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Friday, December 30, 2011

Stagehands Union to Protest at First Night

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2011 at 5:44 PM

Earlier today, I talked with Pittsburgh Cultural Trust CEO and President Kevin McMahon, who says he remains optimistic that the Trust will reach a settlement with members of IATSE Local No. 3 before New Year's Eve, and avoid a First Night protest. The two parties have been in talks for days, and "Those conversations are continuing," McMahon told me. "I like to be optimistic about these things."

But McMahon didn't seem aware of an IATSE press release (which hit my in-box at 1:20 a.m. today). The release branded as "lip service" a Dec. 16 statement by McMahon expressing hopes for "a long-term mutually agreeable solution to the issues" between the union and the Trust. And it indicated that the 400-member union will "banner" the Dec. 31 community event, meaning members will carry signs and hand out leaflets to the 35,000 or more visitors expected Downtown.

As detailed in my Dec. 27 post, the dispute focuses on the Trust's use of an outside contractor to provide stage labor for the annual event.

Putting on First Night costs about $350,000. That's funded primarily by private and corporate donors; sales of buttons to adult First Night patrons pay for $75,000 of that or less, says McMahon. (My Dec. 27 post, since corrected, erroneously stated that this year's First Night received state funding, but McMahon says that money actually was for First Night 2010.) The event also relies heavily on volunteer labor, including 200 or more volunteers this year, says McMahon.

But McMahon said that the Trust's concern isn't principally about meeting this year's First Night budget. While labor costs account for more than $100,000 of the event's expenses (McMahon was unable to cite an exact figure), stagehands have agreed to work for the same rate as the outside contractors. Moreover, IATSE members tomorrow will be working all the indoor venues they do throughout the year, including the Byham Theater, possibly even as their fellow union members protest on the street.

Rather, McMahon reiterated, the Trust's main concern is that hiring IATSE stagehands for outdoor First Night venues would have "implications that certainly go beyond First Night and beyond even Trust events."

The Trust, for instance, also operates the Three Rivers Arts Festival, a free, mostly outdoor event which does not use IATSE workers. And McMahon suggested that hiring IATSE stagehands for First Night might also affect events not run by the Trust, including the Three Rivers Regatta and Light Up Night. His concern is that requiring these events to hire IATSE workers would raise the price of putting on the events.

The Dec. 30 IATSE press release, meanwhile, contends that the issue is that "workers within the region be hired at a fair wage enabling them to live a quality life that contributes to the local economy."

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