So who won the showdown at Carnegie Hall?

So who won the showdown at Carnegie Hall?


norman lebrecht

October 08, 2013

Both sides are claiming victory after last week’s one-day strike. The stagehands union IATSE says it got ‘jurisdiction‘ in the yet-to-be-opened Education Wing. The hall stipulates that this is ‘limited jurisdiction’, nothing like the stranglehold the union exerts over the rest of the premises.

Read it as you wish.

However, behind the scenes a different story was playing out, according to Slipped Disc’s worm in the woodwork.

Carnegie management had made advance plans for a strike. The Philadelphia Orchestra were offered a replacement date if opening night went dark. They accepted happily and celebrated with a free concert back home that rebonded them to grassroots supporters.

Carnegie donorss were contacted in advance and asked if they’d still come to the post-concert dinner if the concert was cancelled. Every single one of them ticked Yes. At the Waldorf meal, they shelled out $3.4 million, some way ahead of expectation.

The total loss to Carnegie was (we hear) in the region of $25,000, small beer in the circumstances.

The union came back to talks next morning and settled for ‘limited jurisdiction’.

Read it as you wish.





  • My guess is that the union got what they really wanted — jurisdiction over the performance spaces in the new wing — and the Hall got what they didn’t want but were willing to accept.

  • Lauren says:

    What a mess. It is maddening that someone makes $400,000.00 per year for rearranging chairs and shifting the occasional piano, far more than most of the musicians. At least Carnegie Hall only lost a small amount during the strike and that the patrons still came out for the dinner event. The unions used to be a force for good but that seems long ago and far away now.

    • Yet, it’s been pointed out to you, several times, that the job involves more than that and that they make that money because the hall chooses to have them work 20-40 hours of overtime per week.

      • Yet, it’s been pointed out to you, several times, that the job involves more than that

        Yes, they have to move music stands, too. Bloody ridiculous salaries. Still, we know where Obama can work after finishing his $400,000 pa sinecure if he fancies a real challenge…

        • “Bloody ridiculous salaries”

          Carnegie Hall doesn’t seem to think so. They’re the ones requiring the overtime. You should call them up and explain to them why they’re wrong.

          • Duh, the hourly rate is too high. These five guys named Mo aren’t required to perform keyhole surgery or anything like that. I’m sure a LOT of people at CH think their stagehands receive bloody ridiculous salaries but have to live with it.

          • “I’m sure a LOT of people at CH think their stagehands receive bloody ridiculous salaries”

            …As evidenced by the fact that salaries were not the issue in the recent negotiation, and haven’t (as far as I know) been a major issue in any other negotiations in recent years.

        • Lauren says:

          Jeffrey is determined to raise mediocrity into an art form. I suppose we should leave him to it. As for the rest of us, we all want living wages for everyone. What frustrates thinking people is the fact that many really talented and intelligent people are getting the short end of the stick whilst the golden sperm/womb club and the bully-boy types like the Teamsters get far more than they are worth. Jeffrey and others with his POV either will not or cannot see this basic point. They somehow see this absurd unfairness in the Carnegie Hall situation as “getting their own back.” against whomever it is they view as “elitists.” In this case I think it is pointless to argue with Jeffrey because he will not see the reality of the situation.

  • Stereo says:

    Get rid of the union.You need a Maggie Thatcher to sort them out or they’ll bankrupt you.

    • Ad the amount of time it will take to return to the days of sweatshops can be measured with an egg timer.

      • Oh, please, don’t exaggerate.

      • Tommy says:

        Jeffrey, no-one here is suggesting that workers shouldn’t be paid for their overtime. What is offensive is the sheer amount they are being paid. There is, I’m sure you’d agree, a big difference between earning $500k and the conditions of a sweatshop. Something in the middle perhaps?

        Also, if the union is so great, why is it allowing its members to work overtime of 20-40 hours a week (if you are to be believed)? That doesn’t sound very safe or sensible to me. Venues can ask them to do it all they like, that doesn’t mean the union has to agree to it.

