Theater Producers Accuse Casting Directors of Forming Illegal Cartel

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Escalating an acrimonious battle on Broadway, an association of commercial producers on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit against the industry’s most powerful casting directors, accusing them of violating antitrust laws.

The lawsuit comes as casting directors in theater have been attempting to organize a labor union, and have faced strong opposition from producers.

The Broadway League, a trade association representing producers and theater owners, filed the lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. It alleges that, in their bid to unionize, casting offices have formed an illegal cartel and have raised prices in violation of laws designed to preserve competition.

“The casting companies have demanded that Broadway producers pay a surcharge of 29 percent on all currently negotiated fees, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of putting on a show,” the lawsuit said. The lawsuit also alleges that the casting offices have recently begun boycotting new work.

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The lawsuit was filed against seven casting offices, as well as the Casting Society of America and the Teamsters, the union that the casting directors are seeking to join.

The producers and casting directors have been at odds for more than a year, as the casting directors have sought the right to collectively bargain as part of an effort, they say, to win health care and pension benefits. They have sought representation from Teamsters Local 817, which already represents casting directors in film and television.

“We’ve asked for voluntary union recognition of casting directors, but the Broadway League said no,” Tom O’Donnell, president of Teamsters Local 817, said in a statement. “When casting directors ask for health and pension benefits, the League threatens and sues them.”

The producers have argued that casting directors are independent contractors, not production employees, and therefore do not have the right to bargain collectively as a union. They also argue that the expressed concern about benefits is a way to mask a drive to raise costs. “Rather than admitting that the casting companies were seeking to enhance their own profits through the elimination of competition, they needed to reframe the issue as a feigned concern over health and retirement benefits,” the lawsuit alleges.

The Teamsters denied that claim. “To be clear, the casting directors are not attempting to ‘fix prices,’ neither in wages nor benefit contributions,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “They simply want the same workplace fairness and health care afforded to everyone else who works on Broadway.”