Equity Council Will Require Minimum Wage at L.A. 99-Seat Theatres

News   Equity Council Will Require Minimum Wage at L.A. 99-Seat Theatres
The national council of Actors' Equity Association, the actors' union, decided Thursday to require 99-seat theaters in Los Angeles to pay actors no less than minimum wage--currently $9 a hour--despite strong opposition from the local actors at those theaters.

Most of them previously worked for far less, or nothing, but oppose the higher pay plan because they fear the union demand will stifle the theatres and result in substantially less work.

As previously reported, members of Actors' Equity Association in Los Angeles had voted 2,046 to 1,075 last week against their union's plan to require the city's 99-seat theatres to start paying actors a $9 hourly minimum wage. The vote was non-binding on the national council.

However, the national council gave some wiggle room to even smaller L.A. theaters. Those with 50 or fewer seats will be exempt from the minimum wage rule if they offer no more than 16 performances of a show with a budget no more than $20,000. Equity also set new rules for theaters with 100-349 seats.

Here is the text of the statement from Equity:

“We are proud of our members who shared their insightful views and spoke with passion about the importance of intimate theater,” said Mary McColl, Equity’s Executive Director. “The National Council’s decision today is responsive to that feedback and we look forward to working together to build a foundation for the growth and sustainability of intimate theater in L.A.” The broad set of options that will now be available include: Equity will make available for members and Producers in L.A. County the following stepping stones:

  • Los Angeles Transitional 99-Seat Code. This code, with many of the same terms as the existing 99-Seat Theatre Plan, will be in effect from April 22, 2015 to May 31, 2016, and will be available to existing 99-Seat Theatre Plan producers, so they may have time to transition to the newly-available options.

  • Los Angeles Self-Produced Project Code. This is an internal union membership rule allowing Equity members to collaborate as a group to self-produce theater without the requirement of an Equity contract.

  • NEW Los Angeles 50-Seat Showcase Code. The Council has adopted an internal union membership rule, which allows members to work without the requirement of an Equity contract in theaters with 50 seats or fewer, where the budget for the production does not exceed $20,000, for up to 16 performances. For use up to three times per season, this Code puts L.A. in alignment with other areas of the country. The Showcase Code provides for reimbursement of actual expenses, favored nations compensation, and future rights for actors in subsequent productions.

  • NEW Los Angeles Membership Company Rule. In the Council’s original proposal, membership companies would have been limited to their current membership. Council amended this new internal union membership rule to allow any Equity member to participate with any membership company as long as that company was in existence prior to Feb. 6, 2015, had registered their company by April 1, 2015, and had previously produced under the prior 99-Seat Theatre Plan. This new internal union membership rule allows Equity members to participate in their membership companies without the requirement of an Equity contract. Members may negotiate their own compensation, expense reimbursement and other working conditions.

  • Los Angeles 99-Seat Agreement. A collective bargaining agreement to be negotiated with producers for productions in theaters of 99 seats or fewer. The Agreement provides no restrictions on budget, length of the rehearsal period, ticket price, or the length of the performance run. The Agreement would provide for salary payments based on the legally-mandated minimum wage in Los Angeles County (currently $9 per hour) with minimum call requirements, but with no pension or health benefit payments required. The Agreement would require future rights based on the terms of the subsequent Equity collective bargaining agreement and would also require basic workplace standards. li> NEW Small Professional Theatre Agreement (“SPT”). The SPT Agreement, which has long been available in other parts of the country, would now be permitted for productions in Los Angeles County in venues with a capacity up to 349 seats. There is no budget cap per production, no limitation on the length of the rehearsal period, and no restriction on the length of the performance run. The Agreement provides for salary payments ranging from $229 to $664 per week, based on the maximum number of weekly performances, with pension and health contributions required. The Agreement requires future rights based on the producer’s future involvement with any subsequent production and would also require basic workplace standards.

  • Hollywood Area Theatre Agreement (“HAT”). The HAT is an existing collective bargaining agreement for use in Los Angeles Theatres of 349-499 seats. There is no budget cap per production, and no restriction on the length of a performance run. Productions may rehearse for no fewer than 2.5 weeks. The Agreement provides for salaries between $229 to $582 per week and based on a 5-performance week (up to three additional performances may be purchased), with salary increases every 20th week of employment. The Agreement requires pension and health benefit payments, future rights based on the producer’s future involvement with any subsequent production and would also require basic workplace standards. The HAT Agreement is an all-Equity agreement.
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    As previously reported on Playbill.com, on the morning of April 20, the L.A.-based 99-Seat Theater Review Committee had issued a statement asking that the decision be put off to an unspecified future date. 

    The April 20 statement from the L.A.-based 99-Seat Theater Review Committee follows: 

    “We are encouraged by the results of Friday's advisory referendum. We look forward to working together with Equity to strategize, study and craft a workable 99-Seat Plan that will take into account not only where we are presently, but also where we would like to be five and ten years from now. If these past months have shown us anything, it is that Los Angeles is a vital and fervent community of artists who are united in their resolve that 99-seat theater continue to thrive.

    "We have sent an email to executive director, Mary McColl, assistant executive director/Western regional director Gale E. Gabler and president Nick Wyman requesting that the national council, which is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, postpone any decision regarding 99-seat theater until an in-depth study and thorough conversations with actors, community leaders and theater producers can be successfully completed.

    "Change is needed, and we look forward to working closely with AEA’s senior staff, the Western regional board and New York’s national council to create that blueprint.”

    AEA members in good standing who reside in Los Angeles County were eligible to vote in the Advisory Referendum, which ended April 16. A total of 44.6 percent of the eligible membership did so.

    The figures were confirmed by Somma, who released the following statement April 17: "Equity's National Council will meet on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. The results of the Advisory Referendum vote provide important information to the Council as they consider the 99-Seat Proposal and intimate theater in Los Angeles. Council will take into account the percentage of members who voted, the number of votes cast and the results, as well as the information that members have shared with Council over the last several months."

    Matters have continued to escalate in the weeks leading up to the referendum. A group of actors picketed their own union headquarters in L.A. March 23.

    As previously reported, AEA has created a proposal for a new contract, which would guarantee actors and stage managers are paid a salary no less than minimum wage. (Under the current plan, members receive a performance stipend, which can be as little as $7 a performance, that allows them to perform as an Equity member). However, the West Coast theatre scene responded negatively. With more pay for the actors, experimental theatre in small houses may no longer be possible.

    The proposal was also dismissed by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, and a group of actors planned to picket their own union today.

    Click here to read more about the issue, including AEA's reasoning behind the proposal and how L.A. actors (and the Drama Critics Circle) are responding.

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