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    Posted February 7, 2011

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New Two-Year COST Agreement Ratified

Faced with claims by Council of Stock Theatres (COST) members that they were continuing to experience economic distress, and their determination to impose a financial freeze, Equity was equally steadfast in its goal of improving minimum salaries after a previous two-year freeze. Talks began in New York on September 27 and 28 with two member theatres-Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Maryland and Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. Facing a stalemate, on October 19 the Equity negotiating team received strike authorization from Council. With both sides realizing the severity of the situation and each others' strong-held convictions, on November 22 a tentative agreement was reached that included modest salary increases of 1% in the first year and 2% in the second year. Fortunately, previous negotiations had already achieved acceptable health rates, which carried forward. This Agreement was ratified by Council on December 21, avoiding the strike scheduled to start five days later.

As part of the negotiation, Equity was able to attain a sunset clause reducing the maximum non-Equity performers that may be employed for large chorus musicals in Tiers 1-4 as of the last day of this Agreement. Also, building on the groundwork of the 2008 negotiation, strong improvements were introduced into the Agreement for equal employment language and requirements and access for performers with disabilities. Expanded media use was also negotiated into the Agreement to provide the theatres necessary marketing tools in order to survive in the current economy.

In addition to Olney Theatre Center and Paper Mill Playhouse, the COST contract is used by independent theatres: Casa Manana, Fort Worth, TX; La Mirada, Fullerton, CA; Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Minneapolis, MN; Cape Playhouse, Dennis, MA; Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME and North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, MA. In this new Agreement, provisions were reintroduced for Tier Two theatres, realizing a longstanding goal for reunification with the theatres that broke off from the bargaining unit in the mid'90s (Cape Playhouse and Ogunquit Playhouse).

Equity's negotiating team included Wally Dunn, Chair; Bill Bateman, 1st Vice Chair; Linda Cameron, Christine Toy Johnson, Stas' Kmiec', Irma Rogers, and Jess W. Speaker III. Chief Negotiator was Senior Business Representative Russell Lehrer, assisted by Business Reps Jeffrey Bateman and Patrick Lee.

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