EXCLUSIVE: They’re striking the set today at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, site of this week’s Democratic National Convention, which pre-pandemic had held out the hope for full employment for hundreds of members of IATSE Stagehands Local 18. Instead, the virtual convention produced only a fraction of those jobs.
“We would have been working hundreds of people from four to six weeks out if it had gone ahead normally,” Local 18 business manager Tom Gergerich told Deadline. “But that all changed; instead of hundreds, we’re talking a few dozen.” He said that only about three dozen stagehands – who typically earn anywhere from $25-$50 an hour – are working today on the load-out.
Milwaukee was chosen as the site of the convention in March 2019 – a year before the pandemic hit. “We started to network with the surrounding locals,” Gergerich said, “and the IATSE International was very helpful.” Originally set to be held at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, it was moved to the smaller Wisconsin Center – with satellite feeds from around the country – when the decision was made about two months ago to scale it back and go mostly virtual. “During the convention, we were nearly non-existent,” he said.
And it wasn’t only jobs at the convention where jobs were lost. Concerts and other convention-related events that would have provided many good-paying jobs for the Local’s stagehands and riggers also were scrubbed.
Staging at the convention was provided by Theatrical Resources LLC, which employed the stagehands – as it has for the Oscars, Grammys and numerous other live events and concerts. The convention was produced by Ricky Kirshner, the longtime producer of the Tony Awards and Super Bowl halftime shows, who has been producing Democratic National Conventions since 1992.
“We were proud to be part of it,” Gergerich said, “and we’ll carry on.”