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Bloomberg Plays
Different Role in Strike

Bloomberg Plays
Different Role in Strike

Broadway was only four days into a strike in 2003 when New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg pressured both sides to come together and warned of the looming ''severe economic impact'' that could result from the dispute.

Broadway was only four days into a strike in 2003 when New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg pressured both sides to come together and warned of the looming ''severe economic impact'' that could result from the dispute.

This time, theaters have been dark for more than a week and the mayor is not only refraining from wagging his finger in public, he's downplaying the potential damage the stagehands strike could cause the city and shrugging off some of the concerns he voiced four years ago.

The losses, he said Monday, are mostly contained to the theater industry, and theatergoers counting on Broadway shows may be disappointed. Otherwise, it's hard to quantify any sort of economic setback, and life goes on, he said.

''I think what it hurts more is our reputation, and it's the psychic things rather than dollars,'' he said. ''Our hotels will still be full, our restaurants will still be full, mass transit will still be going along.''

Estimates of the economic damage to the city vary wildly, ranging from $2 million to $17 million a day. Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, dismissed any such figures as ''guesswork'' and said the sky is hardly falling.

''Is it a cataclysmic thing for this city? No. Is it bad for this city? Yes,'' he said.

Talks broke off Sunday between Local 1 and the League of American Theatres and Producers, and performances for more than two dozen Broadway shows were canceled through November 25, the lucrative Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Pressure has mounted for a solution to the work stoppage, which began November 10, because this is typically one of Broadway's best weeks of the year. Many shows top more than $1 million for the week.

The stagehands -- who include scenery and prop handlers, carpenters, electricians, and lighting and sound technicians -- have been working without a contract since the end of July. Negotiations have focused on how many stagehands are required to open a Broadway show and keep it running.

The shows idled by the strike include some of Broadway's biggest hits, including Wicked, Jersey Boys, The Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, and Mamma Mia!

Eight shows whose theaters have separate contracts with the union remain unaffected by the walkout. They include four productions playing at nonprofit theaters -- Pygmalion, The Ritz, Mauritius, and Cymbeline -- and four other shows: Young Frankenstein, Mary Poppins, Xanadu, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. All off-Broadway productions are open too.

Bloomberg was in his first term when Broadway last shut down four years ago. That time, he was more publicly forceful in urging the two sides to come together, and when they accepted his offer of a neutral mediator and place to meet, he even showed up at 3 a.m. to urge them on. A deal was announced hours later and the curtains went up that night.

There are a number of possible explanations for his more low-key approach to this strike.

In the first dispute, the theater producers had somewhat of an upper hand over the musicians because there was the threat that the shows could go on without them, using recorded music. For this reason, Bloomberg might have wielded more influence when he called both sides to get together, because if the union didn't show up, they risked letting the producers win with canned music.

There is no such power play in this year's standoff. Aides say Bloomberg believes that the same public pressure that worked four years ago is not the right approach this time around.

Joshua Freeman, professor of labor history at Queens College, said Bloomberg also might be standing back because the two sides are farther apart and he believes his attempts could fail.

''Some of it is a recognition that he has relatively limited leverage,'' Freeman said. ''These are private parties, and he may prefer not to stake out a position as a problem solver if he doesn't think he can solve a problem.''

But City Hall is still involved, however quietly; Bloomberg and his deputies are regularly in touch with both sides, as well as labor experts. The mayor was also quick to have dinner at a theater district restaurant after the strike started, in a symbolic move to show that the area was still open for business. (AP)

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