June 10, 2005
National Council Meeting
Councillors, Board Members, Area Liaisons And Staff Come Together In New York City For National Council Meeting
Talks Focus On Key Issues: Organizing, Strategic Alliances, Outreach, Health Care, and Regionalization
Council Establishes New National Committees, Approves Online Dues Payments And Debates Key Issues During Two Day Confab
The National Council meeting brought together Equity's officers
In the first meeting of its kind since 1999, Equity Councillors, Board members, Senior staff and 22 Area Liaisons from across the Country gathered in the Union’s national headquarters in New York for a two-day intensive working session. Executive Director Alan Eisenberg convened the meeting to discuss some of the major challenges facing the Association. Organizing, member outreach/education and communications and the state of the Pension and Health Funds, were a part of full and lively agenda. Area Liaisons spoke of grassroots concerns and supporters of merger argued passionately that Equity should energize its consideration of melding individual entertainment unions into a unified representative of the media workforce.
Equity President Patrick Quinn chaired the two-day session. He noted that in order to grow, dynamic organizations must encourage creative, energetic and provocative discussions, and that they are best held in an open atmosphere of free exchange without the pressures of immediate crises. “It was essential for the members of the Council, Board Members and Liaisons to sit face to face and explore the policies and direction this Union will take in the future,” said Quinn.
Session I – Organizing
Flora Stamatiades, National Director, Organizing, reported encouraging news on Equity’s organizing efforts, including an update on Equity and non-Equity tours. Since the ratification of the Experimental Touring Program under the last Production Contract negotiations, no non-Equity tours have been scheduled in the one-week market in the 2005-2006 seasons. Troika and NETworks, which had predominantly produced non-union tours, are both using the Experimental Touring Program for upcoming tours of ANNIE, LITTLE WOMEN, DR. DOLITTLE, and JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. Meanwhile, Equity continues to monitor producers like Big League, Phoenix and Windwood Productions, who are currently producing only in the one-night and split week markets.
Central Region (Back Row L-R):
Dan Proctor, Liz Pazik, David Girolmo, Ron Keaton, Dev Kennedy, Ariane Dolan, Tom Murray, Dan Frick, Lisa Gordon
Equity’s ad hoc organizing is also meeting with considerable success; agreements in the Eastern Region have been reached with Ellis Island, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center Incorporated; Theatre de la Jeune Lune and Ravinia in the Central Region; and in Casino work and the Hollywood Bowl in the Western Region. The Business Theatre Committees have designated a “working group” to oversee the revamping of the contract, along with its possible uses in organizing.
Following Ms. Stamatiades’ report, President Quinn opened the discussion to encourage suggestions from the floor about priorities for future organizing. Those in attendance members were optimistic that many aspects of theatrical production can be successfully organized.
Equity Executive Director Alan Eisenberg led off the exchange by suggesting that Council make better use of the Guest Artist Contract, because it intersects with small companies at a pivotal moment in their development. The Executive Director cited various examples wherein Guest Artist Contracts had prompted the establishment of a new Equity theatre, but the Contract is not without its pitfalls. For instance, there was an example of an Equity theater threatening to go non-Equity if a Guest Artist Contract was granted to a competitor. There have even been cases of Guest Artist producers who are “stuck” and don’t seem able, or willing, to move to a higher contract. This and other problems would have to be remedied in the future were a real effort made to organize through the Guest Artist Contract.
Executive Direcor Alan Eisenberg, President Patrick Quinn, Mary Lou Westerfield, National Director, Policy
It was also suggested that Equity should carefully examine the TYA Contract as a possible tool to create more jobs at educational institutions or performing arts centers that have arts or cultural outreach programs geared towards young audiences. Two other possible organizing targets with lucrative employment potential are The Urban Circuit (shows geared towards African-American audiences in inner cities) and all areas of work (e.g., theme restaurants, “mystery” shows, Universal or revues), in Orlando where many Equity members are already working under contract at Disney World. The Central Florida Liaison emphasized that, despite the difficulties of labor organizing in a right-to-work state and the failure of previous organizing attempts, the Florida members are still committed to Equity successfully bargaining an agreement with Universal.