        • In every local jurisdiction I’ve seen, management has the option of asking for overtime…for a price. The union realizes,as does most management (even if some readers of this blog do not), that there is a huge value in having the continuity provided by having the same stagehands work a show from beginning to end.

          …And since only a part of the stagehands’ work is done when performers are around, this means, often, a lot of overtime.

          • David H. says:

            That argument doesn’t hold water. While it is preferable to have the same helpers hanging around for the whole show, it would then make more sense to hire more people but have them work about 40 hours a week. Only 2-3 days a week, 16 hours a day then.

            Thus the stagehands would get enough rest for their highly skilled work, where they need all their concentration and mental capabilities at any given moment, just like the neurosurgeons who make almost the same money if they are any good.

            Or like the many pilots that are captains with many years of experience under their belts and daily have responsibility for the lives of hundreds but make only half of what the CH stage hands make, best case, with the major airlines.

            A union that deserves that title would try to distribute the workload fairly between more people on the job market. What’s happening at CH just smells like an old boys club or a mafia-like structure.

          • The Carnegie Hall management, seems to disagree with you. You should call them and tell them they’re doing it wrong.

            I have no doubt that there are books written by people who, like you, are sure they

            know what unions really are and who, like you, are wrong.

            I also urge people to read history. Read about work weeks composed of six 16-hour days. Read about “company towns” and company stores. Read about horrendous workplace accidents because providing a safe work environment would have cut into profits, and it was easier just to replace the dead and maimed (who could not afford medical care) with new workers.

            …And when you issue a blanket condemnation of unions, remember that you are also condemning the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra, as well as those of every other major ensemble in the western world.

          • David H. says:

            Jeffrey, you are clearly beating the straw man hard. Nobody is arguing against fair compensation and protection from exploitation. The salaries at CH for the stage hands are a completely different story though, they are just so outrageous that it is a joke. If a neurosurgeon – after 10-12 years of the most demanding education and professional training plus 10 years of work experience – makes as much or less, or if an airliner captain trusted with the live of hundreds daily and a complex machine and procedures to handle, makes about half as much, then you clearly have no point to defend the CH stage hand salaries reasonably.

            They are what they are. Maybe you should stop arguing, since that gives the issue more media exposure, which only can hurt your case.

          • Yes, yes, we know. Blue-collar workers are not as worthy as others. Got it.

    • Lauren says:

      The Unions run maintenance bays at U.S. airlines like American and United. They often make more than the management with a total of 2 and 1/2 hours of required break times for a 9 hour shift. It takes 4-6 people twelve hours to accomplish what 1 manager can do in forty-five minutes because they waste time standing around bitching about how the company works them to death. If one dares to point out that they are very-well compensated for their efforts and that doing their jobs properly amounts to life and death issues (keeping the planes and the people in them in the sky) they smirk and spout rubbish such as, “so, I see you drank the company Kool-Aide,” and skulk away to the break room. This is typical behaviour on every shift, every day. I am no fan of Thatcher but I understand what she was responding to with regard to the Unions and their crippling effect on the British economy in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

  • Almost always, when I hear Artistic Directors or arts company administrators complaining about unions in the terms we’ve seen in these discussions, they turn out to be people who abuse their non-union employees abysmally.

    Almost every time.

  • @Jeff, above: …As evidenced by the fact that salaries were not the issue in the recent negotiation, and haven’t (as far as I know) been a major issue in any other negotiations in recent years.

    Like I mentioned at the foot of the post you replied to with the above quotation: because they have to live with it and, presumably, know they can’t do anything about it, so have left it unaddressed in recent times. Sure as hell doesn’t mean they’re necessarily happy with it, though…

    Anyhow, there’s no need to flog a dead horse. I think it’s ruinous extortion, you don’t. End of story.

