Oz Producers Strike Deal With Equity, Breaking Ranks with League

News   Oz Producers Strike Deal With Equity, Breaking Ranks with League 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 New York Times and Variety reported July 12.

(This article was last updated at 3:30 PM July 12.)

The agreement closely mirrors one offered by Equity during contract talks late last Friday night, Equity executive director Alan Eisenberg said. That offer was rejected by the League, causing negotiations to break down and Equity to schedule an emergency Council Meeting for Monday July 12.

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 that 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 are seeing eye to eye on topics such as salary and health benefits, but continue 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. Equity's recent final offer came after a week of negotiations between Actors' Equity Association and Broadway producers.

At this time, there are no further negotiations scheduled. AEA will hold an emergency Council Meeting on Monday July 12 to decide how to proceed. In the meantime, Equity members are being instructed to continue to report for work, but take all personal items home with them after each performance.

A strike by actors would shut down almost every Equity tour (there are 11 on the road) and most Broadway shows except those operating under a separate agreement between Actors' Equity Association and the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) — The Frogs at Lincoln Center Theater, Sight Unseen at Manhattan Theatre Club's Biltmore Theatre and Roundabout Theatre Company's Assassins and After the Fall. Off-Broadway productions would also be unaffected by a work stoppage.

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