Monday, December 27, 2010

"Stagehand Scalping" at Carnegie Hall; Where's the Outrage About $450,000 Salaries for Stagehands?

About a year ago, I had a post about "excessive pay" for the unionized stagehands at Carnegie Hall, some of whom made more during the 2007-2008 season by pushing the 9-foot Steinway Model D concert grand piano out onto the stage for a concert than the artist makes for playing the piano.  Financial data for many nonprofit organizations, including salary data for the "highest paid employees and their compensation," are available at the website GuideStar. Here's the link to The Carnegie Hall Corporation listing at GuideStar.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, the top five highest paid Carnegie employees were all stagehands making an average of $359,000 in base compensation (see chart above).  A more detailed analysis of Carnegie Hall's 2008 tax return reveals that each of the five stagehands earned an additional $100,000 in deferred compensation for 2008, bringing their total yearly compensation amounts to:

Dennis O'Connell (properties manager): $524,332
James Csollany (carpenter): $461,174
John Cardinale (electrician): $438,828
Kenneth Beltrone (carpenter): $432,655
John Goodson (electrician): $425,105    

That's a total annual compensation for the five Carnegie stagehands of $2,280,000, or $456,000 each.   How to explain these excessive above-market wages? Easy, the stagehands are members of one of the oldest and most powerful NYC labor unions - The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees - which exercised its union muscle in 2007 by striking and shutting down 26 Broadway shows for almost three weeks, at an estimated cost to NYC of about $40 million. 

There's a lot of outrage and attention directed towards "excessive CEO pay," judging by the 153,000 Google hits for that phrase, which is 270 times more than the 567 Google hits for the phrase "excessive union pay."  As I mentioned in the previous post, musicians and promoters frequently blame "ticket scalpers" for raising ticket prices, but maybe "stagehand scalping" deserves some of the blame for high concert ticket prices?! 


At 12/27/2010 3:35 PM, OpenID Brian said...

As you pointed out, it's due to the fact that this union is powerful. What gives it this power? Legislation? Surely there are legions of New Yorkers who are willing to set up chairs for, say, an annual salary of $120,000?

At 12/27/2010 3:37 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Jeez, these guys are making almost as much as lawyers! And we know who necessary lawyers are.

At 12/27/2010 4:19 PM, Blogger randian said...

There must be a legislative roadblock, otherwise bringing in scabs for $120k would be an ideal solution. They probably can't do anything about the strike in a short enough timeframe to matter i.e. before they'd go bankrupt waiting out the strike.

At 12/27/2010 5:31 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...

Those wages provide more reasons to criticize the scalping.

How much influence do those individuals have vs a CEO? That is the real question. Take the compensation out of the matter and just find out how much influence over others that these people have. That is, how much more damage can a CEO create versus these people when something goes wrong.

At 12/27/2010 6:01 PM, Blogger aorod said...

Civic charities are the latest scam.. milking the rich, making the rich.

At 12/28/2010 9:48 AM, Blogger Walt G. said...

""excessive pay" for the unionized stagehands at Carnegie Hall, some of whom made more during the 2007-2008 season by pushing the 9-foot Steinway Model D concert grand piano out onto the stage for a concert than the artist makes for playing the piano."

Who gets to determine what is excessive? I think it is those with power, which is usually money or what money buys--contact and influence.

Obviously, the power that the stagehands have collectively is more effective than what they would have individually and they are able to capitalize on that equalizer. Organizing and collective bargaining can cancel out some of the inherent political/legal and economic power that is centered in corporations.

I don't believe there is such thing as excessive CEO pay or union pay. Two sides negotiated and signed a deal. Negotiations are often dirty and nasty and settled by who blinks first; that's just the nature of the beast. According to the IRS Form 990, the stagehands are all being compensated for 80-hours-per-week. They make a lot of money, but that’s a lot of hours, too. Clive Gillinson, Executive and Artistic director, who I assume is not in a labor union, made twice what they made (almost $1 million) for just 60-hours-per-week work in 2008, so large amounts of pay in this organization is not a labor union anomaly.

