The Show Must Go On…But Will the Unions Agree?

Five years ago, a labor dispute led to a 19-day walkout on Broadway leaving more than two dozen shows dark. In turn, this led to producers and the city of New York losing millions of dollars in potential revenue. That was in 2007, but another potential strike is looming if a deal is not made by the end of the year. This time, it is the 250 cleaners, porters, elevator operators, and bathroom attendants in Broadway’s theaters who are threatening to strike. 

These employees, who belong to the 32BJ Union (an affiliate of the SEIU), currently make $17.25 per hour. Although details are not known, it is thought that the new three-year contract will include an increase in pay, health care benefits, and employed paid contributions to employee pensions. 

The union and employers have reached a tentative agreement, which must still be ratified by the workers. “This is a fair agreement that addresses the concerns of our members, the men and women who work hard every day to keep theaters safe, clean and running for the millions of theatergoers who come to Broadway from around the world,” said Shirley Aldebol, vice president of 32BJ. These workers staff 32 of the 40 theatres on Broadway, meaning that a major source of New York City’s revenue would be lost. 

In the 2007 strike, the New York City Comptroller estimated that the city was losing $2 million per day in lost tax revenue. It is estimated that the city lost a total of $35 million in potential revenue. Businesses in and around Times Square also struggled with the drop in tourism and traffic. The charity Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights Aids, which normally relies on post-show donations, saw a steep decrease in funds.  

Clearly, the ramifications of a Broadway gone dark extend well beyond the theatre industry. Aside from the tax revenue, there are many businesses (big and small) nearby which rely on the money theatre patrons bring in.  Will the show go on or will it be lights out on the local economy?