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November 10, 2003

Equity Commits $1.6 Million to Campaign to Combat Non-Equity Tours


The cast of "The Jobless Chronicles" sings out in Duffy Square.

THE JOBLESS CHORNICLES, a new musical about the plight of jobless Americans, is being presented by Equity to spread the word about the proliferation of non-Equity tours and how they affect actors' employment.

Based on real life stories, the musical details the lives of an 80-year old textile worker whose plant closed down; a laid-off steelworker, and a restaurant worker from Windows on the World who lost her job after September 11th. There are also fictionalized characters, one based on the plight of the non-Equity actors in the touring production of MISS SAIGON.

"We're presenting this musical to bring attention to an issue that all Americans are worried about today, and that is the precarious situation of jobs-whether it is looking for a job or facing possible unemployment," said Flora Stamatiades, Equity's National Director of Organizing and Special Projects.

The union commissioned The Jobless Chronicles because of the increasing number of non-Equity touring productions and to show that Equity members face the same crises as other American workers-reduced work opportunities, the skyrocketing cost of health insurance and an unstable future. The 20-minute performance is presented free to the public by a cast of six actors and a stage manager under an Equity contract.

Union Demands "Fair Wages! All Stages!"

The Council has authorized the expenditure of up to $1.6 million to wage a campaign against non-Equity road shows and in preparation for the upcoming Production Contract negotiations in 2004. They money is allocated for organizing; communications to the media, the public and Equity members; research; member education, consultants and strategic planning.

"We've reached a crisis stage," said Equity Executive Director Alan Eisenberg. "According to our latest statistics, 40% of all road tours are non-Equity. Producers are using new strategies to avoid or circumvent our contracts, thus robbing us of workweeks and desperately needed health contributions." Many non-Equity tours are playing in venues usually housing Equity productions (in first run cities like Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles). Sometimes, too, they are advertised as part of a "Broadway" series. Although ticket prices for these non-Equity shows are similar to those of Equity shows, the actors and stage managers earn about one-third of their Equity counterparts. Equity has been targeting Big League Theatricals because of its steadfast refusal to even talk with the union to negotiate fair wages and benefits for MISS SAIGON.

MISS SAIGON

When Big League's non-Equity tour of Miss Saigon performed at the Wang Center in Boston beginning on September 23, Equity mounted a week-long protest at the theatre. Lending support were members of SAG; AFTRA; other local unions, and the Boston Musicians' Association AFM Local 9-535, who declined to allow their members to play in the pit.

On opening night in Boston, theatregoers and the media were greeted outside of the theatre by another production. This one, The Jobless Chronicles, is an Equity company. It calls attention to the fact that actors are workers, too, facing increasing unemployment and rising costs.

In addition, Equity set up a seven-hour picket line at the loading dock to stop the load in. With IATSE Local 11 stagehands, the traveling stagehands and Teamsters Local 25 honoring Equity's picket line, the producer paid the actors in Miss Saigon to unload the trucks containing scenery and equipment. At that point, concerned for the safety of the actors, Equity ended the picket. "The safety of the actors is very important to us and we could not in good conscience allow the situation to continue," said Flora Stamatiades, Equity's National Director, Organizing and Special Projects. She added, however, that Equity's "commitment to address the issue of non-Equity road shows will not waiver."

Protests continued on September 30 in Philadelphia, the next stop on Miss Saigon's itinerary. Philadelphia area members, with support from AFTRA, SAG, and other unions, handbilled at the Merriam Theatre during the entire run. "Take a MISS on Miss Saigon," demonstrators urged.

At Equity's request, the AFL-CIO has added the non-Equity tour of Miss Saigon to its national boycott list which is circulated to labor unions throughout the country.

Other Current Activities

  • An educational presentation by Equity's new Internal Organizer, John V. Fahey, has been developed to get the word out to Equity members around the country as well as labor and government officials, community groups, local unions and other supporters.
  • Extensive research is underway to gather information about non-Equity producers, their profits and business ties in the industry and producer/presenter relationships.
  • The Jobless Chronicles (see separate story) is traveling to Newark and several other cities where Miss Saigon has been booked.
  • There has been outreach to high profile members of Equity to get them involved in the union's campaign.
  • A major rally in Times Square was held on October 29 to draw attention of press and theatregoers to the situation. Equity First Vice President Mark Zimmerman read greetings from President Patrick Quinn, who was working at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia and unable to attend. Then he introduced speakers, including AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney; AFTRA President John P. Connelly; SAG New York President and Second National Vice-President Eileen Henry and former SAG National President Richard Masur reading a statement from current SAG National President Melissa Gilbert; Equity members Sandy Duncan and Jim Cooney, and New York City Central Labor Council President Brian M. McLaughlin. Others in attendance were AFM President Tom Lee, IATSE International President Thomas C. Short and General Secretary-Treasurer James Woods, and representatives from other Broadway unions. Hundreds of Equity members lent their support, including Hugh Jackman, Lucie Arnaz, Kerry Butler, Kathleen Chalfant, Christine Ebersole, James Naughton, Mary Testa and Fritz Weaver, among others.

"Broadway is what makes New York City special," said Mr. Sweeney. "I'm here on behalf of the 1.5 million union members of New York City, 13 million union members in the United States, and the 40 million men, women and children who live in union households in our country to let you know that we are all standing with the members of Actors' Equity in your struggle with non-union touring shows."

"The current Production Contract with the League of American Theatres and Producers expires next June, and non-Equity tours will be a major issue at those negotiations," said Mark Zimmerman. "Today is the first step in telling the League that New York cares about the road, that touring is an issue that affects us all, and that we will not continue to allow them to avoid the consequences of their choices."


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