Possible strike at the Kimmel Center and other theaters

About 150 union members representing stagehands, wardrobe and box office workers, and ushers at the Academy of Music, the Kimmel Center and the Merriam Theater held a vigil Thursday night in front of the Kimmel Center, where a k.d. lang concert was being held. The contract for their union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, expires at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, potentially disrupting scheduled performances of the Opera Company of Philadelphia - whose season opener. "Carmen," begins its run Friday night - as well as the Philadelphia Orchestra and other groups. Kiimmel Center president and CEO Anne Ewers said Thursday that the Kimmel Center-managed properties will shut down if the union strikes. Talks are scheduled to continue all day Friday. (Peter Dobrin / Staff)

Frustrated by a lack of progress in contract talks, about 150 members of the union representing the city’s theatrical ushers, box office staff, stagehands and wardrobe workers held a noisy, if well-behaved, demonstration Thursday night in the middle of Broad Street in front of the Kimmel Center.

With their contract with the Kimmel up at 12:01 Saturday morning, local leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said they were prepared to shut down the Kimmel, Academy of Music and Merriam Theater – all managed by Kimmel Center Inc. - if a deal cannot be reached.

A strike authorization vote of all 1,100 members of the union local was unanimous, said Michael Barnes, business agent for IATSE Local 8.

Kimmel Center president Anne Ewers said that at least initially, the Kimmel would not bring in replacement workers to keep the halls open in the event of a strike.

“For us to continue to perform without them would not be a sign of good faith,” she said.

The strike would come just as the arts season is getting under way. The Opera Company of Philadelphia opens with Carmen Friday night in the Academy. Singer Audra McDonald is scheduled in Verizon Hall Saturday night. The Philadelphia Orchestra starts its season – also under a cloud of difficult labor negotiations – with a free performance Thursday night for college students in Verizon Hall.

“It would be tragic,” said Ewers of the potential strike.

Negotiations for a new three-year labor deal are scheduled to continue Friday. “I’m very, very hopeful we can find a win-win,” Ewers said. The Kimmel had asked for a contract extension, but the union refused, she said.

Barnes said his workers sought a three percent raise, while the Kimmel was offering a wage freeze.

“Everyone is fragile in this economy, and we felt we needed to be strong because people can’t afford to take these kinds of increases,” said Ewers.

The 150 or so union members stood in the middle of Broad Street Thursday night during and after the Kimmel’s k.d. Lang concert, broadcasting through a megaphone messages about working conditions and a fair contract as concertgoers left the theater.