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Carnegie Hall Strike Ends as Stagehands Accept Labor Deal

By Louise Burton on Oct 05, 2013 02:14 PM EDT

Stagehands on strike at Carnegie Hall voted on Friday to accept a proposed labor agreement, effectively ending the two-day strike that forced the venue to cancel its opening night gala. The Hall is back to its regular performance schedule this weekend.

This latest four-year labor agreement states that stagehands will have some jurisdiction over the hall's forthcoming education wing. That wing, which is under construction, was the bone of contention in the strike.

Carnegie Hall currently employs five full-time stagehands, who earn an average of more than $400,000 a year. The hall also uses part-time stagehands when needed.

While it's wonderful that the strike is over so soon and concerts can go ahead as planned, the problem still remains of incredibly high salaries for the stage crew, which affects Carnegie Hall's bottom line. The stagehands earn more than anyone else at the Hall, except for Executive Director Clive Gillinson.

The new agreement stipulates that Carnegie Hall must hire one additional stagehand to work in the education wing, scheduled to open in Fall 2014. Some work in this wing will also be done by the current stagehands. The 61,000-square-foot education wing will have 24 music rooms, but no concert stage.

Executive Director Gillinson expressed his satisfaction with the deal in a statement: "Carnegie Hall is very pleased to reach this new agreement with IATSE/Local One, one that meets all of our institution's education needs as we work toward fulfilling the potential of our new spaces in Carnegie Hall's Education Wing."

The new labor agreement appears to be a victory for the powerful IATSE/Local One. Union President James J. Claffey, Jr., called the agreement a compromise.

Claffey also said he didn't think the stagehands' high salaries affected public opinion about the strike, according to a Bloomberg report. "We weren't negotiating for the full-time guys to make more money," he said.

Given that the stagehands earn much more than the musicians actually performing onstage, Claffey's statement seems naïve. According to an NPR report, the highest-paid stagehand, Property Manager Dennis O'Connell, earned base compensation of $357,671 in 2011. Add to that "retirement and other deferred compensation" plus "nontaxable benefits," and his compensation rose to $464,632. As noted above, only Executive Director Gillinson makes more. The Village Voice reported that Gillinson earned a total of $1,113,571.

Lois Spier Gray, a professor emeritus at Cornell University's Institute of Labor Relations, told public radio station WQXR that these stagehands do have specialized skills that many skilled laborers do not possess.

"These highly skilled people, who have a variety skills, ranging from sound to carpentry to electrical specialties, they can't be replaced easily," she said.

That may be true, but are their skills really worth $400,000? That's more than most surgeons are paid. Of course, most musicians who play in Carnegie Hall, who have studied for many years and gained a high level of skill at a very difficult craft, can never hope to earn that much. But Local One is a very powerful union, and has been able to negotiate excellent compensation for many of its members, even as New York arts organizations are suffering during tough economic times.

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TagsCarnegie Hall, Clive Gillinson, IATSE/Local One, James J. Claffey, Jr., Bloomberg, NPR Music, Dennis O'Connell, Village Voice, Lois Spier Gray, Cornell, WQXR

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