  • Bill says:

    Why is it bad for someone that actually does manual labor to earn $400 thousand dollars, but it’s ok for someone that never steps out from behind a desk, except to go fly his private plane or sail his yacht, to make $700 MILLION a year, usually by putting other people out of work?

  • Rick says:

    I’m not going to get into this conversation again, but just want to say that, as a union artist, I would much rather be an overpaid, unworthy, greedy deadbeat than an underpaid one; and I would much rather be an underpaid, unworthy, greedy union deadbeat then an overpaid non-union one. I’m happy to submit to the premise that every single union member in the entire world is a greedy s.o.b. – I am honored and happy, without question, to be one of them.

    And when I retire at the same income level as I’m earning during my working years – a right that I would suggest that everybody should have, I will still feel sorry for the anti-union retirees who are having trouble making ends meet – exactly as I do now.

    What really makes me sad about these arguments is just how much ignorance there is on what a union even is. You guys might read a book on the history of them sometime. Please don’t say that you already know – nobody who is in a union will believe you unfortunately…

    Finally – if you need help organizing your workplace in order to get in on the free-money-for-nothing racket, there are tons of online resources to get the ball rolling. If you’re lucky enough to live in NYC, the most alive, vibrant, wealthy city in the USA (and also the most unionized), you’ll be on your way to Moneys-ville in no time flat.

    • Lauren says:

      Rick: You are all that is wrong with he current American economic system.

      David: You sure like the: ” . . .beating that straw man hard” line.

      Everyone deserves a good living wage. Making $400.000.00 as a stage-hand would be fine if the musicians were making $600.000.00 – they are not. It’s perspective that seems to be lacking here.

  • @Jeff, above – Unskilled labour earning the salary of the US President? Yes, unworthy.

    • You keep saying, “unskilled labor” as if it were, y’know, true.

      It’s been pointed out toyou, several times,that union stagehands — especially those of Local 1 — are highly skilled.

      • One person repeating that Local 1 union stagehands are highly skilled does not make them highly skilled. Explain to me what skills a concert hall stagehand has to possess that any able-bodied person could learn in a short time and maybe the debate could go to another level.

        • Well, no. It couldn’t, and the way I know this is that explanations have been offered by more than one person, yet it hasn’t.

          • Where are these explanations, Jeff? I’ve pulled you up on this before: whenever anyone asks you to explain, you run off and hide, shaking your head in disbelief that people could possibly find $400k pa for pushing pianos, chairs and music stands around a concert hall excessive.

            Rick has explained how a stagehand is paid according to union rules, but no-one has actually talked about the special skills involved in their work, just how long they’re required to be on the job to get it done.

            Explain what special skills a Carnegoie Hall stagehand has to possess to warrant such an inflated hourly pay rate and I’ll leave you in peace.

          • Scattered throughout the various threads on this topic. The fact that people put their fingers in their ears and shout, “Nanannanananana!” doesn’t mean they’re not there.

          • Lauren says:

            Theodore: I think it is pointless to argue with Jeffrey. I can say only this: I have worked as a touring musician and have more than once had to rig lights, move heavy and delicate equipment, second with the primary sound-board engineer and even help construct and paint sets. The only skilled work in the mix is the programming and running of the light and sound board. I took a three-week course at a local San Francisco community access television station (free), stayed behind for a couple of hours per night for six-weeks to learn the finer points of sound mixing and read a couple of books on light-rigging and set construction. By contrast, I have invested probably 25-30 THOUSAND hours learning to master two instruments and be able to create some pleasing noises with three others. The fact that something that took lass than three months to become competent at: stage-handing can pay nearly 1/2 of a million dollars while a skill that takes over a decade to master averages less than $100,000.00 per year if one is very, very lucky is an abomination but any reasonable standard. Thanks for helping to put up a good fight against it though.

