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October 22, 2004

Equity Takes Active Role At FIA Convention

Back L-R: Equity Treasurer Conard Fowkes, Equity Executive Director Alan Eisenberg, Eastern Regional VP Arne Gundersen, AFTRA Nat'l President John P. Connolly (Front L-R): SAG President Melissa Gilbert, SAG Executive John McGuire

The 18th Federation of International Artists (FIA) Congress was held September 22 – 25, 2004 in Budapest, with nearly 100 delegates from 30 countries in attendance. Representing Actors' Equity Association were Secretary Treasurer Conard Fowkes, Eastern Regional Vice President Arne Gundersen and Executive Director Alan Eisenberg.

Among the attendees were trade union and guild representatives from such countries as Great Britain, Canada, Ireland, France, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, Korea, Cameroon, Congo, Madagascar, Mexico, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay. Representing the United States were Actors' Equity Association, Screen Actors’ Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Held every four years, the FIA Congress convenes member delegates to discuss issues and topics faced by the international performing communities on both global and local levels. Four half-day sessions were held over an intensive two-day period. Topics included industry consolidation and performers’ unions, performer’s intellectual property rights and new technologies, discrimination and equal opportunities, trade union development, cultural diversity, trade union organizing and communication, health and safety.

“The FIA Congress gives us a chance to sit with our counterparts from around the world and really discuss the issues faced by the performing arts community,” said Alan Eisenberg. “Membership in FIA also gives us the opportunity to share our knowledge on certain issues and collectively find ways to move our agenda forward. It’s a practical think-tank for the performing arts.”

Eisenberg, with Vincent McCabe, President, Irish Equity, led the panel on Trade Union Organizing and Communication. The discussion examined effective ways a union can communicate with its membership and how to reach new members. The topic also included an in-depth review of communication methods used to educate key audiences in an effort to reduce non-union work. Marketing methods that can be leveraged to reposition and strengthen a union’s position in the marketplace were also discussed. An important result of this session was the request made by delegates from several African nations for assistance in organizing.

“These burgeoning guilds and unions in Africa face some very tough problems,” said Conard Fowkes. He explained, “They have little money and organizing skills. It’s an uphill battle for them in an already tough environment. The other delegates in attendance offered advice to grow their organizing efforts and will continue to help them in the future.”

At session on Health and Safety, Actors’ Equity proposed a motion that recommends the creation of a working group to discuss issues related to health and safety and to adopt a FIA code with unified and minimum safety levels for performers. The motion is based on the fact that performers are exposed to several hazards including raked stages and hard floors, smoke and haze, stunts and set design that are among the contributing factors for injury. Together, Actors’ Equity and Canadian Actors’ Equity will author a white paper on this topic.

At the same session, and in a related motion, British Equity proposed the motion that FIA undertake the collection of information related to problems identified with raked stages and that a Code of Practice be developed by FIA members to ensure added safety for performers. This motion opened a floodgate of commentary by other attendees.

Said Arne Gundersen, “It was important for us to hear that the issue of raked stages and the injuries related to rakes is shared by many of the unions and guilds around the world. Raked stages, as well as other safety issues, require diligence on the part of the unions and unions must find ways to protect their members from unnecessary work-related injuries.”

Several other topics addressed in the sessions are of relevance to Actors’ Equity and motions were made. The subject of safety for touring productions was presented in a motion offered by Canadian Equity that would result in research and recommendations that improve the working conditions for touring performers both domestically and internationally. Diversity was another topic that was discussed in-depth and motions were presented that address issues related to diversity. One motion called upon FIA to promote artistic creativity, increase communication with relation to cultural diversity and to create a working group that examines the economic incentives for foreign production and product dumping. Norway requested FIA develop a number of initiatives that address equal access to job opportunities, equal pay and high unemployment.

In addition to the all-day sessions, the delegates continued their conversations in smaller, informal gatherings. “There were a great many ideas that were exchanged,” said Eisenberg, “and so we found ourselves wanting to keep this exchange going. These talks were productive, and invaluable.” Though time was limited and their conference schedule very demanding, the delegates toured the venerable Budapest Opera House, built in 1884 and considered one of the finest in Europe. Both Gundersen and Fowkes called on their Hungarian heritage and charmed some of the locals by speaking in Hungarian. “I don’t have a great command of the language,” said Fowkes, “but a ‘hello’ in the morning would bring big smiles – and often more coffee!”

Formed in 1952, FIA has grown to 100 organizations in 70 countries and represents the trade unions and associations of actors, dancers other performers throughout the world. FIA is active in lobbying governments, institutions and the European commissions, working to establishing international standards, norms and model collective agreements designed to protect performers wherever they work.

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