Stagehands: Not For Creampuffs

After my post about the Tinseltown Writer's Strike, I'm moving on to the stagehand's strike, which I see as wholly different.

New York stagehands are striking over work rule changes imposed on them without a vote by their union. They've been working without a contract for several months so the work rule changes were a snipered in while their defenses were down. It was a sucker punch. I don't know exactly what those work rules were, but from past experience, I know that work rules contained in union contracts usually protect the workers' health and safety, and provide a measure of protection from arbitrary and discriminatory changes to job descriptions. If somebody now on strike can expand on this, please write, and I'll publish your comments.

I also know a little bit about labor law from my year as an embattled shop steward and I know that when a company imposes work rule changes without first bargaining with the union that's an Unfair Labor Practice. That is, unless George repealed U.S. labor laws.

In early 2001 I worked a second job on weekends for a stagehand's union in Nevermind, Florida. This part time seasonal work offered to me by a friend in the union, made it possible for me to catch up with my rent which had fallen behind when my full time factory job cut everyone's hours. I was not a union member, but I paid my union dues because I won't scab even if I starve. In those months I worked as a stagehand this is what I learned:

This is no job for creampuffs. It's heavy physical work for the most part. The skilled work, done by electricians and carpenters, can require climbing and working high above stage floors, so it is in everyone's best interest to have work rules that enforce safety measures to ensure workers don't become overly fatigued. Fatigue leads to mistakes, which lead to accidents. When huge stage scenery is moved, it's pushed by a team of stagehands. When trunks weighing hundreds of pounds are lifted into a truck, it's lifted by a team of stagehands. Without a union contract spelling out specific work rules, and providing for adequate rest periods, and the correct number of workers for each job, I know the speed ups and work related injuries that result. I know because I've worked on both sides of the wall.

When you go to the Superbowl, and enjoy the game and the merchandise booths, thank the stagehands. When you attend a trade exposition, learn about innovative products to enhance your business, and enjoy delicious foods served at that expo, thank the stagehands. They put it all together, from the lighting, to the tables, to the cubicle dividers, to the sound. When you go to a concert and the music is awesome, the lighting flawless, thank the stagehands. Without them, the stage would be dark, the sound would be nonexistent, and the stage effects would be blank walls. And when the concert's over, and the last game is played, the stagehands take it all down again, push the heavy trunks and stage props up ramps and down ramps and heft equipment into trucks, secure it in those trucks and move on to the next job so people can safely and comfortably enjoy their entertainment of choice.

This is not work to be done by so called "independent contractors," farmed out to the lowest bidders. This is the way construction work has been done recently in Florida, where a high number of job related injuries and deaths have been the result.

To the parents who came to the city to enjoy a Broadway show with their kids, I have sympathy and a suggestion/possible solution: Ice skating in Bryant Park near 42nd Street main library.

Picket lines are hallowed ground. To protect your Karma, don't step across one.

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