The “who” to organize then turned to the “how” to organize, particularly when theatergoers unexpectedly find themselves in the middle of a labor dispute when they arrive at the theaters. Serious questions about the pros and cons of various public awareness tactics when organizing remained unanswered from the Production Contract negotiations. For instance, there was debate about the effectiveness of informational leafleting to discourage theater patrons from attending non-Equity shows. Some members felt that it makes audiences feel uncomfortable and resent unions; others said it helped theatergoers and the local community to identify local Equity actors and productions. It was clear even from this brief discussion that organizing efforts of any kind must be flexible, “non-threatening” and community based and that the Union must recognize the diversity of the localities in which Equity members live and work.
Patrick Quinn with Councillors Kathlyn Miles and Clarinda Ross
A Chair of the National Organizing Committee was subsequently elected. The Council also resolved that one Liaison from each Region will serve on the Committee.
Session II – Merger
Part of the afternoon was devoted to a discussion of mergers and other kinds of strategic alliances among the unions. Councillor Clarinda Ross, Third Vice President (VP) Ira Mont, Western Regional VP Doug Carfrae, Central Regional VP Dev Kennedy and Senior Advisor Guy Pace took the members through a history of the failed SAG-AFTRA merger attempts. It was pointed out however, that globalization and the consolidation of America businesses were already realities. Further, it was noted that Equity and all media unions, regardless of whether they choose to align themselves in any formal way, are feeling the sweeping changes in business practices. It was the position of several of those making the presentation that it made sense to see if the three live-performance Unions (Equity, AGMA and AGVA) could be made stronger through some type of alliance.
Central Regional VP Dev Kennedy and Third VP Ira Mont
After the presentation, a debate focused on strategic alliances and strengthening communications. Many in attendance expressed their concern that “merger” was too exclusive a word and not the only solution that should be explored. Examples of less formal associations, such as the success of the Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds (COBUG) a strategic alliance of the Broadway unions, were cited as potential models for smaller scale and more flexible agreements. This led to a fuller exchange of views on the question of whether strategic alliances were more appropriate to the entertainment business, than full scale mergers with other unions.
While no conclusion was reached, the Council passed a motion to form a National Ad-Hoc Committee to investigate these issues and how they might benefit the membership of Actors’ Equity as well as other members of the entertainment industry. After electing a Chair for this new Committee, the Council also resolved that a Liaison should serve on it. The Liaison from Seattle was suggested to fill this slot and accepted the position.
Noting that this Committee would now deal with all issues of strategic alliances and mergers, it was resolved to dismiss the Ad Hoc Committee re: AGMA Merger and the Ad Hoc Committee re: HAU (Hebrew Actors Union) Merger.
Session III – Pension & Health
President Quinn, a Union Trustee, introduced other Union Trustees and Deputy Trustees for the Equity-League Pension & Health Trust Funds: Councillor Jeanna Belkin, Councillor Emeritus Carl Harms, First VP Mark Zimmerman, Western VP Doug Carfrae, Councillor Madeleine Fallon, Executive Director Alan Eisenberg, Central Regional Director Kathryn V. Lamkey and Western Regional Director John Holly. Observing were: Stephen Roderick, Fund Manager, Vincent Cinelli, Assistant Fund Manager, and Equity’s legal counsel, Frank Moss and Sara Corello, from the firm of Spivak-Lipton.
Standing L-R: Bill Largess, John Lowe, Erin Cronican, Christopoher Comte,
Richard C. Grube
President Quinn then turned to Segal Company representatives Peter Bernstein (Senior Vice President/Benefit Consultant) and Alan Sofge (Benefit Consultant), who presented a financial overview and responded to questions about the Equity-League Pension and Health Trust Funds.
