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Contract Negotiations

As graduation grows nearer each of my classes is wrapping up for the semester. My Theatre Management class just had its final class and it ended with mock negotiation where the Designers union were meeting to discuss their agreement with the League of Resident Theatres. I was lucky enough to be a designer in the room (simply because I wasn’t the one moving in and out of the room) and I must say that I couldn’t stand it. This meeting encapsulated everything I despised about business confrontations (and as a generally nonconfrontational person in general) – high tensions, negativity, lust for power, everyone believing they’re right, selfishness, and it was all veiled under formal, legally appropriate language. I wanted to speak plainly to my “employers” sitting across the table, but unfortunately there was very little confrontation. Each answer had to be carefully discussed and calculated, and it was all about how strategy of bargaining could give us the greatest deal. I haven’t heard too much else about unions in my education here. My curiosity lead me to searching for recent news and found that there was a dispute in England (http://www.thestage.co.uk/2014/04/mu-claims-nt-flagrant-breach-contract-war-horse-dispute/) earlier this month about the National Theatre notified their musicians for War Horse would be fired, and the Musicians Union decided that was a breach of contract. They believed “their contracts cannot be terminated until the closure of the production of War Horse, due to a collective bargaining agreement between the Society of London Theatre and the MU. A judge’s decision (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-15/-war-horse-musicians-don-t-get-jobs-back-despite-strong-case.html) on April 15 ruled in the favor of the National Theatre and they would not have to rehire the musicians. It came down to a matter of two things: employers in England are simply not forced to hire people they do not want and the previously negotiated contract didn’t cover the elimination of the orchestra. What concerns me most hearing about cases like these is that at the end of the day, no matter how heated it gets in these meeting rooms, we all have to work as one to create something for the world. What does it mean for the relationship of artist and employer? One must show confidence and stand up for your own benefits in the room, but also not become an unattractive employee candidate (which after today I imagine would be difficult). It’s strange to me that an art form that prides itself as one that relies on the love and generosity of people to function suffers the same disputes and arguments as any other business. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were worse for artists those seeking benefits for on of the most unforgiving career paths one can choose. The more people have to lose, the more desperate situations become. But being in that room affirmed my belief that despite contentions, all of it is well worth the protections artists are provided. If possible, though, I would rather just not be in that room.


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