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Carnegie Hall concert goes on, after strike canceled performance

By Luke Swiderski

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A performance by the American Symphony Orchestra proceeded as planned at New York's Carnegie Hall on Thursday, a day after the famed concert hall canceled a separate performance for the first time in its 122-year history because of a labor dispute.

A strike by stagehands forced the cancellation, but the union temporarily suspended its strike on Thursday, allowing the concert hall to open its doors for now.

A union leader told Reuters he was optimistic the two sides could reach a permanent deal by Friday.

The dispute hangs on whether the stagehands - mostly prop-makers, carpenters and electricians - should have a role in a new educational wing that the Carnegie Hall Corp plans to open above the hall next year.

The corporation wants to hire cheaper labor at the education wing.

Negotiations with the union took an unprecedented turn on Wednesday when Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees decided to go on strike for the first time in the history of Carnegie Hall.

However, when James Claffey, president of Local 1, emerged from negotiations on Thursday afternoon, he announced the union had agreed to pull down the picket line for the day, citing progress in the talks.

"This is a goodwill gesture towards Carnegie Hall," said Claffey, whose local has negotiated some of the most lucrative pay in the industry.

He later said further progress had been made, and that even though picketing would continue, he hoped to reach a deal by Friday.

Carnegie Hall's five full-time stagehands make an average of $400,000 per year including benefits, The New York Times reported, citing the organization's tax returns. Claffey said there were many more stagehands represented by the union who work only sporadically.

"This dispute is not about those employees," Claffey said. "This is about everyone else. These are middle class employees."

The strike forced Carnegie Hall to cancel a performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra with violinist Joshua Bell. The concert was part of Carnegie Hall's opening-night gala, the organization's biggest fundraising event of the year.

"We are disappointed that, despite the fact that the stagehands have one of the most lucrative contracts in the industry, they are now seeking to expand their jurisdiction beyond the concert hall and into the new education wing in ways that would compromise Carnegie Hall's education mission," said Clive Gillinson, the organization's executive and artistic director.

(Reporting by Luke Swiderski; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Steve Orlofsky)

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