Slipped Disc editorial: The lights keep on going out in America’s bleakest week

First City Opera shut down. Then Minnesota lost its music director and any hope of resumed play after a year’s lockout.

Now Carnegie Hall has been hit by a Teamsters strike on opening night.

The strike will generate little public support. Some of the Teamster stagehands earn half a million dollars a year for doing nothing more expert or exerting than moving a few bits of furniture, but there’s not much Carnegie can do.

Any attempt to rationalise costs produces a union threat to shut down Broadway.

This is not a fight that Carnegie chief Clive Gillinson can afford to lose.


The next few days are going to involve some very tough talking.

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  • I take no position on the strike, but my strong guess is that no one makes $500,000 for doing little.

    Just because performers don’t see most of the things stagehands do doesn’t mean the stagehands aren’t doing them.

    • I used to work there. Trust me. They do little. There is no scenery at Carnegie Hall; rarely is anything “staged,” so to speak. They have to get the chairs configured, make sure the podium is in the right place, adjust the equipment a bit, oversee instrument load ins, occasionally do things like set up screens or other accoutrements for rental events. They are necessary to the running of the hall, sure; no one would deny that, or deny them the respect they deserve for doing their jobs well. But their salaries are disgraceful.

        • Jeffrey, the union is known these days for their ant-like tactics of overcoming the business through numbers. If they quit, business stops until it can be worked out. Management is stuck because of a previous contract, so they can’t hire others to keep business moving. So if management agrees to anything, it’s because their hands are tied.

          Oh, and *never* underestimate the indolent ways of a union worker.

          • Really, Alan?

            I’ve worked with IATSE locals a *lot*, and whie there are some slackers –just as there are among non-union workers, I’ve found that the people who make comments like the above are generally basing them on what they’re certain *must* be so, rather than on first-hand knowledge.

          • I’m very much a union supporter, and I know from experience that stage management requires training, experience and hard work, but I agree these half million salaries are too high.

        • “And if their salaries are disgraceful, is it there fault for asking for the money, or management’s for agreeing to it?”

          Jeff, in the particular case of Carnegie Hall, the stagehands have management over the proverbial barrel. If they go on strike, the concerts Carnegie has to cancel are almost all one-offs. Carnegie can’t re-accommodate ticketholders at a later performance; they have to refund ticket fees and possibly pay the performers their fees as well.

          That gets very expensive very fast.

  • Well, even though I’m a singer, I’d be more interested in Obama’s health care plan, and making sure everyone gets health cover in America, like we have in Britain through out National Health System. No visitor here has to present a credit card if they’ve had a heart attack or the likes, and blacks, whites, and any in between are treated! Seems Obama is trying to get care for all those who don’t have a health card, but seems he’s being compromised by the opposition – just like Clinton got shouted down for helping the vulnerable.

    • Well, Una, ask Norman if he’d consider starting a post and a discussion about that topic.

      As to the case at hand, the stagehands’ union almost certainly provides a good health insurance plan for its members if they aren’t already on the plan Carnegie Hall provides its other employees.

  • As an Executive Director, it must be very awkward to negotiate with an employee who makes a lot more money than you do.

  • I have no inside knowledge of the situation at Carnegie Hall, but every day I look out at a classroom full of young artists who are studying to be arts administrators, and recoil at the thought of how some of those administrators will, despite their start in schools of music and fine arts, grow up to bust unions and lock out violinists. I hope current trajectories do not continue. And while union demands are often excessive, arts administrators should be among the first to recognize that the loss of unions in other sectors has meant the loss of living wages for the workers, which is probably something few of us would endorse.

  • When those who sweep the stage have higher salaries than the performers, there is a serious problem. I used to be pro-union and have now had a change of heart. In San Francisco (my home) BART workers (light-rail train subway system) make more money than a manager of operations at United Airlines responsible for overseeing aircraft maintenance. Outrageous! The classical arts should be government-funded with the artists at the top of the payment structure.

          • If you are seriously suggesting that a stage-hand, as noble a profession as it may be, deserves more financial compensation than the artists the audience has paid handsomely to see and hear then I would suggest to you that you have little love or understanding of the arts and it makes me wonder why you are engaging in a classical arts blog discussion. Perhaps contrarianism is your raison d’etre. If so, you are certainly performing your part well. Please enlighten us all as to why you believe a floor-sweeper should make more money than a classically trained musician in a performance art venue.

          • Oh yes it does, Jeffrey! Salary should be commensurate with skills, training and experience. America is a meritcracy, not a socialist state…yet.

          • I would suggest to you that you have little love or understanding of the arts and it makes me wonder why you are engaging in a classical arts blog discussion

            My 40-year career as an arts professional qualifies me to be here.

          • Jeffrey, pardon my skepticism, but “My 40-year career as an arts professional qualifies me to be here” reads like a facilely worded qualification on a resumé. Please re-phrase and be more specific and descriptive this time.

        • Keith: thank you for the support. I support Unions in theory but in practise the leaders of said unions are as corrupt and money-hungry as the management they are fighting. Meanwhile, most of the rank and file are stuck in between a rock ad a hard place. Everyone deserves a living wages but 250K – 500K for semi-skilled labour is outrageous by any standard.

  • Perhaps Jeffrey can persuade Carnegie Hall to present a Teamsters Guild’s: Interpretive Dance Recital based on the life and disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. He can produce it. I am certain that opening night with be filled to the rafters. Who needs musicians and actors and dancers and writers when you’ve got union members with brooms and tools-belts to fill the bill.

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