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Union Busting on the Set of Norma Rae

A casting director has been let go for asking for union rights on the set of Broadway's Norma Rae

Kris LaGrange's picture
Dec 11, 2017

Norma Rae may be a film about organizing a union, but the producers of the Broadway adaptation seem to have missed the point of the story when they decided to not allow a casting director to take part in the production because she wanted them to recognize her union.

As UCOMM previously reported, casting directors in NYC are organizing with Teamster Local 817. While Broadway is overwhelmingly union, with everyone from the actors to the ticket takers organized, the Broadway League, the trade association that represents producers, has taken a virulent anti-union position, going so far as to sue the major casting companies to stop the effort. They even went so far as to say that if casting directors organize, they would be forming a cartel.

Norma Rae is currently going through its special 29-hour reading, the last step before backers will decide if the show can make it onto Broadway. The producers of the show were all set to bring Cindy Tolan into the reading so that she could pick the talent for the show, that is until she asked for the producers to recognize her affiliation with Local 817 and sign a union contract that would have made contributions to the Teamsters health and pension fund which is pretty standard stuff on Broadway. Instead, much like Norma Rae, Tolan was let go. While the Broadway League fights the organizing campaign, casting directors in other sectors like TV and movies are already unionized. All Tolan was asking for was for the producers to pay into the fund, just like Tolan’s employers do when she casts a TV show or a movie.

“It’s outrageous and hypocritical to me that the producers here are trying to shine a light on a story about people fighting for their rights in the workplace, yet they won’t acknowledge the same rights of people who make critical contributions to the success of what they do,” Tom O’Donnell, president of Local 817, told the NY Daily News.

Casting directors have also received support for their campaign from many within the union movement. Just last week, the New York City Central Labor Council, which represents over one million workers in New York City, sent a letter to Broadway League Chairman Robert Wankel demanding fair treatment for the casting directors. In the letter the union leaders say:

Casting directors often work for months without getting paid. No other Broadway worker must put up with such unfair treatment, because other Broadway workers have unions to protect them. 

As casting directors have called for fairness, they have been answered with threats. In a recent letter, the Broadway League called casting directors a “cartel,” and the League is currently suing casting directors and their supporters for organizing. No producer who considers themselves a progressive should attack union organizing in such a way. 

Our unions represent millions of New York City workers, and our support of casting directors should be taken seriously. Broadway does not exist in a bubble. Members of our affiliated unions are also your customers. The industries they represent like, transportation, hospitality, and public services, support Broadway and help it succeed. 

Support for the casting directors has not only come from other unions, but also from Broadway actors like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bette Midler, Alec Baldwin, Nathan Lane, Bryan Cranston, Sally Field, and Allison Janney.

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