Stagehands Extort Hundreds of Thousands From Theater Goers

-By Warner Todd Huston

If there never was a story that explains how unions are really little else but a criminal extortion racket, the story by James Ahearn in the New Jersey Began Record helps explain it for us. Ahearn's piece headlined "For Backstage Labor, Rich Rewards," informs us that some stagehands in New York theater make upwards to $422,000 a year in salary -- and that doesn't include benefits.

These positions are not as highly skilled as brain surgeons, to be sure, yet these guys make hundreds of thousands a year to move chairs, rearrange scenery, raise curtains, and what have you. Why the absurdly outsized pay scale? Threats of strikes shutting down Broadway and its multi-million dollar industry is why. Ahearn reveals that one mere stagehand makes $422,599 a year, plus $107,445 in benefits and deferred compensation, another makes $290,000, and two carpenters and two electricians made about $400,000 a year with benefits to work the theaters of New York.

These guys are skilled laborers, of course. Not every guy off the street can just start being an electrician or a stagehand without training. But should these manual labor positions be making hundreds of thousands a year for their efforts? What accounts for this absurdity?

How to account for all this munificence? The power of a union, Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. "Power," as in the capacity and willingness to close most Broadway theaters for 19 days two years ago when agreement on a new contract could not be reached.

In fact Ahearn quotes another journalist that tried to investigate these outlandish salaries and found that folks in the theater industry were reluctant to even talk to him about it because they feared the power of the union to disrupt their businesses.

As Ahearn notes, these high salaries inevitably drive up the costs of tickets to theatergoers and unduly inflates the cost of doing business.

But that is what unions do. Unions have nothing at all to do with insuring a "fair salary" for members. How can $400,000 a year be a "fair" salary for a guy that raises curtains and moves chairs or plugs in extension cords? The stagehands union is in it to extort exorbitant pay scales that hurt everyone, customer and businessman alike. In this way they aren't any different than any other union. It's little else but a legalized extortion racket.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Tags: Budget, Corruption, Union, Unions

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  • That is a gross understatement of the responsibilities of a Stagehand. If you don't really know what Stagehands do then you probably shouldn't be writing an article on them claiming that it's all their fault for high ticket prices and all that nonsense. I do agree that 400 grand a year is a bit excessive, especially considering that I do freelance Stagehand work for between $15 - $30 an hour. But regardless, being a stagehand is a lot more than just "a guy that raises curtains and moves chairs or plugs in extension cords". A vast knowledge of electronics, wiring, lighting, audio & acoustics, rigging, carpentry and many other areas are required to be successful. I mean... come on... there are schools all around the world that offer Stagehand/AV Tech degrees... Do you really think that people are going to school to become Stagehands and all they are taught is how to plug in extensions chords and move chairs?

  • In reply to jrober1:

    This reply from jrober1, folks, is a perfect example of how so many people cannot use the mushy mass of cells they call a brain.

    First jrober1 (and since he is arguing in favor of unions, ROBBER is a perfect name, ha ha) goes off on me saying that I shouldn't be talking because, why, heck, I am way too stupid to understand the whole world of theater, you see?

    But then the fool AGREES with my ONLY point in the article, that $400 thou a year stagehand is grossly overpaid.

    Still, ROBBER1 attacks me as if I said a chimpanzee could do a stage hand's job. He acts as if I discounted their very existence. So, how does this idiot explain what I meant when I wrote above:

    "These guys are skilled laborers, of course. Not every guy off the street can just start being an electrician or a stagehand without training."

    In fact, not only does he not explain it, he IGNORED it as if I never gave them credit where credit is due!

    CLEARLY I DID NOT DISCOUNT these stagehands.

    So, just because he got his union-supporting dander up and he ASSumed that I was attacking stagehands on a personal level he ignored the whole piece, read into it what his feeble mind wanted it to say, and then went off self righteously as if I was attacking stagehands.

    The central points in my article were
    -stage hands are trained and not just anyone can do the job
    -some stage hands make too much
    -the stage hand union is greedy and causes everyone's ticket prices to go up unnecessarily

    Notice I did not say stage hands were evil, stupid, useless or unskilled.

    So what was ROBBER1's point? Only the top of his head because other wise he has nothing.

    And this is why so many people these days cannot take the slightest criticism before it BLINDS them to anything else said. ROBBER1 is a perfect example of what is wrong with our education, our political discourse, and our society.

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    wow. I think the hostility you are showing towards jrober1 is completely unwarrented and offensive. Yes you said that stagehands are skilled laborers, but you then went on to imply that stagehands make 400k a year to move chairs and plug in extension cords. The only people making that much are technical heads at large houses who are responsible for hiring crews and coordinating the technical aspects of multi-million dollar productions, as well as knowing every cable, dimmer, baton, and electrical and physical threshold of everything in their theater and being up to date with hundreds or even thousands of constantly changing pieces of equipment. The guys who move chairs are lucky to make $70,000 a year before taxes which is barely a living wage in new york city. Stagehands are also called upon to work incredibly difficult hours (I am not union, but i was recently on a job where some union guys had been working from 10am untill 4 in the morning

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    Check those stubs-- the guys pulling down that load are only paid about 10% over scale (~35$ p/hr) for being the lead hands on a show. The big number's on the W-2 forms come because the guys almost literally never stop working.

    If it bothers you that much, write Carnegie Hall and tell them that they need to hire a couple more people to help fill their labor needs and to stop authorizing so much OT.

    PS. What does manual labor have to do with anything?

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