David Byrne goes back, burning down the house (orchestra) approach to union dispute


David Byrne, the former frontman of the rock group Talking Heads, has reached a settlement with a major Broadway union, agreeing to their demands that he use live musicians for an upcoming production.

The American Federation of Musicians’ Local 802 announced Friday that it has struck a deal with Byrne’s show Here Lies Love, eliminating the need for third-party mediation.

The show will employ 12 members of Local 802 – nine orchestra musicians and three actor-musicians who will play music as part of their stage performance.

Byrne had originally suggested only using pre-recorded music, which the union saw as an existential threat to her role in Broadway musicals. Local 802 described Byrne’s request as unprecedented in a regionally niche industry where unions remain influential. The union feared that if Byrne achieved his goal, it would jeopardize the future use of musicians in Broadway musicals and the artistic quality they contribute to the Broadway experience.

“Broadway is a very special place, filled with the best musicians and performers in the world, and we’re delighted that this agreement honors that tradition,” said Tino Gagliardi, president of Local 802, in a statement.

Byrne spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the agreement.

Byrne’s concession to the union followed for weeks negative media coverage. The union hired an experienced political communications strategist Eric Koch to conduct an unrestricted publicity campaign against Byrne. And Gagliardi previously wanted to tell HuffPost that Byrne, a New York City resident, was once a member of Local 802.

last tuesday, HuffPost reported that Byrne admitted in 1986 that he chose to shoot a musical comedy film in Texas because it is a “right to work” state where unions have less power. The revelation undermined Byrne’s insistence that he wanted to use recorded music in Here Lies Love for creative reasons.

“The HuffPost story was the last drop that brought Byrne to the negotiating table,” someone familiar with the union’s discussions with Byrne told HuffPost.

Local 802’s strength on Broadway makes it one of the most influential musicians’ unions in the United States. With more than 5,000 dues-paying members, it is the largest affiliate of the American Federation of Musicians in the country.

Local 802 has a collective bargaining agreement with the Broadway League, the group that represents officially named Broadway theater owners, which dictates how many musicians a musical production must employ at each theater.

However, Broadway producers are free to apply to Local 802 for exceptions to the minimum musician requirements on a case-by-case basis. The agreement stipulates that any musical performed at the Broadway Theater where Here Lies Love is to be performed must employ 19 union musicians. The final number of 12 union members for production represents a compromise between Byrne and the union.

But in its more than a century of existence, Local 802 had never allowed one musical According to Gagliardi, the production should take place entirely without musicians. The union agreed to fight Byrne through third-party arbitration, which would have given them the opportunity to appeal any verdict to a formal arbitration board.

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