Stagehands at the Philadelphia Theatre Company Friday ratified their first labor contract, ending a 15-day strike that disrupted the theater’s run of The Mountaintop.
The 27 members of Local 8 of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees approved a three-year deal that gives them raises and contributions to health and welfare benefits, and commits in a written contract past labor practices at the theater at Broad and Lombard Streets.
Local 8 business agent Michael Barnes said that as late as Thursday, the two sides were “really far apart,” but that after PTC producing artistic director Sara Garonzik became directly involved in talks, “that turned the whole thing around.”
Barnes said negotiations until then involved lawyers and another PTC administrator.
“The people who knew what the past practices were, they were not at the table. That caused the confusion that probably led to the strike,” Barnes said.
Even though the strike is over, the theater will continue performing The Mountaintop through the end of the run in a scaled-down version without lighting and audio effects, music and set changes.
The main issue in the strike was a lack of documentation regarding the theater’s intention to use non-union labor in the form of interns. Under the new contract, the theater is committing to using the same number of interns or apprentices it has traditionally hosted. But Thursday’s talks yielded a union proposal to protect jobs by listing “specific positions that interns could not hold,” said Garonzik.
Management agreed, a tentative agreement was produced, stagehands ratified the deal Friday, and the strike ended.
The stagehands will receive raises under this first collective bargaining agreement. The amount varies with each employee. Some who were making $15 an hour will earn $16 an hour in the first year of the contract. Another group making $17 an hour will be boosted to $18. All will receive an additional sum on top of those raises: $1.50 an hour by the third year of the contract. PTC will contribute 12 percent of wages to a health and welfare fund.
Barnes said this was the first contract the union had negotiated at a theater this small (it also represents workers at the Academy of Music and other larger houses).
“We are hopeful that other workers who work in these environments see an opportunity to have their working conditions improve and will contact local 8 to help them out at their jobs,” he said.
Garonzik said the deal came after negotiating sessions Thursday that, for some, lasted as long as 11 hours. “The good news is the strike is over,” she said. “I think there was a feeling that we all just wanted this to end.”