-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.