Arts In LA
Last year, Actor's Equity Association, the union for stage actors, imposed a $9 per hour minimum wage to take effect this month, for actors working in Los Angeles County theaters operating under Equity's 99-Seat plan. Union members voted to reject the so-called pay.

Prior to a lawsuit being litigated, Equity and the Pro-99 actors had been negotiating under a press blackout, but on June 29 both sides released statements, which indicate no resolution is at hand.

The statements are published here in their entireties.

Statement from Actors’ Equity Association

Actors’ Equity Association and the plaintiffs in the Asner vs. Actors’ Equity litigation announced today that they were unable to resolve their dispute. Due to previously agreed upon ground rules, both parties are unable to comment on the actual discussions.

Labor unions, including Actors’ Equity Association (Equity), exist primarily to advocate for better wages and working conditions for their members. For more than a century, Equity has fought for the basic principle that its members deserve to be paid for their work and to be treated fairly.  In an effort to ensure that a percentage of actors who appear onstage in 99-seat productions are paid a wage, the National Council of Equity conducted surveys and membership meetings over the course of several months. The Council conducted an advisory referendum and, after carefully considering the results, created opportunities that would allow for some members to work under contractual agreements and be paid at least minimum wage. The Council also created 3 internal union membership rules that provided members the opportunity to volunteer their time: a) self-producing, b) performing with membership companies, or c) appearing in 50-seat showcases. This was and remains an essential step forward for fair pay in LA County, which was out of sync with the rest of the nation prior to the new rules being adopted.

The 99-Seat Transitional Code, which was created to give theaters and producers time to make the transition to one of the contractual agreements or membership rules and was extended while the facilitated discussions with the plaintiffs were underway, will no longer be available, effective December 14, 2016.

While we are disappointed that this dispute will enter the courtroom, Equity intends to vigorously defend itself against the meritless lawsuit and will file an immediate motion to dismiss. We are fully prepared to defend both the process and the substance of Council’s actions.

In October 2015, Equity issued the following statement: It is disappointing that this prolonged process has now resulted in what will surely be a very expensive litigation for Actors' Equity. Unfortunately, the real victims here are the members all over the country who understand that when a single community files costly lawsuits and buys full-page ads in major newspapers to insist that they should not be paid, it has an inevitable and deleterious effect on the union's bargaining power for the rest of its members.

Background: Actors’ Equity Association (Equity) is the labor union which represents more than 50,000 professional stage actors and stage managers nationwide. Equity negotiates wages, working and safety conditions, and provides a wide range of benefits including health, pension and 401k plans for its members.

Over the course of several months, Equity conducted surveys and membership meetings and after considering the results of the advisory referendum, the National Council, Equity’s governing body, carved out even more exemptions to the original proposals. By doing so, the National Council created a system that would allow for some members to be paid minimum wage for rehearsals and performances. In addition, those members who chose to would still be able to self-produce, appear in showcase productions in theaters with 50-seats or less or participate with membership companies under the new internal union membership rules.
Actor Plaintiffs Response

Dear Equity Member and Los Angeles Theatre Community,  

By now you have seen Equity’s Press Release and letter to their members attacking actors for their efforts to preserve intimate theatre in Los Angeles. Equity’s letter is malicious and false.

The Plaintiffs filed this suit on behalf of the entire Los Angeles Theatre Community after Equity ignored a referendum in which the Equity members of this community defeated Equity’s proposed changes by one of the widest margins in Equity’s voting history. We filed our lawsuit because Equity seeks to unilaterally abolish the 99-seat plan that was in place since 1989 by annulling the 1989 settlement agreement and dismantling the Review Committee—the major protection members have from destructive maneuvers by Equity to end intimate theatre.

Over six months we had a series of facilitated discussions with Equity. We hoped to forge a path for financially successful theaters to grow, step-by-step, stage-by-stage, to minimum wage contracts. We agree that theaters should pay artists more when they can. But they should not be closed down if they can’t. We want to see theatre thrive in Los Angeles. We want to see more contract work here. We will continue to urge Equity to reconsider; to gain an appreciation for the importance of small theatre to our City. We are not New York.

We are not Chicago. Models used in those cities, however successful they may be, should not be foisted on us here.

The talks were supposed to be confidential, but Equity, distorting the facts, now discloses that its true “intent,” never before disclosed publicly, was to target only 14 percent of the small theatres in Los Angeles. But Equity’s final goal is to do much more than that. It intends to destroy volunteer intimate theatre in Los Angeles and force almost all non-membership theatres to a minimum wage regime. We expect Equity, ultimately, to end all special status for membership companies.

If Equity enacts its new rules on Dec. 14 as threatened, Equity members’ ability to work in 99-seat theaters will be almost entirely eviscerated, and many small theatres will be forced to close. We will be preparing and distributing a detailed analysis of how members’ opportunities will become more difficult, costlier and much less available.

If our lawsuit and other efforts are not successful, the era of volunteer small theater in Los Angeles will be over.

Equity paints itself as a victim. Not so. We did not “demand” negotiations. We offered a reasonable approach to resolving our dispute. We did not “blacklist” anyone. We represent a vibrant and creative community that supports the lawsuit and other efforts to preserve small theatre. We are not rigid ideologues. We are flexible and we only wish Equity would be flexible as well.

Our leadership committee worked arduously to try to resolve the dispute. This group and its leaders never acted inappropriately. We call on Equity to retract these malicious and false accusations.

We ask Equity what we have been asking them for three years—to listen to its membership and to be transparent. Instead Equity continues to vilify members who disagree with them, members who have the conviction and the courage to stand up and say, “There is a better way.”

Our efforts were unsuccessful. So what happens next? We will serve the lawsuit and defend vigorously against Equity’s efforts to have the case dismissed. We will ask the NLRB to enjoin Equity from putting its new plan into place.

We will rally and we will be heard. “Let LA decide the fate of LA Intimate Theatre.”


Fitzmaurice Voicework
with Lisa Pelikan


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