Casting Directors Rally In Shubert Alley As NYC Pols Join Demand For Union Recognition From Producers

Jeremy Gerard

UPDATE: Responding to the Broadway League’s insistence that casting directors seek a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board, Local 817 president Tom O’Donnell told Deadline:From Tom O’Donnell, President, Teamsters Local 817: “Casting directors notified the Broadway League months ago that they had decided to form a union. The producers can voluntarily recognize their union and bargain a contract. We are asking producers to do that, just like the producers in film and television did 10 years ago. Casting directors are not going to leave it up to the Trump administration to decide if they have rights.”

EARLIER: Chanting “Fairness for casting!,” about 200 casting directors and their supporters, including representatives from New York City government, rallied Monday morning in the heart of the Theater District before marching several blocks to the headquarters of the Broadway League. There they gathered before the city’s universal symbol of management greed, a 12-foot-tall inflatable Norway rat (subway patrons might call it life-size) with piercing red eyes and Wolverine-worthy claws.

NYC Council majority leader Jimmy Van Bramer, left, with Teamsters Local 817 president Tom O’Donnell Jeremy Gerard

The rally and march were the latest attempts by the casting directors to gain recognition from the League, which negotiates contracts on behalf of producers. As one of the most labor-intensive industries in the city, Broadway production is a union shop for actors, stage hands, musicians, directors and choreographers, authors and others. The casting directorss, who are seeking to negotiate a union contract as members of Teamsters Local 817, have had no luck so far getting the League’s labor committee to sit down with them.

The League has argued that the casting directors are not employees of the productions they work on, though their Hollywood counterparts have won union representation. Today’s rally follows one in June on the weekend of the Tony Awards, eliciting threats from League lawyers, who warned of legal action against any unions supporting the casting “cartel” that disrupted business. The League has encouraged the casting directors to seek a ruling on their status from the National Labor Relations Board.

The participation Monday of elected officials was meant to turn up the pressure on the League as the new Broadway season gets underway.

“Anyone who calls himself a Teamster is officially badass,” said N.Y. City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the council’s Cultural Affairs Committee. The crowd in Shubert Alley cheered as he was embraced by Local 817 President Tom O’Donnell. “We love Broadway, we love that Broadway is alive. We want a thriving and healthy and prosperous Broadway. But casting directors are workers too, right?”

Martine Sainvil, director of communications for the League, said the group’s president, Charlotte St. Martin, would not comment on the latest move by the casting directors. “Charlotte isn’t doing any interviews at this point,” Sainvil said in an email. “I’ll let you know if that changes.”

Casting directors Bernard Telsey, center, flanked by Cindy Tolan and David Caparelliotis Jeremy Gerard

Back in front of the rat, casting director Bernard Telsey, who has been prominent in seeking union recognition for his colleagues, was pleased with today’s showing. “We’ve taken it to another level with the incredible support of the city government,” Telsey told Deadline. “They’re behind us. It’s a city problem. We’ve been trying to do this on our own, artist to artist, theater people to theater people, and that has not worked. We have the incredible support of actors, directors and now the city.”

Asked whether the casting directors would consider striking, given their vocal support from Broadway’s most powerful unions, Telsey replied, “That’s not ultimately what anybody wants. We love our jobs, and we want to keep Broadway healthy. I have to keep saying that’s not going to happen – but we all know that what happens, happens. We want to sit down and talk with them, and we’ve had nothing. That’s the sad part. No one has reached out to Tommy or the casting community. No one has called.”

The last time Broadway faced a strike was in November 2007, when stage hands walked out for 18 days, forcing 27 shows to go dark in a strike that proved costly not only to both sides, but to the many Theater District businesses that rely on them for trade. Estimates at the time put the cost of the strike at $75 million, not including lost wages for the striking workers.

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