New Equity Production Contract Features Tiered Touring Program, Increased Health Fund Contributions

News   New Equity Production Contract Features Tiered Touring Program, Increased Health Fund Contributions After hammering out the details of a tentative agreement on a new four year Production Contract, Equity and Broadway Producers have jointly announced some of the pact's major aspects.

The highlights of the agreement, as expressed in a prepared statement, are as follows:

* Wages - The new contract provides a wage increase of three percent each year of the four-year contract.

* Benefits - Producers have agreed to meaningful increases in health fund contributions that seek to stabilize the fund for the foreseeable future.

* Experimental Touring Program - A new, tiered salary system provides an innovative approach to meet the economic needs of the road. The appropriate tier is utilized based on a set of criteria which includes guarantees from presenters to producers, size of company and other variables. The agreement also includes a provision that provides additional compensation for Equity members for successful engagements before a show recoups, and still more compensation once a show is profitable.

* Promotions - The parties have agreed to a mutually beneficial approach to encourage the use of advertising and marketing materials featuring actors across all mediums, providing more flexibility for producers in show marketing. * Safety - The parties have agreed to jointly develop a safety protocol that will assist producers, directors, designers and actors in the development and staging process to try to reduce the risk of injury to performers.

Equity and the League weren't divulging further details, but Eisenberg told Variety July 11 that the temporary Oz pact included a tiering tour proposal which would allow for reductions "between 35 percent and 50 percent" in actors salaries "in some categories."

Of the mentioned "other variables" which will dictate actors' salaries on road shows, one will surely be the somewhat subjective matter of whether the property in question is a smash (along the lines of Hairspray) or a hit of a somewhat softer variety.

Increased producer contributions to the Equity health fund were vitally important to the union going into the talks. League producers contribute a certain dollar amount a week per actor into the union's health care plan. With fewer actors working on the road in recent years, less money has gone into the pot. Last year, the plan ran at a $16 million deficit. This forced Equity to change its eligibility requirements in October 2003. Where a member once had to log in 10 weeks of work annually to quality for a year's coverage, that actor must now accumulate 20 weeks a year, or 12 weeks a year for six months coverage.

An Equity spokesperson could not say what "meaningful increases" to the fund would represent in dollar amounts, or if the "stabilization" of the fund meant getting accounts in the black. However, the work-weeks required for benefits will remain at current levels for the time being.

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The agreement first emerged on July 12. Equity brass had been locked in an emergency council meeting since 1 PM, when The League confirmed that it had been reaching out to the union by phone. The meeting was temporarily adjourned mid-afternoon while both sides took part in a phone conference which led to the eventual agreement.

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.

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