That Carnegie Hall can afford the stagehands' pay and whoever made the deal is willingly to lose their jobs if wrong is shown by their willingness to settle after just 3 weeks and a $40 million loss. Carnegie Hall shows $107 million of net assets at the end of 2008. Obviously nonprofit does not mean non value.

At 12/31/2010 5:17 PM, Blogger GrandPa said...

As I understand it, tenure was the price we pay for the guarantee of academic freedom. But all systems require feedback (self-correcting) systems so there should be no tenure for administrative academics and thus if someone who is well qualified will take a position at less pay everyone wins except the greedy.

At 1/07/2011 10:56 AM, Blogger F said...

This is pretty bad "reporting"...specious at best in its cherry-picking. There is nothing legislative about it, it is, as Walt G is a negotiated rate.

1) the amount a stagehand is paid is partially dictated by the venue's performance schedule. It is easy to accumulate overtime pay if the venue decides to have more than 8 shows per week, multiple shows on a Sunday/holiday, or if they go past 11 PM. The stagehand doesn't dictate the length of a performance or how many shows they have per week. He/she simply works what the venue/organization sets.

2) the blog includes "deferred payment" as part of the annual gross salary. How many people count sick days, pension, annuity, health insurance, and vacation days as part of their annual gross salary?! No one...

3) the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Hands is a brotherhood of local unions. It does not strike. It can approve a strike, but it does not strike itself. The union to which this blogger is referring is Local 1.

4) Comparing a stagehand to a CEO is like comparing apples to dumptrucks.

Shoddy work...stay in Michigan.

At 1/10/2011 5:09 PM, Blogger Humble Nailbanger said...

I'm a stagehand in NYC for Local 1, and I have friends who work at Carnegie. Yes, they make a lot of money. But what are their lives like?

Many stagehands sleep in the theatre or studio for days on end, working 12, 15, 18 hour days, 7 days a week. Do we get paid well for that privilege? Sometimes, yes. But there is a price.

There's a fairly common joke that with your union card, you get "one free divorce." We're rarely, if ever, home. Sure, some of these guys are making a lot of money, but they are never able to enjoy it. They're at the theatre ALL THE TIME. Most people can't comprehend what that means. They work their 9 to 5 jobs, maybe pull the occasional long day and moan about it. Imagine basically never leaving work. You shower there, you eat there, you see your fellow stagehands more than you see your family. Those Broadway shows that are so central to the tourist experience in NYC? There are stagehands who, for all intents and purposes, live in those theaters.

When I was first starting out, I was working round the clock calls, catching a couple hours of sleep here or there (always in some hidden corner, with a packing blanket to cover me), working 80-100 hours a week. I was talking to my wife about a call I just took, and telling her that I wouldn't be home, again, that night. She asked "don't they know you're tired?" I could only laugh. The guys I was working for were doing more hours than me, bringing suitcases to work every Sunday containing their clothes for the week.

For us, it's not uncommon to work 16 hours, finish up at 2am, then turn around and start another day at 6am. Sure, we're making good overtime, and our wives/ex-wives and children get to enjoy it, but we rarely if ever get to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

If we try to enjoy it, sneaking home on occasion? I can name several stagehands right off the top of my head who died late at night, falling asleep and driving off the road on their way home.

The job also entails a little more than "setting up chairs." When you walk into a theatre, everything you see has been put there by stagehands. We build the sets, we light the whole mess, we rig the massive pieces that fly in and out. I've been in the business for almost 20 years, and I'm still amazed by the skill shown by the great people I get to work with. We make amazing things happen on a regular basis, and generally make it look like child's play.

Finally, the work we do generates enormous income. There's no two ways about it. Broadway, TV and Hollywood make massive amounts of money. Part of that is generated directly by the work that we do. I wonder about anyone who would quibble with a group of highly skilled men and women who sacrifice most of their time and who bring great things to the production being compensated fairly for that endeavor.

