Day of Drama Ends with Tentative Agreement Between Equity and Broadway Producers

News   Day of Drama Ends with Tentative Agreement Between Equity and Broadway Producers
 
Following a day of numerous press statements from Equity and Broadway Producers and a rally of phone calls between both parties, a tentative agreement on a new four year Production Contract has been reached.
Logos for Actors' Equity Association and The League of American Theatres and Producers.
Logos for Actors' Equity Association and The League of American Theatres and Producers.

A joint statement from Actors' Equity Association and the League of American Theatres and Producers read: "Actors' Equity Association and the League of American Theatres and Producers announced today they have reached a tentative agreement on a new four year Production Contract. Leadership from both sides will be meeting tomorrow to finalize the details of the contract. The Equity Council will review the agreement and will make a recommendation. The contract will then be sent to the Equity ratification group for vote. The contract will serve our industry and theatre-goers well, keeping Broadway strong in New York and creating more opportunities on the road."

Equity brass had been locked in an emergency council meeting since 1 PM. However, the League confirmed that it had been reaching out to the union by phone several times throughout the day.

A roller-coaster 72 hours began late Friday night when Equity made its final offer to the producers. That offer was rejected by the League, causing negotiations to break down and Equity to schedule an emergency Council Meeting for Monday.

On Sunday night, in a surprise development, the producers of the Broadway musical The Boy From Oz broke ranks with other Broadway producers and struck a temporary deal with the performers union Actors' Equity.

The agreement closely mirrored one offered by Equity during contract talks late last Friday night, Equity executive director Alan Eisenberg said. The League reacted to the news by holding a sudden meeting at its offices in which other representatives of the trade organization signed a "document of interdependence."

The League told the Times that there wouldn't be any further breaking in the ranks. However, Eisenberg said a deal similar to that accepted by Oz was out to other Broadway producers. "We expect several other shows to accept the interim agreement by noon Monday," Eisenberg told Variety.

At 11:30 AM July 12, however, the League issued a statement saying, "Last evening, every show on Broadway, with the exception of The Boy From Oz, reaffirmed its intention to continue to negotiate as a group with Actor's Equity Association (AEA). This was communicated in a letter to the union, rejecting any offer for individual agreements with the shows. We remain committed to reaching an agreement that is fair and equitable to both sides. This is not the time to change course. We urge AEA to return to the bargaining table to finish the contract."

An Equity spokesman told Playbill On-Line at 11:45 AM July 12 that The Kennedy Center production of The Glass Menagerie, which operates under a Production Contract, has signed an individual deal with the union. That show begins performances July 17.

At 3:30 PM, the League fired off the second statement of that day, saying "Producers told Actors' Equity this morning that there is no need for a strike. We informed them that they we are willing to work with Equity's last proposal on touring and to try to find other savings to make this possible. Virtually all of the issues in the Production Contract have been resolved and the two sides are reasonably close on touring. We should resolve these remaining differences quickly at the bargaining table."

Eisenberg said that the union's goal, in offering individual agreements outside the negotiations, was to prevent a work stoppage on Broadway and on the road.

Eisenberg also told the trade paper that the temporary pact included a tiering proposal regarding touring productions—a major issue in the current talks. The proposal would allow for reductions "between 35 percent and 50 percent" in actors salaries "in some categories."

This same tiering proposal did not apparently please League officials. On Saturday July 10, Jed Bernstein, League president, said in a statement, "We believe that having a viable economic plan for the road is critically important to both sides, and we want to continue to work toward an agreement on these issues. However, we will not accept a deal that does not realistically address the problems that face touring Broadway. Equity's last offer on touring is still hundreds of dollars per week higher than the rates they have agreed to in the special deals they've made with non-union producers."

Oz, which has a scheduled end date of Sept. 12, was one of the Broadway shows widely expected to close in the event of an actors strike.

According to reports, the two sides were seeing eye to eye on topics such as salary and health benefits, but continued to fight over the issue of tours. In recent years, non-union road shows have proliferated, causing friction between the union and the producers who back or license the non-Equity shows.

The League has offered to table the touring issue until the next round of Production Contract talks, in 2008. That Equity has rejected outright this idea is no surprise; the union has long framed the current talks as a showdown on the matter.

The current contract officially ended on June 27.

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