The Kennedy Center in D.C. may have to close its curtains again, not because of the pandemic, but because of a possible strike by its stagehands.
On Thursday, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) announced that members of its Local 22 chapter voted to authorize a strike, after more than a year of negotiations with the Kennedy Center failed to resolve contract disputes over pay and other issues.
“The strike vote was in response to threats by the performing arts center’s management to slash wages 40 percent, eliminate jobs along with the imposition of other draconian cuts and changes to working conditions,” the IATSE said in a news release.
The union warned that, “If the Kennedy Center’s management doesn’t reverse its position before the end of the week, workers will go on strike, withholding their labor, and setting up picket lines before the trucks hauling sets, lights, wardrobe, and other production elements of the Tony-Award winning musical ‘Hadestown’ arrive for scheduled shows.”
The highly-anticipated Broadway production is slated to run at the Kennedy Center Oct. 13 to 31.
But the Kennedy Center counters that the negotiations stalled over a single issue: the use of IATSE stagehands at off-site productions.
“We have cooperatively resolved all other issues, including wages, benefits, and COVID-19 protocols,” the center said in a statement.
But it accused the union of demanding that the Kennedy Center use its stagehands for programming held outside the center.
“This would entail a fundamental shift in how we manage, staff, and budget for extended programming, impacting both events held in the community and outside events held at the Kennedy Center,” the statement said. “A work expansion of this scale would be cost-prohibitive and unsustainable in the near and long term, forcing us to make further reductions in programming, entailing cuts and reductions to historically free or low-cost community outreach events and higher costs for rentals and outside vendors.”
The statement cited the financial downturn caused by the pandemic, “resulting in a $9 million deficit for the recently completed fiscal year (2021) and leaving a projected deficit of $7 million for 2022.”
But the IATSE counters that finances aren’t the problem.
“We’ve been more than willing to tighten our belts and help the Kennedy Center during this difficult time for the arts,” IATSE Local 22 President David McIntyre said in the news release. “However, the Kennedy Center’s management team has decided to use the pandemic as an excuse to gut our contract while taking millions in federal relief dollars just as large audiences are scheduled to return.”
McIntyre added that, “Through this pandemic, every other major venue in and around Washington has managed to successfully maintain their agreements with our union and work with us to prepare for the return of audiences” — with the exception of the Kennedy Center.
“Putting on a Broadway show, any show, is a team effort, and the Kennedy Center’s managers will have a hell of a time putting on ‘Hadestown’ without us,” he said.