’t deserve it? The lowest common denominator is pretty pessimistic in my book.

    • MWnyc says:

      Read these things in the NY Post? No, Rick, people who work in these places have been telling me this directly for years.

      How is Carnegie Hall different? As I said, one-off events.

      If audiences miss out on The Lion King or The Book of Mormon because of a strike, they can be reaccommodated anytime in the next decade, probably. Even at New York City Ballet or the Metropolitan Opera, ticketholders can be rebooked to a later performance in a run or, at worst, with different works by the same company.

      If Carnegie Hall ticketholders miss out on the Berlin Philharmonic or a Mitsuko Uchida recital, Carnegie might be able to rebook them to hear the same artists the following year, but not to hear the same works. All the more difficult with the audience members for artists who don’t come every year.

      The lost revenue may be the same, but the headaches are multiplied.

      (And I don’t know this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the event of a strike or other cancellation by Carnegie Hall, Carnegie still has to pay the artists at least part of their fees.)

      • “people who work in these places have been telling me this directly for years.”

        “people who work in these places” is pretty vague. Who are these “people”. Management? Performers? Of those two groups, the only one likely to have first-hand knowledge of what stagehands do (note that I did not say, “…likely to *think* they have first-hand knowledge….”) is management, and they can hardly be expected to be unbiased and objective.

  • Andrew Balio says:

    The Stagehands Union does indeed paralyze the arts in many ways. If, in this educational wing, they want to have performances of , and, for kids, which amount to little more than moving chairs or a piano around, which anyone could do, Carnegie should be allowed to without being strong-armed. Professional stagehands are essential in opera, broadway and elaborate setups. That they command such obscenely high pay is a form of extortion that is a major contributor to the broken model that we talk about. They can’t just play a recital for people but we sure can just move some chairs and a piano for a simple concert.

  • Rick says:

    Strike over. Everybody happy.

  • Rick says:

    One last update – it seems that the characterization of the new spaces being only classrooms is a mistake. In fact there are several performance spaces in the new construction, where the public is going to go to see performances. Thus, clearly within not only the stagehand’s jurisdiction, but also every entertainment union’s. The horror – those overpaid stage managers!