A rally for casting directors to be allowed to unionize. (Photo: Courtesy of Teamsters Joint Council 16)

A coalition representing 39 unions in New York City is speaking up for casting directors and urging the Broadway League to allow them to unionize.

The executive board of the New York City Central Labor Council, which represents workers in the public sector, construction and healthcare, among others, sent a letter to the League saying they would stand by Broadway casting directors and their affiliated union, Teamsters Local 817, in their dispute with the League. The letter came after the Broadway League filed suit against seven casting directors, in a move that the labor council called “troubling.”

The Broadway League filed suit this week against the casting agencies, alleging that they had formed an illegal “cartel,” in which they had banded together to raise rates for all producers on Broadway. In turn, the casting agencies said they were continuing to fight for healthcare and other benefits offered to unionized workers on Broadway.

In the letter, sent to Robert Wankel, chairman of the Broadway League, the council said the casting directors have their full support.

“These hardworking men and women aren’t alone in this fight. They have the support of the entire New York City labor movement behind them, and we are willing to stand with them as long as it takes for them to get the benefits and union representation they deserve,” Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, said in the letter.

The New York City Central Labor Council is made up of unions that represent 1.3 million members in the city.

“Broadway does not exist in a bubble,” the letter states. “Members of our affiliated unions are also your customers.”

The dispute between the League and the casting agencies is over the agencies’ continued push to unionize, and thus be able to negotiate for healthcare and other benefits paid by the shows. However, the League contends that the casting directors are independent contractors, not employees of the shows and therefore, should not receive benefits from the shows.

Asked for comment on the letter, The Broadway League pointed to their original statement on the disagreement, in which they had directed the casting directors to the National Labor Relations Board for a determination on whether they are employees or contractors. 

“We have had a respectful dialogue with Teamsters Local 817 but do not believe it would be appropriate for the Broadway League or its producing members to recognize a union as the bargaining representative of professionals who are not employees of our productions,” the statement reads.