'Jersey Boys' Canceled A Fourth Time As Stagehand Strike Darkens Kravis Center

Dec 21, 2012

A strike by stagehands at West Palm Beach's Kravis Center for the Performing Arts has forced the cancelation of yet another performance of the hit show "Jersey Boys," the fourth since the union walk-out on Tuesday.

STRIKERS: Union stagehands picket the Kravis Center. Four performances of
Credit Allen Eyestone / IATSE

Kravis officials have stopped selling tickets for the production and they are now offering refunds to ticket holders.

The strike is the latest development in a long-running contract dispute between Kravis and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which has been picketing the performing arts center around the clock.  On Thursday, the union got the backing of the actors' union, Actors' Equity Association.

IATSE Local 500 business representative Terry McKenzie says Kravis has yet to pay back wages and negotiate fairly under court orders that have accumulated over the 12-year life of the union's grievances.

From the picket line, McKenzie said he was sorry for the disruption of ticket holders' holiday plans.

"Our beef is with the management," he said. "We're denying them our work and they're not going to be able to put on a major production like this. I think the public should be outraged at being played by these people."

Kravis' people and the union met all day Thursday but came to no agreement. Through a public relations firm, Kravis issued a statement rejecting union allegations of unfair labor practices and accusing it of disregarding the interests of its own members.

"By attempting to prevent its members from working the show," the statement read, "the union is putting $250,000 in wages and benefits at risk just before the holidays for approximately 60 local stagehands."

The troubles began in 2000 when Kravis ended contract talks, fired its union stagehands and locked out the union. The National Labor Relations Board and a judge called that an unfair labor practice and Kravis ultimately was ordered to pay IATSE $2.6 million back wages.

McKenzie says the back pay remains unpaid and Kravis has yet to comply with a court order to resume negotiating in good faith.

"They have to comply with the rulings of the court," he said. "They know what the parameters are but the Kravis Center believes they are above the law."

Kravis officials deny any wrongdoing.

According to reporting by the Palm Beach Post, Kravis is losing about $100,000 for each performance it cancels. In 2010, the center reportedly grossed $4 million on "Jersey Boys."

The Post says Actors Equity has safety concerns:

Besides a show of solidarity, the actors union said it wants the complicated sets to be built by union workers, citing their skill and experience and its concerns about safety. If the Kravis Center opted to use non-union workers, the association would inspect the sets to assure their safety before any actors would go on stage, said Maria Somma, a union spokeswoman.

Union stagehands are skilled workers, McKenzie said, many of them veterans of Broadway who relocated to Florida to leave the difficult touring life behind and take advantage of steady work in a pleasant climate. Kravis says IATSE members earn hourly wages between $24.77 and $86.

"Jersey Boys" ticket holders can call the Kravis box office at 561-832-7469 to ask for refunds.