As previously reported in Equity News, the Pension Fund reached the $1 Billion benchmark as of December 31, 2004. The Fund pays $31 million annually in benefits to approximately 5,000 Equity pensioners and beneficiaries. By 2015, these figures will have grown to more than 8,000 pensioners and $55 million dollars in benefits. In stark contrast to other pension funds, Equity’s Pension Fund is in “fine shape” according to the Fund Office and representatives.
Mr. Bernstein presented a less rosy analysis of current trends in escalating health care costs. Among the sobering statistics: the US has the highest health care costs in the world ($4,600 per capita) and the highest percentage (56%) of private health spending; health care costs increased by a 100% between 1990 and 2003, outpacing wage increases by three- to five-fold; prescription drugs and hospital costs generate the highest rate of increase; and national health care expenditures have reached a startling 15.4% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
By 2003, the Equity -League Health Fund assets dropped to $49.8 million from more than $90 million. In order to stem this alarming trend, the Trustees had to institute severe cost savings measures to ensure the solvency of the Fund. These cut backs included more restrictive eligibility requirements, elimination of dental coverage, higher medical and prescription drug deductibles, coinsurance and co-pays and a change in insurance carriers to lower administration costs. These cuts, along with higher health contribution rates achieved through negotiations – and at the sacrifice of salary increases - have slowed the depletion of the Fund Assets, which held steady at $40.9 million (unaudited) for the seven-month period ending December 31, 2004. The Trustees are continuing to review various strategies to control costs, including implementing new types of plans, increasing cost sharing, and more restrictive coverage.
Many Officers, Councillors and Board members have been personally affected by the loss of their Equity-League health insurance as changes in eligibility affected members equally in all regions. Everyone agreed that health insurance is one of the most important benefits that Equity can offer to current, as well as future members. Equity has also made increased producer contributions to the Health Fund a priority in all collective bargaining agreements.
Session IV – Area Liaisons
Central Regional Director Kathryn V. Lamkey
Central Regional Director Kathryn V. Lamkey opened the Tuesday session with a report from the Area Liaisons. The main themes were organizing and developing theatres, creating and/or improving audition opportunities, and better communications. The Liaisons were interested in exploring ways to “gently” nudge theatres (who use Guest Artist, Special Appearance or the Small Professional Theater Contract) to higher contract levels.
“Auditions are doubly important in Liaison Cities, where there isn’t a concentration of Equity theatres,” said Lamkey, noting that many members “now reside away from Equity office cities by choice - and that choice includes a conscious desire to work in local Equity theatres.”
Health care was also an important topic for the Liaisons. Many Liaisons urged the Union to examine the current health plan, to become a stronger advocate for changes in the national health care policy and to seek innovative solutions to the current health care crisis. One Liaison reported that negotiations for his local area contract are about to begin and the actuarial rates will have an impact on the talks. Another member correctly pointed out that the health plan is an important organizing tool.
Job opportunities for members, organizing new venues and positioning Equity with “reluctant” producers were also subjects of importance for many of the Liaisons. A common theme among the Liaisons was the “chicken-or-egg” conundrum: are local Actors not being hired because they don’t go to local Equity mandated auditions? Or are Actors not going to auditions, because they perceive that they won’t get hired? In several cities, opportunities for employment were shrinking while many theaters were not taking the necessary “step up” to contract for a variety of reasons. One Liaison offered its solution as a model that can be adapted – an “ambassadorship” between the Liaison Committee and the local theater companies to facilitate communication between the producers and Equity.
Communication was another hot topic among the Liaisons. It was clear that information is important for the Union nationwide and especially important at the Liaison level. A strong working relationship with the Regional Offices clearly has resulted in much-needed assistance in addressing local challenges for a number of cities. In one city, the sharing of ideas and practical knowledge of the working environment helped in negotiations. With adequate communications, addressing organizing issues – especially in right to work states – became a manageable task reported one Liaison.
