Howard Haas shares Philadelphia Inquirer news of stagehand unions breaking ground for a new HQ & practice facility. An illustration of the new union hall is included in the article.
How did Philadelphia’s organized stagehands – Local 8 of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees, plus members of four allied unions – arrange to start work Thursday on a $6 million headquarters, under I-95 in South Philly, in the middle of a recession?
“The stars lined up,” the international’s Philadelphia-based vice president, Michael Barnes, told me. His union raised $2.5 million in Pennsylvania state capital investment funds, $1.4 million from a PNC Bank loan, the rest from his members’ building fund.
The 117-year-old union claims 1,000 members in the Philadelphia area – stagehands and roadies who work theaters, music, circus, film, and sports shows behind the scenes, plus mechanics, wardrobe artists, treasurers, ticket-takers, and
ushers. The largest group, the stagehands, earns $20 to $35 an hour, plus medical and retirement benefits.
Barnes said his union was betting there would be more jobs for skilled show workers in the future, especially if skeptical legislators can be persuaded to extend Pennsylvania tax credits that led M. Night Shyamalan and Robert De Niro to filming sites at the old Budd Co., the Navy Yard, and other local locations over the past year.
Stagehands currently train at the union’s old Hartranft Avenue hall, or on-site at the Kimmel Center and other show venues. “But there’s other events going on, and getting time [for training] has been a challenge,” David Thiele, an operations executive at Kimmel, told me.
Before an audience of tattooed stagehands, IBEW Local 98 leader and neighborhood resident John Dougherty, landlord Leon Silverman, and State Rep. Bill Keller, (D., Phila.), Barnes sketched his new classrooms and catering hall as a training center that would prepare Philadelphia workers to haul, set up, and pack down Broadway Across America plays, Live Nation concerts, and events at Global Spectrum and other arena chains around the nation.
Barnes is even counting on work from union-averse Comcast Corp., whose pending purchase of NBC Universal Inc. will “create the potential for Philadelphia to become one of the leading content-production centers in the world. . . . Philadelphia will become the go-to place for the entertainment industry in North America.”
“This is where we should be spending tax dollars. This is putting people to work,” Keller shouted, to cheers. “We’re lucky we started on the plan six years ago. There’s no money for it in the state budget today.”