New York (CNN) – A strike vote held on Thursday by a union representing 1,500 stage and other backstage workers could shut down Broadway shows as early as Friday, according to the union. Voting will take place during the day Thursday.
“This strike vote will send a strong signal that we will not accept substandard contracts that do not recognize the contributions of our workers,” said Matthew Loeb, president of the International Theater Workers Alliance (IATSE). “We won’t back down unless we have a deal that members can accept by the end of the week.”
The strike will stop not only 28 shows in New York, but also 17 tours of the US and Canada, the union said.
The Broadway League and Disney Theatrical, two groups representing management in talks with the union, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A vote to allow a strike almost always takes place when a large majority of the rank and file voted in favor. Most union negotiations include such a vote as part of the process, and most of them reach a labor agreement without an actual strike.
“We need to show strength and unity to guarantee the wages, benefits and rights that all IATSE members have earned and deserve,” the union said in an email urging them to vote to sanction the strike.
But it is rare that a strike vote is held just a few hours before a possible strike begins. They are usually held a few weeks or months before the strike deadline, allowing for further negotiations before the union members leave. The fact that this vote is so close to the threat of firing the union increases the likelihood that there will be a strike this time.
However, it is still possible that the shutdown can be avoided. There are no Broadway morning performances on Friday, giving negotiators about a day and a half from Thursday morning to Friday evening to close the deal in 11 hours.
The union said in a statement that while a tentative agreement has been reached to protect employer-provided medical services with no cuts or increases in out-of-pocket spending, and to provide employer accommodation for tour crews for the first time, the two sides remain far apart on the union’s other priorities, including wage increases and reasonable weekly and daily rest periods.
Summer of strikes
The strike threat comes as the 160,000 actors represented by SAG-AFTRA as well as the 11,000 members of the Writers Guild of America are already on strike against major film studios and streaming services, shutting down most movies and TV shows in production across the country.
Even if Broadway actors are not on strike themselves, they are also unionized and are unlikely to cross the IATSE picket line. This strike will close one of the few places where actors can work right now, and work breaks will lead to the closure of film and television production.
And outside the entertainment world, there are large numbers of other unionized workers threatening to strike. The drivers union, which represents 340,000 members of UPS, said it would go on strike on Aug. 1 against the package delivery giant without a new contract. Both sides have just agreed to return to the negotiating table next week after talks broke down in the early hours of 5 July.
This will be the largest strike against a single employer in US history.
The country’s three unionized automakers — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, which make cars under the Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep brands — also face a mid-September strike deadline with the United Auto Workers union, and talks are heading to a contentious start.
Besides, Some 15,000 hotel workers in Los Angeles and Orange counties who went on strike against 65 hotels over the July 4 holiday weekend are threatening a new wave of strikes over what the union called a lack of progress at the negotiating table.
The Broadway strike would be a blow to New York’s economy, which is still suffering from the transition from office work to people working part of the week at home. Tourism is one of the main engines of the city’s economy, and Broadway is an important magnet for these tourists.
The Broadway League said the season ended in May, the first full season since Broadway shows were canceled due to the pandemic, with total theater attendance reaching 12.3 million and ticket sales of $1.6 billion.