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The Stagehands of Local 1

26 posts in this topic

Hey, Stars, Be Nice to the Stagehands. You Might Need a Loan.

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/12/28/arts/hey-stars-be-nice-to-the-stagehands-you-might-need-a-loan.html

They create the technical razzle-dazzle when the Rockettes take the stage for the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular.” They raise the 45-foot-high Christmas tree for “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.” And on New Year’s Eve, they will make the opulent ballroom set spin for the Metropolitan Opera’s new “Die Fledermaus.”

The stagehands of Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees bring some of New York City’s most glittering stage effects to life, from the auditoriums of Lincoln Center to the theaters of Broadway. But their work comes at a steep price, even at venues where they do little more than load in orchestras and set up music stands.

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This is insane and no wonder theaters have to charge exorbitant prices, because they have to cover the ridiculous stage hand salaries. One paragraph says it all

Backstage workers can earn more than the onstage talent. Five stagehands at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center were each paid more in total compensation in 2011 than the highest-paid dancer at New York City Ballet, filings showed. And, in 2010, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” paid its stagehands a total of $138,000 a week, while the principals and members of the ensemble earned slightly less than $100,000 put together."

If I ran a theater, I personally would try to do anything to get rid of these vastly overpaid thieves. I do not know the legality of training stage hands in private institutions to replace these theater robbers. I disagree with this statement made "Their tasks are “extremely complex, extremely high-tech and possibly extremely dangerous,” said Martha S. LoMonaco, a professor of theater at Fairfield University, in Connecticut. “They should not be viewed as the schleppers of the theater industry.” If I ran any of these important theaters, I would try to talk to various owners to start training such workers and there are many talented people and plain shleppers, who would gladly earn a fraction of what these robbers earn. Then when these robbers go on strike, the replacements come and say good bye to this robber union, but I do not know about union lawsuits.

This union alone is crippling major theaters.

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When the NYCB orchestra was contemplating a strike, a member said that the players made less than garbage men. Balanchine replied that they had to pick up garbage for a living.

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I do not know the legality of training stage hands in private institutions to replace these theater robbers.

Universities and colleges throughout North America have theater production programs that train stage hands and technicians. My almae matres had such programs, and they usually function alongside drama departments, providing in-house crews for student plays (and operas and dance performances, depending on a university's offerings).Those graduates who are lucky enough to get a union job, particularly at an institution or facility that functions year-round, really do have it made. Most, though, are not so fortunate. So theoretically an alternate work force already exists.

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From the article:

Even as organized labor in the United States has weakened significantly, the nearly 2,600 active members of Local 1 have retained their clout, allowing them to push for good wages and work rules. Labor historians, Broadway producers and executives at the nonprofit performance institutions chalk up the union’s power to two major factors: that Local 1’s members have hard-to-replace skills, and that their jobs cannot easily be outsourced.

Going by the information presented in the story, I see little in the way of news here, given that the current dispute does not involve salaries and if you look closely at the stats the trumpeted numbers don't seem to be quite as impressive. As a longtime Times subscriber, however, I know that it is disturbing news to the paper, and presumably a portion of its readership, when people in blue collar jobs earn good money and workplace protections through agreements reached via collective bargaining.

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If I had to work 80 hours / week I would expect to make time-and-a-half too. But it does seem to me that if they expanded the union to include more of these college trained stage worker graduates as apprentices, etc - then there would be less need to pay overtime.

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As a longtime Times subscriber, however, I know that it is disturbing news to the paper, and presumably a portion of its readership, when people in blue collar jobs earn good money and workplace protections through agreements reached via collective bargaining.

It's also their standard MO to compare compensation for stagehands to compensation for ballerinas, instead of lawyers, bonds traders, plastic surgeons, etc.

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As a longtime Times subscriber, however, I know that it is disturbing news to the paper, and presumably a portion of its readership, when people in blue collar jobs earn good money and workplace protections through agreements reached via collective bargaining.

