Latest General Posts

Pittsburgh Stagehands Circumvented for “First Night”

Lisa A. Miles c2011                                      SEE POSTSCRIPT AT BOTTOM!

Pittsburgh Stagehands don’t work Pittsburgh’s First Night.  The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust hires other workers to man the stages.

You’d think a city with vibrant cultural district would have plenty of work for arts professionals.  So much entertainment– little use of Stagehands.

The story gets stranger.

The Trust has employees who do that very work.  On payroll.  Pittsburgh’s Stagehands–  IATSE Local 3 members (International Alliance of Theatrical & Stage Employees).   They build scenery for A Christmas Carol and make sure U2 sounds cool in a football stadium, with everyone safe under state-of-the-art equipment perched precipitously above.  They run sound and lights for the Symphony and seamlessly work together to unload semis with half-ton show equipment in dark of night.  You can’t get any more talent and working class, both, than a seasoned stagehand.

J. Kevin McMahon, President of the Trust, said of the stagehands, “Obviously, we respect them.  They’re skilled members of the Trust family.”  (Post-Gazette, 12-17-11)  But they’re circumvented for other labor.  

They are under-employed, and should be working First Night, Three RIvers Arts Festival (also Trust-managed), the Regatta, Dollar Bank Jamboree….  All public tax-dollar funded.

Sixty-plus Stagehands recently packed City Council.  IATSE Business Agent Bob Brown:  “These events are clearly work that’s part of our expertise, that which we routinely perform.”

The Trust had told IATSE they “assumed these events at the City’s request.  Part of the deal was to exclude using Local 3 Pittsburgh Stagehands.”

Did the Mayor’s office really mandate that?  Councilman Peduto has been especially helpful to IATSE’s concerns; Mayor Ravenstahl has yet to answer queries.

Shawn Foyle, IATSE Secretary, says a discounted “festival rate” was proposed.  The Trust’s reply: “The Union has the theaters and don’t get to work these events.  It’s a business decision.”

Says Brown, it’s to “utilize independent contractors to avoid paying prevailing industry standards, insulating true employers from workers rights under the National Labor Relations Act.”

This shell game is known to stagehands who’ve worked for club concert promoters.  But this is the Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh’s do-no-wrong cultural advocate.

“Nothing is stopping the Trust from hiring within IATSE,” says Brown.  Instead they go with subcontractor, Flyspace Productions, who helps them duck and dodge labor concerns.

Flyspace was paid $146,000 (before event expansion) to provide workers; they also “service” a long list of cultural institutions. 

The hourly wage for non-professionals, according to Flyspace?  “$18-$40/hr.”  McMahon informed media (P-G 12-17-11) of $20.50/hr. wage.

Remember that “festival rate” IATSE was willing to negotiate?  Below $20.50/hr.

Senior IATSE hands make under $24/hr.; most make $22.50 (Byham rate at times $17/hr.)  So are we to believe the Trust hires nonprofessionals at rates comparable or higher than the Stagehands’ theater rates?

Trust and cohort aren’t giving accurate figures or they’re paying outsiders the same as pros!  Likely the former. (Any less damning?)  According to Brown, the money’s less a concern for the Trust than matter of union “jurisdiction.” After all, how dare Pittsburgh Stagehands think they’re the ones with expertise to man regional stages?

Apparently McMahon worries about “long-term financial effects of changing that arrangement” set by City (J. Smydo, P-G 12-17-11).

This is a development company that receives major tax dollars through PA Dept. of Community and Economic Development, has RAD (Regional Asset District) revenue at $850,000/year (6.25% raise), and whose senior executive’s salary is $575,000/ +benefits.

IATSE offered to bring those workers into the fold, much like once-non-unionized stagehands at old Station Square Amphitheater (where picketing exposed elusive subsidiary of ClearChannel).  They’ve embraced anyone interested in stage work and the experienced worker unwise to his right to a living wage and the brotherhood of professionals who know the ropes, and mutually offer job security, pension, life, medical and disability benefits.



Before Stagehands entered Council, Brown told crew, “I know you guys are tired of hearing about stage work in Pittsburgh that’s not available to you.  I know you know what’s going on.  Its obvious to us… we see Pittsburgh tax-funded event stages not staffed by us, and venues going up across river without our labor, too.”  (Stage AE on the North Shore also should be hiring IATSE.  Foyle expresses– why would a private venue use them when City-approved events don’t?)

If event stages are supported by tax money, acclaimed as family-friendly and good for economy, then it should be legislated that they are employing Pittsburgh’s long-standing, working-class professional Stagehands.

Brown ran numbers.  The cash outlay from the Trust, if they hired IATSE, would be about $22,000.  “An insignificant amount,” to a company that “retains 87 million in unrestricted assets.”  

But to the stagehands and their families, couldn’t be more significant.

IATSE Stagehands and their families will protest with handbills downtown on New Year’s Eve.  Their call to “OCCUPY STAGES” is just beginning, an opening act, as the Cultural Trust continues to take tax dollars but circumvents the working class.


Contact IATSE:  

Lisa’s husband is an IATSE Local 3 Stagehand.  She is a musician and author of two books, and currently at work on a third– Creative Folly:  The Illusory Support of Artists by American Arts Organizations and Funders.


NOTE:  As of 12/23/2011, the City’s major newspaper, the Pgh Post-Gazette, after initial interest, passed on running this Op-Ed.  Post-Script Credit:  The P-G published this essay in a special Business Forum section, Thurs. Dec. 29, 2011.  Thank You to Brian Hyslop!

ALSO (Posted Dec. 30):   The P-G  ran a Letter to the Editor on Xmas Eve, from Karen Flam, Chair of the Advisory Board of Pgh. Intl. Children’s Theater, in which she denounced Stagehands and their union.   Her organization is near the top of the list of those “serviced” by Flyspace Productions (see long version of Stagehands article, link below).   Ms. Flam, yet another representative of  the city’s “cultural” elite, apparently thinks she can proclaim in the city newspaper what working-class art workers in this town, who work for organizations like hers, need (or don’t need) for themselves and their families.   Well this is not the last time she and her comrade organizations will hear from the 99%.  No stats on Pittsburgh Intl. Children’s Theater (other than their place on Flyspace’s list) were looked up, though they could easily be….



View it on OCCUPY WITH ART  






Tags: "This Fantastic Struggle" art establishment Artists work Benedum Center ClearChannel Councilman Bill Peduto Creative Folly First Night Pittsburgh Flyspace Productions IATSE Local 3 Occupy Pgh Stagehands Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Pittsburgh International Children's Theater Stage AE Three Rivers Arts Festival unions

Other Blog Posts