The answer, partially, is unions. While the talent of a Broadway show may cost a pretty penny, many of the "aspiring" among them most likely aren’t making as much as the stagehands.
At Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, the average stagehand salary and benefits package is $290,000 a year.
To repeat, that is the average compensation of all the workers who move musicians’ chairs into place and hang lights, not the pay of the top five.
Across the plaza at the Metropolitan Opera, a spokesman said stagehands rarely broke into the top-five category. But a couple of years ago, one did. The props master, James Blumenfeld, got $334,000 at that time, including some vacation back pay.
Now I’m not one to begrudge high salaries, if they’ve been earned. And I’ll be the first to tell you that any CEO who earns a bonus when his or her company has a down year shouldn’t get one. However, that’s really not the point here. These are wages (the top paid stagehand at Carnegie Hall makes $422,599 a year in salary and $107,445 in benefits and deferred compensation) driven by unions. The first figure mentioned is the average salary at Lincoln Center. If I were a lefty, this would probably fall under the "corporate greed" category. The jobs are neither highly skilled nor technical. But they’re locked down and belong to only one entity – the union. The pay is at that level for one simple reason – power and the willingness to use it, even when it really isn’t necessary. And that power engenders fear:
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.
Wakin reported that this power was palpable in the nervousness of theater administrators and performers who were asked to comment on the salary figures.
Kelly Hall-Tompkins, for one, said, "The last thing I want to do is upset the people at Carnegie Hall. I’d like to have a lifelong relationship with them." She is a violinist who recently presented a recital in Weill Hall, one of the smaller performance spaces in the building.
She said she begrudged the stagehands nothing: "Musicians should be so lucky to have a strong union like that."
Right – and musicians would be playing to empty venues if they did since the cost of their entertainment would be beyond what most wage earners can afford. Instead musicians exist in a much more competitive world where their earnings are tied to their talent. Ms. Hall-Tomkins, for one, would prefer the IATSE model, I’m sure.
But you’ll also notice that she, and apparently others, were afraid to comment on the story for fear of ruffling union feathers.
Unions had a place once – and I’ll even say that their existence today can be a good thing if they represent their members properly, that is make sure they’re paid a competitive wage and benefits as well as being treated fairly. However, in many cases, like that above, they end up demanding exorbitant salaries and benefits only because they can.
Where are the Bernie Sanders of the world yelling “when is enough enough”? As long as the theater owners, administrators and artists refuse to speak out about those sorts of salaries and benefits that drive up ticket prices, the union will continue to push. And some stagehands will earn more than the President of the United States (although I think our current President is more suited for the roll of stagehand than his present job).
In the world of leftist “fairness”, this would seem a prime target for those who like to go after CEOs and “greedy corporations”. But expect not a peep about this union, public sector unions or any union for that matter. After all, while they may be as “greedy” as any corporation the left could name, they’re “family” and thus exempt from such criticism.
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