It's also their standard MO to compare compensation for stagehands to compensation for ballerinas, instead of lawyers, bonds traders, plastic surgeons, etc.

There are many construction workers around the country, who work on electrical construction plus many other construction jobs and their work is no less difficult or no less deserving comparable pay to stagehands, but I have met many construction workers who struggle to live decentlydue to awful pay.

Stage hands are no more deserving of good salaries than struggling construction workers.

Nobody would consider a construction worker or a stage hand as deserving the salary of lawyers, accountants, scientists, biologists, chemists or medical doctors.

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Taking the outlier compensation for stagehands is like taking the compensation for the most highly paid construction worker in the same market and attributing it to all construction workers, or taking what Johnny Depp or George Clooney makes and assuming all actors are highly compensated.

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Some context: a skilled worker in a unionized trade can make a very good living in New York City. By way of example, consider the “prevailing wage” rates mandated New York State’s labor law. (Section 220, which covers employees of private contractors on public works projects has been on the books since 1909.) The “prevailing wage,” which includes both an hourly wage and an hourly benefits rate, is set annually at a level comparable to the going rate paid to unionized workers in the relevant trade. The rate schedule also establishes rules for overtime and holiday pay, shift schedules (e.g., “swing” vs “graveyard”) and the like. You can find a Powerpoint presentation summarizing the law here.

You can find the current Section 220 rate schedule here, but by way of example, here are the 2013 hourly wage and benefit supplements for a few key trades:

Carpenter - Building Commercial

Effective Period: 7/1/2013 - 6/30/2014

Wage Rate per Hour: $48.08 / Supplemental Benefit Rate per Hour: $41.10

Assuming a 40 hour week – i.e., no overtime – and 50 weeks of work, the total compensation cost to the employer (i.e., including benefits) is $178,360 per year. The employee’s take home pay is $96,160.

Electrician "A" (Regular Day)

Effective Period: 7/1/2013 - 5/13/2014

Wage Rate per Hour: $52.00 / Supplemental Benefit Rate per Hour: $46.13

Assuming a 40 hour week – i.e., no overtime – and 50 weeks of work, the total compensation cost to the employer (i.e., including benefits) is $196,260 per year. The employee’s take home pay is $104,000.

Plumber

Effective Period: 7/1/2013 - 6/30/2014

Wage Rate per Hour: $52.36 / Supplemental Benefit Rate per Hour: $37.34

Supplemental Note: Overtime supplemental benefit rate per hour: $74.40

Assuming a 40 hour week – i.e., no overtime – and 50 weeks of work, the total compensation cost to the employer (i.e., including benefits) is $179,400 per year. The employee’s take home pay is $104,720.

Overtime rates and holidays vary by trade, but here are the rates for a carpenter by way of example:

Overtime

Time and one half the regular rate after an 8 hour day.

Time and one half the regular rate for Saturday.

Double time the regular rate for Sunday.

Saturday may be used as a make-up day at straight time when a day is lost during that week to inclement weather.

Double time the regular rate for Overtime Holidays.

Overtime Holidays = New Year's Day, Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Presidential Election Day, Thanksgiving Day, Day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Day

Takeaways:

1) Forget law school. Go to trade school.

2) Join a union and keep it strong.

3) Find your calling in a job that can’t be outsourced to a low-wage country on the other side of the ocean.

Leaving aside the technicians coming out of college theatrical production programs, this is the compensation environment that theater operators find themselves in.

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Maybe the ballet dancers should all marry stage hands!

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Focusing only on the non-profit sector in the U.S., it's easy to find all kinds of examples of outrageous inequity. The Chronicle of Higher Education just published its survey of the compensation of presidents of the nation's private colleges and universities. 42 are paid more than $1 million/year (including base pay, benefits, etc.). The President of the U. of Chicago received more than $3.3 million, while the President of Harvard (interestingly, a woman...) is paid "only" $899K.