Positioning Equity in the community has also achieved success, noted a number of Liaisons. Participation in local area charities, such as charity walks, telethons, bowling leagues, and Labor Day Parades, is key to letting audiences and producers know “who we are.” A few cities have Equity representation at labor and entertainment industry associations, raising the Union’s profile.
President Patrick Quinn thanked everyone for his or her hard work, informative presentations and creative suggestions. He reminded the Liaisons that, although they do not sit on Council, they do represent Equity in their communities and urged them to work closely with their respective offices as the Union moves forward. “As I look around the room today I see nine Councillors who either are, or once were, Area Liaisons. It is interesting that when National Representation started, no one thought that this would ever happen, it indeed happened, and there is strong and vital representation from every region.”
Reflecting on everyone’s deep concern about health care, he reminded the Council that this is not just an Equity issue – it is a national issue. “Like many members, I recently lost my own Equity health insurance. As a Union Trustee, I had to make the very tough decision to change the eligibility requirements knowing what those changes were going to do to me personally. All of us are caught up in this terrible net that has been created by the inability of our government to do anything about this terrible crisis. Like many of you, I take jobs now that I might not have taken five years ago, because I need my health insurance. And I know that I am not alone. My agent said recently that she feels like an insurance agent, not a talent agent. Sadly, this is true. I only hope that the membership understands that it affects every member of this union equally, and that the Officers and Councillors they elect are as damaged by the loss of health insurance as they are.”
First Vice President Mark Zimmerman, who has visited Denver, Philadelphia, Houston, Seattle, South Florida and other areas while performing roles, said that he was impressed by how responsive the Regional Boards are to the Area Liaisons and vice versa. “We really need to listen to what the Area Liaisons are saying, what our members from every region are saying, so that we can grow and become stronger and more diverse. I also want to personally thank the Area Liaison Committees for their support during last summer’s Production Contract negotiations.”
Session V – Outreach and Education
Having served as Education and Outreach Coordinator for only 10 months, Amy Dolan had the opportunity to introduce herself to the attendees as well as relate her initial experience with trying to manage Equity’s interwoven educational, training and new member services programs. As an Equity member for 22 years and an experienced performer with credits from Broadway, the West End and many regional theaters, she felt particularly honored to be the Union’s contact to so many members just beginning their professional careers.
Ms. Dolan said that as staff to the Membership Education and Entry to Equity Committees, her constituency was so diverse: “pre-professionals,” new members, Equity Membership Candidates (EMCs), and Equity’s general membership. She asked everyone present to think about how they could become personally involved.
Although the Student Outreach presentations have received increasingly positive reviews from students, professors and staff, Amy described how the creation of a National Team (comprised of Liaisons, Board members, Councillors, staff and committee members) would help expand the Outreach Program, broadening the scope of events in which Equity participates and raising Equity’s profile.
Ms. Dolan admitted that during her travels, she had run into a fair share of complaints about the Union and general apathy from members and audiences. She felt that it would take time and concerted effort to begin to change these feelings, but that she strives at every meeting to emphasize and explain the numerous benefits that Equity provides its members on a day-to-day basis.
Through presentations, panel discussions, New Member Receptions and other events, this program of outreach and education, as an Area liaison mentioned, "will give us more bang for the buck" in all regions. It will draw on the resources of our members “to advance, promote, foster, and benefit all those connected with the art of the theatre” (Preamble to AEA Constitution) and establish relationships not only with universities, colleges and training programs, but also with communities nationwide.
Following Ms. Dolan’s presentation, President Quinn talked of ways to strengthen the EMC program, and find more effective ways to communicate with EMCs. Recently, the family and friends of Mr. Roger Sturtevant, a noted casting director, created the Roger Sturtevant Award for Musical Theatre to be administered by the Actors’ Equity Foundation. Each year, one male and one female Equity Membership Candidate will be selected by a panel of professionals to receive a $1000 award through a national application and audition process. President Quinn happily reported that in its first year, the program had over 40 applicants. Of note, after the deadline for receiving applications from the candidates, both of the winners became Equity members through employment under Equity contract. Quite by coincidence, they were also both from Wright State University (Ohio), one of the many schools that will benefit from an outreach visit.
