When I noticed some picketing stagehands outside the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway today, I went over to the captain of the picket line and asked her what she thought of the coverage of the strike in the news media. I was surprised by her answer: according to the polices of her union, Local One of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees she's not allowed to discuss the matter.
I tried my best to pry some comments out of her, but the best I got was a suggestion to visit Local One's website; one of her pickets suggested that I go to YouTube and find a video of a Local One press conference. I did. But if that's her union's way of building public support in a strike, Local One is sadly mistaken.
In an age when unions represent an ever-dwindling portion of the workforce, they have to be able to reach out to the public and win allies. But that's just what Local One doesn't know how to do.
The local Website doesn't do much to build support for the cause. It offers thanks to supporters, and daily announcements, but nothing as useful as ten talking points to use with the next person who opposes the strike. (The site of the League of American Theaters and Producers isn't much better, but they already have all the advantages that employers enjoy. And I want to see the union win.)
If you visit the YouTube video clip, you'll find television news footage of James J. Claffey, Local One President, insisting that he will not be "bargaining in the press"--even as he complains about attacks on the union in the press.
Local One's policy of banning pickets from talking to reporters hasn't won them much but an Andre Peyser column in the Post announcing that the rule turns Broadway into a "Soviet gulag."
The union, with all the creative people who work on Broadway, can and should do a better job of getting its message out.
If Local One doesn't trust its picket line captains to talk about something as basic as media coverage, it has a problem with its membership. If it doesn't trust the public enough to engage it in a conversation, it has even bigger problems. Both get in the way of a union victory.
Let the members of Local One, at very least the picket captains, speak to the public.
A picket line is no place for a gag order.