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Casting Directors Will “Explore Every Option” In Effort To Unionize On Broadway

Deadline logo Deadline 5/25/2017 Jeremy Gerard
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UPDATE 2 PM: Responding to the Broadway League statement regarding arbitration (see below), Local 817 president Tom O’Donnell told Deadline that the Hollywood studios had a similar response when the casting directors sought union recognition more than a decade ago. The studios said the National Labor Relations Board should  decide whether they would have to recognize the Teamsters as legitimate bargaining agents for the casting directors. But soon after, O’Donnell said, the studios recognized them without going to arbitration.

“They had set up the workplace to make it look like we were independent contractors,” O’Donnell said. “It took, I would say, nine to 12 months for them to come around.” O’Donnell affirmed that the timing of the current statements was to take advantage of heightened public interest because of the Tony Awards, “to bring the plight of the casting directors to the fore.

“We’re hoping the League will come to the same realization as the studios, that their work should be recognized for medical benefits and some form of retirement,” O’Donnell said. “A job action is what we’re trying to avoid. We’re not looking to disrupt business; we hope to prevail upon the producers that this is the right thing to do. But at the end of the day, we’re going to look at every option.”

EARLIER: Going public at Tony Awards time, when Broadway enjoys its highest national profile, casting directors are demanding union recognition by producers. They’ve hitched their wagons to Local 817 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and seek benefits commensurate with Broadway’s other unions. The Broadway League, which represents producers and theater owners in contract negotiations, responded today by telling the casting directors they’re willing to arbitrate.

“While Broadway producers are celebrating the highest grossing season in Broadway recorded history,” Alex Moore, a spokesman for the Teamsters, said in a statement from the union (different from IATSE Local One, which represents Broadway stagehands), “the industry’s casting directors are asking why producers are denying them health insurance…[T]he Broadway League has refused to bargain a first contract with casting directors, members of Teamsters Local 817, denying them employer-provided healthcare, retirement, and basic work protections.”

“This is the biggest snub of the Tony season,” added 817 president Tom O’Donnell. “Every actor, director, stage hand, costume designer, and set designer on Broadway has a union and has a contract. Other Broadway workers don’t have to choose between paying the rent and going to the doctor. There is no reason these wealthy producers can’t take care of their casting directors too.”

In response, the League released a statement today that said the producers are willing to arbitrate, but sought to make a distinction between casting directors and actors, stage managers, musicians and other Broadway workers who labor under negotiated union contracts.

“We have had a respectful dialogue in the past year with Teamsters Local 817 but do not believe it would be appropriate for the Broadway League or its producing members to recognize a union as the bargaining representative of professionals who are not employees of our productions,” according to the statement. “To the extent that Local 817 or the casting companies themselves disagree, we have encouraged them to seek a determination from the National Labor Relations Board, which is the appropriate forum to resolve disputes of this nature. We have even made clear to the union that we are prepared to expedite an NLRB process.”

The statement also said that the League considers casting directors in the same category as  “advertising agencies, accountants and lawyers, whose collaborations we also value… engaged as independent contractors; they are separate businesses with their own employees and typically work on more than one show at a time within and outside our industry.” Of course, that last statement is true of ATPAM, which represents press representatives, as well as others who work on multiple productions simultaneously.

Moore, of Local 817, said in his statement that the casting directors “have the full support of other Broadway unions, including Local One, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, the Actors Equity Association, and Musicians AFM Local 802.”

“We need a union contract so that all casting directors and future casting directors will be protected,” said Bernard Telsey, a top Broadway and film casting director whose current shows include the blockbusters Hamilton and Hello, Dolly!.

Added Dear Evan Hansen casting director Tara Rubin, who heads another top agency, “We are the only employees on Broadway who do not have healthcare or a pension. It’s Tony season and our productions are being celebrated, but we are being overlooked.”

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