But most shocking: the median pay for adjunct/part-time instructors in higher ed (including a lot of performing arts instructors, of course) is only $2987 per course for the entire semester; a few of those receive health benefits (mainly on campuses with unionized faculties), but most don't. Even if we can't do much about those we think are overpaid, we can support those we think are severely underpaid, whether in the arts or the economy generally. I'm glad that most performing artists are unionized and hope they can improve the compensation for everybody. I remain nervous about "Moves," the non-unionized spin-off from NYCB and hope that isn't setting a trend in the performing arts that will hurt everybody's bargaining power in the future.

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Leaving aside the technicians coming out of college theatrical production programs, this is the compensation environment that theater operators find themselves in.

Thank you for enlightening us on the benefits of being an uneducated laborer in New York.

You do need to revise your wording of take home pay. Your quoted amounts for take home pay are actually gross pay. Take home pay would deduct Federal income taxes, New Your state and city taxes, plus Social security/Medicare taxes.

I am not knowledgeable on current New York state and city taxes, but my guess is that the take home pay amounts would be approximately, $ 60,000 annually and not near $ 100,000.

However, in my opinion, most stagehands are similar to construction workers. In construction, you will have a licensed plumbing contractor, who has employees who perform plumbing work, but these employees are not officially licensed plumbers. The same situation applies to licensed electrical contractors, who have employees who perform electrical work, but they are not officially licensed electricians. The licensed plumbers and electricians, will make much more money than their workers, who perform electrical and plumbing work. I am certain that among stagehands, there are licensed electricians, but most of those dealing with electrical work, are comparable to construction worker electrical employees working for a licensed electrician. i cannot justify regular stagehands, who have qualifications, comparable to normal construction workers, getting six figure salaries.

Although, I consider the intelligence of construction workers and stagehands to be on a relatively low level compared to most educated professions, the arts are not immune to idiots in high ranking positions.

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Leaving aside the technicians coming out of college theatrical production programs, this is the compensation environment that theater operators find themselves in.

Thank you for enlightening us on the benefits of being an uneducated laborer in New York.
If you consider a college education the only form of education, then perhaps "uneducated" is accurate, and I know a number of stagehands and lighting people personally who went to my university.

You do need to revise your wording of take home pay. Your quoted amounts for take home pay are actually gross pay. Take home pay would deduct Federal income taxes, New Your state and city taxes, plus Social security/Medicare taxes.

Were the benefits to cost an employer a generous 40% of yearly salary -- and there is no Social Security paid after the base wage of ~113K -- that accounts for 30K+ in taxes paid by the employee. Even if the carpenter, for example, did not have a mortgage, s/he would still be able to itemize based on NYC/NYS taxes alone, plus the exempt amounts for every member of the household. $60K would mean total tax of 120%.

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I have to note the irony here: ballet lovers generally understand that professional ballet dancers are high school graduates (at most!), who have pursued many years of specialized training to pursue that career. That situation is not unlike the high school graduates who spend many years in apprenticeships and other training programs to become master electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc. The fact that someone does not have a college degree (whether a dancer or an electrician) does not mean they are of low intelligence or common laborers who deserve our disdain. Please also note that dance companies fill out their ranks with students, apprentices, and trainees working to acquire more skill, just as construction sites do. I wish lower-paid workers of all kinds (including dancers and part-time college instructors) were paid more, but I don't begrudge those professions that have somehow figured out how to earn good incomes despite the lack of a college degree.

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The elephant in the room is that ballet is danced mostly by women, and dancing, at least in most of the West, is not considered a proper man's occupation -- like nursing and social work, for example -- and women are almost always paid less.

Edited to add: this may not be the case at Royal Danish Ballet and/or Paris Opera Ballet, where the dancers unions traditionally have been strong, to reflect the social safety network of their respective countries.