  • Rick says:

    @Theodore – boo hoo. Someone earning more than you think they’re worth. Really now, is what they do relevant? Who cares? That life is unfair – is that really some kind of affront to you personally? @Bill has it exactly right. Let’s say that 100% of people in the world can do a job – and I mean everyone, even the elderly, disabled and mentally handicapped. What’s the maximum income in your mind that that job is worth, considering that the person lives in NYC?

    That’s a real question by the way – I’m truly interested in what you think. You’ve made it abundantly clear that $400k is too high. What’s your number? I’d also like to know what you think the highest income in the world should be – is there a limit in your mind, or should one person have the ability to have absolutely everything?

    • No, Rick, don’t misunderstand my objection which, in any case, is basically very simple: that pay earned should be a living wage consistent with the task in hand. I don’t live in NYC so can’t comment on the cost of living, but I have no problem with people earning big money if it is in relation to their skills and years invested in attaining a high standard. As Lauren says, above: Four hundred grand pa for a stagehand is OK if musicians made 600. But they don’t. Nowhere near. Proportionally, it’s completely skew-iff. As for a maximum income, I’ve no idea. After a certain sum it’s completely irrelevant and just down to how many swimming pools you think you need.

      Anyhow, thanks for replying constructively. I see Jeff is nowhere to be seen. Again. Dang! Looks like I’ll never find out what those incredible skills are that Carnegie Hall stagehands have to master…

  • @Lauren – Thanks to you, too. It was a good, clean fight, even if we didn’t manage to change (m)any minds!

  • @Jeff – Yoohoo! Jeff! Where are you? What about these ‘skills’, then?

  • Rick says:

    Well Theodore, it’s a complete impasse. You seem to see a world where people ought to earn money in a direct relationship to others – all categorized to standards of worthiness, whether that is skill, time spent perfecting a craft, intelligence, brute strength or whatever. I’d like to find a single example in the world’s democracies where that exists. It’s just not how humanity works, so for me a bit pointless to discuss – the premise is based on a false reality.

    It seems too that talking about who is more skilled or more deserving: a stagehand or a musician is pointless. We will never be of one mind here either.

    I THINK though that you and I can agree though that the Carnegie Hall Corp. values these particular stagehands more – at least in terms of straight $$$ – than almost all of the other workers that they employ (and of course that includes the artists). The facts of federal labor law can only give a reasonable person the single conclusion that the overtime paid to these particular guys is by choice. It’s impossible to imagine, I think that you would agree, that the leadership in one of the richest concert venues in the US have been forcefully coerced into paying overtime at these levels. That would require a large fantasy scenario, rather than this simple conclusion.

    Artists in general always earn less than more traditional workers. Why? Because they do something that they love and are passionate about. Thus, they can’t not do it. That also makes them the worst business people in the world, which is just another reason why they should be in unions or at the very least have agents (a much more expensive route to take, btw). It’s much better to have someone negotiate on your behalf who doesn’t care a bit whether you are hired to do the work or not – that gives them the power to negotiate if the money is not acceptable.

  • Rick, you’re right that the world doesn’t work like that, but the day we cease to throw up our hands in dismay is the day we stop caring. I’m not sure CH values its stagehands above pretty much all other employees; I have a hunch that, being a very rich concert venue, they were deemed fair game by a grasping union who made no secret of their ability to sabotage one-off events (as all Carnegie Hall’s events are) and thus get management over a barrel. Do nurses doing all that overtime get that kind of money? They should…

    Choristers and orchestra musicians do benefit from union representation and soloists can get agents. There are, however, still performers in the shape of repetiteurs and staff conductors, for example, who are classified as soloists by opera houses and, therefore, cannot benefit from union representation, nor get an agent as their earning potential is not high enough. It’s a niche, but it exists.

    By the way, you haven’t seen Jeff, have you?

  • From a stagehand who chooses to remain anonymous:


    Many school type facilities have stages or recital hall type areas that may or may not get used for public performance. In one of the performing arts centers in my home jurisdiction, they opened an educational facility that included a small black box theater. They didn’t want the IA to have jurisdiction, and told us in negotiations that the venue would only be used for the students at the conservatory in classroom situations, not for public performance. So we agreed to waive jurisdiction. Shockingly (not), they have since regularly used it for public performances, for both student productions and rentals to outside groups. Now they wonder why we don’t trust them.