The session ended with Councillors and Liaisons suggesting other education and outreach projects. Avenues to pursue included inviting Deputies from local theatres speak at education seminars; to use alumni connections from the Boards and Council to encourage schools that are reluctant to host seminars. Other suggestions were to create “talk-backs” with members in touring shows or local productions; invite casting directors or other professionals to participate; a Stage Manager info session; an online “new Member” section on the website; participate in theatre festivals, “career days” etc.
SessionVI – Finance
Equity Treasurer Conard Fowkes and Senior Advisor Guy Pace reported income/expense projections for the current fiscal year, which began on April 1, 2005. (Equity’s Annual Report, which is published each December issue in Equity News, is available at any Equity office, and is online)
Last season (2003-2004), Equity member-earnings totaled approximately $290 million, of which $154 million was generated from the Production Contract and $45 million was generated from the LORT Contract (note: these contracts are the highest income generators for the Union). For FYE (fiscal year-ending) 2005-2006, Equity is projecting member-earnings at $295 million dollars, which will generate revenue to the union of $11.3 million from Basic and Working Dues. Initiation and EMC fees will generate an additional $2.5 million in income, resulting in a total projection of $15,334,000. Equity’s expenses (which include salaries/programs, rent and office expenses) are projected at slightly over $14 million.
The resulting surplus is expected to be $1.2 million, an addition to a more than $20 million reserve/’strike’ fund. This gives Equity the strength during negotiations with producers to ensure that those actors and stage managers affected by a strike will not have to face severe financial hardship. (It was estimated during the 2004 Production Contract negotiations that, had it been necessary, Equity would have paid $1 million a week in benefits to its members on strike). Mr. Pace concluded that as currently projected, Equity will operate with a surplus budget until FYE 2008-2009.
Executive Director Eisenberg pointed out that the current budget reflects a significant expansion in the Communications Department, with the addition of consultant Maria Somma and Membership Education and Outreach activities as outlined by Ms. Dolan. The Communications Department was established five years ago under the direction of National Communications Director David Lotz. The Department coordinates all aspects of the Union’s communications including overseeing Equity’s popular website, which is being redesigned later this year.
Many Councillors spoke in favor of the recommendation, citing current billing and payment options used by SAG and many other organizations; the growth in electronic banking and online consumer purchasing; the increase in Equity’s Members’ Only registrations on the website; and expected savings in administrative costs. A resolution was passed to amend the 2005 –2006 budget by $20,000 for the development of an online dues payment system.
Part VII – Regional Realignment
Central Regional Director Kathryn Lamkey gave a presentation about trends and changing patterns in the distribution of Equity work-weeks across regions, and the shifting of Equity members’ residences away from major metropolitan areas and/or from region to region. Drawing on statistics from Equity’s most recent Annual Report, Ms. Lamkey inferred there are a large number of Equity members who reside and work in the Eastern Region. Conversely, there are clearly a large number of members who don’t live in the Central Region, who may very well be working in that region. It is also very possible that those members who work in the Central Region might work more regularly.
Comparing the number of members who lived in each region between 1985 and 2005 respectively, she cited a sizable increase in the Eastern Region; however, there were 1000 fewer members in New York City’s five boroughs. The percentage of members who live outside Office Cities has virtually doubled in each of the regions in the last 20 years.
Ms. Lamkey emphasized that she was NOT proposing a specific plan or recommendation; rather, she was posing a question for a broader discussion: are the current administrative alignments the most efficient way to run the Association? Answering questions from several Councillors and Liaisons, Ms. Lamkey responded that it is possible that certain services and/or job functions might be better accomplished in locations other than Office Cities; or that an existing Office might be utilized in a different way.
