Broadway Producers Sue over Casting "Cartel"

BroadwayA group of Broadway producers have sued casting companies, claiming that they formed an illegal "cartel" to raise prices.

As the New York Times reports,  the casting directors have been trying to organize a labor union. The producers have opposed this effort.

The Broadway League, a trade association that represents producers and theater owners, sued in New York federal court.

Antitrust

The complaint claims that by forming a union the casting companies would be violating federal antitrust laws:

Casting companies compete fiercely to be engaged for new Broadway shows. This competition drives down the price for casting services and controls the mounting costs of launching a new Broadway production. This case concerns a conspiracy by the dominant Broadway casting companies to eliminate this competition in violation of the antitrust laws.

The plaintiffs claim that since banding together the casting companies have demanded that producers pay a surcharge of 29% on previously negotiated fees.

Broadway Babies

As the complaint notes, about 60,000 actors are trying to get jobs on Broadway at a given time. The top-five casting agencies control over 70% of Broadway shows. The largest company controls 30% of the market on its own.

The complaint alleges that the casting companies sought the help of the Teamsters Union to force producers to engage in collective negotiations.

Teamsters Local 817 already represents casting directors in television and film.

Independent Contractors

The Broadway League objected to treating the casting companies as employees,

because those companies are not, and never have been, employees [of the producers]. They are businesses that bring to bear their own intellectual property, assets, and staff to the services they provide, and they compete in the marketplace as independent contractors.

The League suggested that the casting companies bring the issue to the National Labor Relations Board, which deals with unions. The casting companies declined, according to the complaint.

Boycott

The League said the casting companies then launched a boycott of any producer that didn't agree to union recognition and the 29% surcharge.

The League claims that this surcharge makes a tenuous business even riskier:

Most shows fail to see a Broadway stage, and many that do close their doors not long after. Almost 80% never see a dime of profit. Controlling costs can make the difference between shows that audiences have a chance to see – with a shot at becoming a hit – and shows that are nothing more than a producer’s abandoned dream.

As Deadline reported, the casting companies say their main concern is health and pension benefits:

To be clear, the casting directors are not attempting to ‘fix prices’, neither in wages nor benefit contributions. They simply want the same workplace fairness and healthcare afforded to everyone else who works on Broadway. Broadway made over a billion dollars last year. Rather than engage in a dialogue with forty working men and women who have been instrumental to their success, the League spouts fake facts, bullies, and files lawsuits.

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