Non-union tours have become increasingly common in recent years and are likely to be the preeminent issue at this coming spring’s Production Contract negotiations between Equity and the League of American Theatres and Producers. The Production Contract, Equity’s most lucrative pact, governs work by union actors in all Broadway shows. The current deal expires on June 1, 2004.
Recently, Equity’s major grievance has been against Big League Theatricals and its non-union tour of Miss Saigon. A union demonstration by Equity members nearly shut down the Sept. 23 opening of Saigon at Boston's Wang Center for the Performing. When an Equity picket line — honored by the IATSE Local 11 Stagehands Union and Teamsters Local 25 — held up the unloading of scenery and equipment, members of the Wang Center staff, road crew and the Saigon cast started unloading the truck containing the sets. Equity representatives then called off the picket out of concern for the actors' safety.
“Big League continues to bring non-Equity productions to major metropolitan theatrical hubs without providing fair wages and benefits to the actors and stage managers in those productions,” said Equity in a statement, “and repeated requests by Actors' Equity to negotiate a contract have been ignored.” The union is particularly irritated by Big League and other producing organizations’ practice of trumpeting such tours with phrases such as “Broadway Series” or “direct from Broadway.”
In the summer of 2001, the union attempted a largely unsuccessful boycott of the Big League Theatricals non-Equity national tour of The Music Man.
Also expected to attend the rally are Equity First Vice-President Mark Zimmerman, AFTRA National President John P. Connolly, AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney, New York City Central Labor Council President Brian M. McLaughlin, and Broadway musicians from AFM Local 802. The presence of the other union leaders and the Local 802 players is significant. Last March, Equity joined the Musicians Union Local 802 when the latter went on strike after talks with the League of American Theatres and Producers failed. The support of Equity and the Stagehands union was critical to the musicians’ battle in preventing producers from severely trimming Broadway pit minimums—the number of union players required for musicals in Broadway theatres. The show of labor solidarity has no doubt encouraged Equity regarding its upcoming skirmish with League producers.
The Oct. 29 rally will also feature the presentation of "The Jobless Chronicles," a “one-act musical built around the true stories of a laid off steelworker, an 80-year-old textile worker whose plant recently shut down, a restaurant worker from Windows on the World and a fictionalized story of a Miss Saigon cast member who runs away from the fraudulent production.”