    Even if there aren’t performance venues, there may be shared electrical or sound wiring or equipment, they may want to be sure that professionals deal with things like moving pianos, harps, tympani, or other instruments, or just chairs and stands that will also be used and needed in the main venue, and need special care or just keeping track of. You’d like to think that music teachers would be knowledgeable and responsible about such things, but I can tell you from sad experience that this is not always the case.


  • Rick says:

    Well, I can see that this thread is dead, but this notion of putting someone over a barrel is just so bizarre. If you were to describe the ongoing and historic events that somehow led to a staff member’s high wages – something that I did by the way, and I think with pretty good detail, what is your scenario exactly Theodore? Your vagueness and little anti-union code words belies an underlying ignorance of labor in general. I don’t mean that as an insult, truly – just an observation and personal opinion. Do you imagine that the workers are physically threatening management? How do negotiations unfold in your mind exactly? And how is it, that some unworthy union thug can outsmart a company so rich that it can use the country’s best management side labor lawyers – like

    I’d personally love New York City to be less humid during the summer, but truly – there’s no point in trying to change nature. You might try a book on evolution along with the one on labor law.

    And wow – all Carnegie Hall events are sabotaged? Those are strong words from someone who doesn’t live in NYC.

    You didn’t answer my question on how much a worker should be paid – forget about the “in NYC” part. Truly, answer it for me? And you also skirted the highest wage question as well.

    This is the end for me (good night and good luck) but I’ll check back to see if you’ve replied to this. I truly hope that your financial future is 100% secure – because that would mean that you needn’t be spending any money to pay others to help you secure your future, as I do, with my union dues. It’s the best investment I make every year – and, thanks to our lovely federal government, fully tax deductible.

  • Larry W says:

    How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

    Follow the stagehand driving a Bentley.

  • Rick – we come from very different places regarding unions in our respective countries. They nearly wrecked mine in the 1970’s (our motor industry in particular: we had Austin, Morris, Riley, Triumph, Jaguar, Bristol, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Rover…Now, we have none) so I’m wary when I see unskilled labour earning ridiculous sums. I don’t know what a maximum wage should be, either here, in NYC or in Timbuktoo, but I do feel very strongly that if stagehands can earn as much as the man who runs your country while other unionised professions like the police and nursing – who can probably never hope to play in the same financial league despite the training they have undergone and the risks they face – then there’s something wrong with the system. All workers should be able to afford a decent life (how they define that is up to them) and I’m not jealous of people who earn more than I do (I’d be pretty miserable if I were…) though every now and then I see a statistic which makes me think ‘What the f*** is all that about?’ and this was one of them. You speak as a great advocate of unionisation, enjoying a lifetime of financial security. Good for you, seriously, I see where you’re coming from. I should be OK, but thanks to my own initiative and running several smaller jobs concurrently to my main source of income.

    As for ‘having management over a barrel’, well, maybe the expression is stronger in American English than over here. The union would never need to physically threaten anyone; just the possibility they could withdraw their services would be pressure enough. I didn’t say that all CH events were sabotaged, either, just that, being one-off events, their cancellation would create many more complications than that of a Broadway show performance, where patrons could, I would imagine in most cases, be reaccomodated in the future without too much inconvenience. I’d imagine the union is aware of this. What’s more, I’d imagine management is aware that the union would be aware of it, too.

    As someone posted earlier either in this thread or the other: ‘You don’t get what you’re worth, you get what you negotiate’. There’s a lot of truth in that and it can go both ways. And with that, I’ll sign off, too. Thanks for the informative joust, I’ve really enjoyed it and I wish you well. And if Jeff pops his head up from behind the sofa, just tell him I said ‘hi’.