Members of Actors' Equity Association in Los Angeles have voted 2,046 to 1,075 against their union's plan to require the city's 99-seat theatres to start paying actors a $9 hourly minimum wage. Most actors at those theatres currently work for far less, or nothing, but many oppose the pay plan because they fear the union demand will stifle the theatres and result in substantially less work.
The vote is non-binding on the union's national council, which is scheduled to decide April 21 whether to accept, modify or reject the proposal.
However, on the morning of April 20, the L.A.-based 99-Seat Theater Review Committee issued the following statement, asking that the decision be put off to an unspecified future date:
“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.”
Equity appeared to deny the request in its response later the same morning. According to an Equity statement released by AEA spokesperson Maria Somma, "Actors’ Equity Association has followed the procedures outlined in the 1989 Settlement Agreement. Equity’s leadership has received important information from its members over the last several months. The National Council, Equity’s governing body, will take all of the information into account before making any decision."
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.