Los Angeles’ 99-seat theatres will have to start paying actors minimum wage after a Federal judge on December 8 dismissed the Asner vs. Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) lawsuit that would have allowed the smaller Los Angeles theatres to circumvent the state’s wage law.
In April, AEA‘s national council voted to require 99-seat theatres in Los Angeles to pay actors no less than minimum wage—currently $9 an hour, and scheduled to rise to $10.50 an hour on January 1, 2017—despite strong opposition from the local actors at those theatres.
Asner, former president of the Screen Actors Guild, was listed as a lead plaintiff along with Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Gary Grossman, Tom Bowe, and French Stewart, among others. They initiated the suit against the stage actors union in December 2015 on behalf of the actors in the Los Angeles area who wanted to continue working for little or no salary to give themselves more stage experience and opportunities. They oppose the higher pay plan because they fear the union demand will stifle the theatres and result in substantially less work.
AEA hailed Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr.'s dismissal of Asner’s suit, saying, “The Judge’s ruling reflects the care taken by the union to follow the appropriate procedural steps outlined in the 1989 Settlement Agreement. The dismissal of this lawsuit, which we had always viewed as a frivolous and costly legal matter, is a victory for our union.”
The union statement acknowledged, “Not everyone in our union agreed with changes in policy that our council put in place in April of 2015. We understand those opposing views, however, many of our members needed more than the nominal performance stipends, which had been the longtime practice. These are not unpaid internships—this is work.”
It concluded, “Now that this matter has been addressed internally and validated by a federal court ruling, we can devote our energies to working with Los Angeles’ theatre producers to help them find the best ways to employ our members.”
Grossman, an actor, producer and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told Playblill.com, “We are very disappointed in yesterday’s decision by judge Terry Hatter to dismiss our lawsuit against Actors’ Equity Association without allowing us an opportunity to plead our case in court. The lawsuit was brought to challenge the Union’s new rule preventing its members from volunteering in creative theatrical projects at small 99-seat theaters. Our goals have not changed. While the Union may hope that the judge’s decision will spell the end of Los Angeles’ unique intimate theater experiment and force the closing of a majority of the city’s non-profit 99-seat theaters, we intend to continue our fight to preserve this important and valuable part of our City’s cultural life.”
The plaintiffs announced that they are studying the Court’s decision and considering their options, including possible appeal to the federal appeals court.
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