It was noted that when National Representation was being developed between 1988 and 1992, various committees considered some of these same issues. Two things were discussed at that time: having five regions/offices, instead of three; and a formula using membership and workweeks to determine representation. (At that time, the Council rejected both options.) Following further discussion, a Motion was passed to refer the issue to the President’s Planning Committee which is comprised of officers and their alternates who recommend policy changes to the Council.
Part VIII – The Political Process
To be or not to be…political: Can Equity participate more effectively in the public political process, yet not violate the Union’s policy regarding political action? The debate was surprisingly passionate considering it was held in the final hours of the two-day Council meeting.
Eastern Regional Director Carol Waaser framed the issue. For many years, the Council has had a long-standing policy of being apolitical. Although this has come up for review from time to time, Equity has consistently steered clear of federal, state and local elections, endorsements, campaign contributions, political action committees (PACs) and all other forms of direct political involvement unless the issue had a direct impact on the Equity membership.
Executive Director Alan Eisenberg reported that Equity, while seeking support for our position during the Production Contract negotiations, built relationships with many politicians. On other occasions, the Union has reached out to various state officials in its efforts to improve Workers’ Comp benefits or pass legislation for COBRA assistance. According to Treasurer Conard Fowkes, Equity went to Washington in 1986 to lobby for tax reform for performers. The legislation was passed and ‘performing artist’ is now memorialized on every IRS Form 1040. This classification permits qualified performing artists to deduct their expenses in a more advantageous manner.
Mr. Eisenberg pinpointed the issue this way: “However reasonable or valuable our insight may be, the quid pro quo for these relationships – the ‘coin of the realm’, so to speak - is an exchange of compensation. ‘Okay, you want this bill to go through, you want better insurance for your members, you want affordable housing, you want an increase in Workers Compensation, and you want juvenile protection in CA, NY, and IL? How are you going to assist me as an elected representative?’ That’s what it comes down to.” Eisenberg also pointed to other issues that directly impact Equity, such as right-to-work laws, immigration, and copyright protections where political action could be justified.
Councillors Madeleine Fallon and Joseph Ruskin
President Quinn cited a very recent example of a candidate who had co-sponsored NY State’s COBRA assistance bill. “After intense lobbying efforts by a coalition of entertainment labor unions, Governor Pataki finally signed a bill that provides subsidies to qualified NYS entertainment industry workers to help them with COBRA premiums. One of the bills’ two sponsors, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (who is also married to an Equity member), fought very, very hard for this bill, and is now running again for office. I’m embarrassed that this man went to the mat – I mean, really went to the mat for us, and we can’t help him in any way, when he has been so Equity-friendly. We must find a way to support those politicians who support our needs as Equity members.”
Ms. Waaser mentioned possible alternatives to show our appreciation, short of endorsement, or financial support. She gave these examples, which would fall within Equity’s policy:
Councillor Jeanna Belkin recalled a flashpoint for Equity was the Vietnam War. “The ensuing debate was bloody but Equity ultimately did not take a position.” Eisenberg added that former President Ron Silver was very politically involved, but was asked by the Council to be very careful to distinguish his personal viewpoints or activities from Equity’s. Many Councillors addressed this issue from both perspectives. One Councillor summed up the general mood: “We live in a world where politics affects everything we do: health care, arts funding, social security. Labor unions are by nature political and we can get involved in issues without endorsing a candidate. There is a pendulum, and if we don’t add our weight to it, it will never swing back to the point where health care is affordable. We speak for a larger community.” The Council decided this issue was of great importance and will revisit the debate again in the future.
President Quinn thanked all those who had participated in the historic gathering, in particular Mr. Eisenberg and the dedicated Equity staff, but especially those actors and stage managers who, as elected representatives of the membership, had taken the time out from their careers and given so selflessly of their time and energy. Much was accomplished in the 18 hours of meetings that will inform and direct the policies and programs of the Association in the years ahead.