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Leaving aside the technicians coming out of college theatrical production programs, this is the compensation environment that theater operators find themselves in.

Thank you for enlightening us on the benefits of being an uneducated laborer in New York.

You do need to revise your wording of take home pay. Your quoted amounts for take home pay are actually gross pay. Take home pay would deduct Federal income taxes, New Your state and city taxes, plus Social security/Medicare taxes.

I am not knowledgeable on current New York state and city taxes, but my guess is that the take home pay amounts would be approximately, $ 60,000 annually and not near $ 100,000.

Although, I consider the intelligence of construction workers and stagehands to be on a relatively low level compared to most educated professions, the arts are not immune to idiots in high ranking positions.

Yes, it was sloppy of me to use "take home pay" rather than "gross pay." I was trying to draw a distinction between the employee's cash compensation and the amount of compensation received in the form of fringe benefits, and didn't choose my words as carefully as I might have. I hope my point was clear nonetheless.

Re the intelligence of construction workers and stagehands: I come from a working class family. They were all plenty smart.

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Leaving aside the technicians coming out of college theatrical production programs, this is the compensation environment that theater operators find themselves in.

Thank you for enlightening us on the benefits of being an uneducated laborer in New York.

Just to be clear, I made the distinction between technicians coming out of theatrical production programs and workers from the skilled trades because they are likely to be differently credentialed, not because one group -- or one set of credentials -- is more worthy of a good paycheck than another.

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As the granddaughter of a union organizer, and the partner of someone who worked for many years as a pipe fitter, I am biased, but my experience has given me a great deal of direct contact with men and women in the skilled trades. I am very sorry to read such disdainful comments here, in a forum that I have always considered a thoughtful place.

Like all of us, I have met many intelligent, articulate, and insightful people in all walks of life, from all backgrounds. And I have met a few nitwits. Some of them come with PhDs and some without even a GED, just like all of us.

My undergraduate degree is in technical theater -- some of my colleagues went on to union jobs and have made a comfortable living. I'm thrilled for them, not just because they can send their own kids to college, but because their work, which can be complex and exacting, is recognized as worthwhile in a culture that does not really value many arts workers.

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And I have met a few nitwits. Some of them come with PhDs

off%20topic.gif I'm the daughter of a university professor, and having spent a lot of my childhood in the company of his colleagues, I know this is true more often than I'd care to admit. But I wouldn't want this discussion to veer toward those 'do' vs. 'teach' stereotypes.

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And I have met a few nitwits. Some of them come with PhDs

off%20topic.gif I'm the daughter of a university professor, and having spent a lot of my childhood in the company of his colleagues, I know this is true more often than I'd care to admit. But I wouldn't want this discussion to veer toward those 'do' vs. 'teach' stereotypes.

Point taken. Let's get back to the main event!

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Of course the work that the stagehands do is important and they should earn a good living. However, the perception is that the salaries are excessive. The fact that generations of the same families decide to go into the same unions is telling. That only happens when the gravy is very, very good.

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Generations of the same family are migrant farm workers, too. From what I understand, the gravy isn't all that good.

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I can't stand the classist tone of some of these comments.

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I think we need to be realistic that some unions are better than others at negotiating wages, over time, etc. I think in this case, because of the event-driven nature of the work, the stage hand union has more leverage. Also they do have a specific skill set, not easily duplicated, and NYC is not getting any cheaper (quite the opposite thanks to all those hedgehogs - including the Koch Brothers).

I know of quite a few families who have extensive connections to get their union cards as longshoremen. But there are many families who are firefighters (also unionized) and they don't get quite as much pay. (Longshoremen do, depending on their skillsets).

As my dad used to say "In the immortal words of Jimmy Carter.....Life.....Is not fair." (Dad was in the machinists union at Boeing, and his high wages enabled me to attend university without student loans).

Mama's don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys (who make $18k / year), let 'em be doctors and lawyers and stage hands and such!

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