A threatened IATSE strike against the Kennedy Center has been averted. Following late night bargaining Friday and a unanimous vote to strike earlier this week, stagehands represented by IATSE Stagehands Local 22 have reached an agreement for a new three-year contract with the management of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The agreement was ratified by the union’s membership at a meeting on Saturday.
Do-or-die negotiations are still underway, however, between IATSE and the AMPTP for a new film and TV contract, in which IATSE members have authorized a nationwide strike if a fair deal can’t be reached in the next few days.
The new Kennedy Center agreement calls for a wage freeze in the first year of the contract, followed by what the union calls “a slight increase” in compensation in years two and three.
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“This was a long hard slog, but we now have a contract we can live with that protects our members and gives the Kennedy Center the relief it needs to recover from the pain caused by the pandemic,” said IATSE Local 22 president David McIntyre.
According to the union, when bargaining for a new contract began 16 months ago, the Kennedy Center had sought to slash wages by 40%, eliminate jobs, and end Sunday overtime pay. The Center’s managers also insisted that the REACH – a new wing at the performing arts center – be considered a separate facility that could be staffed by low-wage, non-union labor. IATSE members had offered to take a 10% wage-cut and make other changes that would remain in effect during the pandemic.
Under the new deal, the union was able to lock in its jurisdictional rights for the REACH, while two new positions in the bargaining unit will be created. Protocols for better protecting workers against Covid-19 were also established. The Kennedy Center’s management, meanwhile, will gain some added flexibility for staffing load-out calls.
“Stagehands had been prepared to strike,” McIntyre said. “We could not accept the Kennedy Center’s managers using the pandemic as leverage to gut our contract and we would not go along with the fiction that an expansion of the building wasn’t part of the Kennedy Center. Management’s position on the REACH was an overreach.”
Now that the contract has been ratified, scheduled performances at the Kennedy Center can go forward. If a strike had been called, it would have led to the cancellation or postponement of the Broadway musical Hadestown, which is playing at the Kennedy Center’s opera house from Oct. 13 to Oct. 31.
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