An August rally for casting offices as they attempt to unionize. (Photo: Courtesy of Teamster 817)

The Broadway League has filed suit against seven Broadway casting agencies alleging that they have violated antitrust laws by forming a “cartel” that has collectively raised their fees and boycotted producers who will not pay it.

In the federal suit, the League claims that these casting offices have added a 29% fee increase to already negotiated rates for all productions moving forward, which they say “jeopardizes” the future of Broadway shows. However, the union that has aligned with the casting offices says this is part of their effort to unionize and receive health and pension benefits as employees.

In the suit, the League calls the casting directors’ ask for health and retirement benefits a “cover story,” for what they see as a means to “enhance their own profits through the elimination of competition.” 

The suit, which was filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, also names the Casting Society of America and Local 817, the union that the Broadway casting directors have aligned with.

Tom O’Donnell, president of Teamsters Local 817, said in a statement that the fee raise is all part of casting directors’ efforts to receive workplace benefits.

“To be clear, the casting directors are not attempting to ‘fix prices’, neither in wages nor benefit contributions. They simply want the same workplace fairness and healthcare afforded to everyone else who works on Broadway. Broadway made over a billion dollars last year. Rather than engage in a dialogue with forty working men and women who have been instrumental to their success, the League spouts fake facts, bullies, and files lawsuits,” O’Donnell said in an emailed statement.

In the suit, the League said that the casting agencies banding together and raising fees, violates antitrust laws as the top five casting agencies represent more than 70% of Broadway shows.

“The defendants continuing illegal and anticompetitive cartel behavior is jeopardizing the survival of Broadway shows, and bringing real harm to the actors, stagehands, musicians, and others who depend on the theatre for their very livelihood. We have no choice but to seek a legal remedy to the cartel’s illegal behavior,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, in a press release Tuesday morning.  

In the suit, the League says that the named casting offices — Telsey & Co, Tara Rubin Casting, Caparelliotis Casting, Jim Carnahan Casting, Calleri Casting, Cindy Tolan Casting and Stewart/Whitley Casting — began a boycott in October of producers who would not pay the increased fees. The suit alleges that casting directors went through the Casting Society of America, which guided casting offices to contact Local 817 before negotiating a contract.

The battle between the League and casting offices stems from the fact that the League believes that casting directors are independent contractors, rather than employees. In the suit, the League points to the fact that casting offices have their own workspaces and have their own employees, rather than workers employed by producers, as evidence of that status.

Casting directors have argued that they work as employees of the shows, and thus should have the ability to engage to be represented by a union that can engage in collective bargaining, just as actors, stage managers, musicians have.

Thus far, the League would not negotiate on that premise, instead directing the offices to the National Labor Relations Board for a determination on whether they are employees.

In the suit, the League is asking for injunctive relief, effectively stopping the collective fee raise from the offices, as well as other relief as the court determines.