As for CEOs, I could go on and on. My heart bleeds for the poor CEOs. Imagine, making millions and millions of dollars for "running" a corporation. Heaven forbid if that corporation should run afoul of the law, and suddenly that genius CEO suddenly knows nothing about what his/her subordinates have been doing and, if they somehow have been found to be at fault, they're let go and ride off into the sunset, floating on a tide of stock options and massive compensation.

I think "F" said it best, that "[c]omparing a stagehand to a CEO is like comparing apples to dumptrucks." That's pretty shoddy, intellectually. Not to mention, it reeks of class war, which the CEO defenders of the world are constantly crying about.

At 1/17/2011 8:50 PM, Blogger JOHN said...

The price of everything, including CEO's and stagehands, should be determined by fundamentals (i.e. supply and demand). When the laws of supply and demand are allowed to work without artificial or contrived influence, the true value of everything can be determined. At least the CEO pay is determined by the marketplace. The Carnegie Hall stagehand pay is high not because of supply and demand (other well qualified individuals would be happy to replace these workers at a fraction of what the current stagehands are paid), but rather by the power that their union wields. Additionally, the argument that these stagehands live at the theater only tells me that they need more stagehands, not 80-100 hour work weeks - how dumb? I'm sure these are talented individuals, but I suspect that there are PLENTY of qualified people that would do it for far less. In other words, the marketplace has nothing to do with what these stagehands are paid. I shutter to think that the trustees of Carnegie Hall have let this travesty continue unchallenged. I'd bet there have been more than a couple of season ticket cancellations.

At 1/17/2011 9:14 PM, Blogger JOHN said...

The value of everything, including CEOs and stagehands, can be determined by the marketplace - simple supply and demand. It is only when the forces of supply and demand are tinkered with that the value of anything gets skewed. In most cases I can think of, CEO pay is determined by the marketplace. Rare talents are hoghly rewarded. In the case of mechanics and electricians, their pay is usually determined by a combination of supply and demand factors and trade union power. The not so rare talents of mechanics and electricians are usually rewarded with good pay, but not great pay. In the case of Carnegie Hall, the stagehand pay has nothing to do with supply and demand - only the power of their union. I shutter to think that the trustees have let this situation continue unchallenged. There will be more than a few ticket cancellations and an overall public hesitancy to support such an outrage. How can one equate the talents of a Concert Pianist and a stagehand? Again, rare talents and high pay. The pianist should earn many times more than the stagehands if "the invisible hand" is allowed to work. Additionally, the argument that the stagehands live at the theatre only tells me that they don't have enough stagehands, not that they should each work 80-100 hour weeks - how dumb is that argument? This is clearly an example of a thug union wielding its strength and a weak management team afraid to take them on. Plain and simple.

At 12/01/2011 8:01 PM, Blogger The Rocker said...

Lets talk SPORTS boys and girls. Yes i said SPORTS. Why did I say SPORTS? because of people like A-Rod and Derick Jeter and other athletes who are making millions of dollars just to play a game. Sure some of you say stagehands are over payed. They are not making millions and competing for less then 6 months out of the year. How much does it cost to see a ballgame? Prices are out of control and why? To pay the athletes and to pad the owners pockets. Yes there are times when things are slow and the stagehands go through periods of no work and do not get unemployment or any other compensation for that time. How many people out there would give up a lot to play pro sports for way less then what these people are getting paid. There is a between athletes and stagehands. Athletes play and stagehands work. Stagehands do not get put up at 5 star hotels after a show.Stagehands are the first to come and the last to go. and do 12+ hour days. Athletes get to a stadium or arena and they only perform for 3 hours unless it goes in to OT or extra innings. Most league minimums start at around $500k not including any type of bonus they may get. The average American works more hours a year then a ball player and even with a good blue collar job don't even get $50 K before taxes.
Not all stagehands make the so called $200-$400 K most are lucky to make it to $100. I have worked stage shows from all ends from the grunt work unloading trucks setting up stages working the shows tearing down the stage and loading the trucks. I have been with union pros and i have been with non union labor and i hate to do double work. Just remember Stagehands are not in the Spotlight we run them


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home