Wages must reflect our contribution with higher salaries and more union jobs. A labor of love is still labor, and what we cost should be based on an employer’s ability to pay.
#FairWageOnStage was born from a singular frustration: the wages being paid to stage managers and actors on most contracts were woefully insufficient and unfair. While many of our employers invested in new facilities, lavish sets, and pricey costumes, and smaller theaters were used as shields in collective bargaining by larger ones to keep us all down, Equity members struggled to make ends meet.
What began as a series of small meetings between rank-and-file members in living rooms blossomed into a movement built by engagement, organization, activism, and courage. Together, we gave Equity the critical leverage needed to turn the Off-Broadway Contract into a fairer agreement, achieving historic wage increases of up to 83% over the span of the contract.
Something had to change. #FairWageOnStage made that change happen.
Now we’re beginning to spread the movement nationwide, with a 2018 roster of #FairWageOnCouncil candidates from each region—including, we’re thrilled to announce, from non-office cities—because we all deserve fair wages.
Those of us from New York recognize the unique privilege of our closed shop and giant membership concentration. But we want to find models that can work in your city and region as well as ours did Off-Broadway. We want to hold “living room meetings” with national membership, to listen and be guided.
Last year you elected seven candidates on the 2017 #FairWageOnCouncil slate—made up of founding members of the #FairWageOnStage movement—to Equity’s National Council. Your FairWagers on Council have championed membership meeting resolutions, brought by the rank-and-file, that aim to make our business and union more fair for all, in our contracts, our dues, and our union’s internal processes, whether it be policy to…
- …insist negotiating teams “Judge It by the Budget.” When negotiating or promulgating agreements, the association will consider an employer’s actual ability to pay, by, for example, a non-profit theater’s total expenses, financial and local history, program service revenue versus gifts/grants/contributions, and total gross box office, rather than just its box office receipts.
- …eliminate the dues cap, so that ALL members pay the same percentage of their salaries in working dues.
- …give members at membership meetings in Liaison Areas the ability to make and pass motions that affect union policy, further democratizing our union by beginning to level the playing field between members in Liaison Areas and office cities.
- …modernize our conflict of interest policies to ensure our members can voice their concerns free from employee repercussions.
FairWagers on Equity committees don’t accept things as they’ve always been; they read the contracts and proposals, they research, they reach out to as many people who have worked in the applicable situation as possible; they ask why things are the way they are; and if the answer is “because it’s good enough,” or “that’s the way it’s always been done,” we try to get you a better deal, to make your contracts stronger. We have the courage to ask for more, because you deserve it—because the work you do is important.
The current #FairWageOnCouncil candidates want to carry this work forward, because too many of Equity’s agreements don’t accurately reflect an employer’s ability to pay.
When only the wealthy can afford to work in live theater, live theater suffers. We are committed to refocusing the union’s priorities and organizational direction towards fair wages on every single Equity contract.
Your FairWagers are, as ever, hard at work, researching and compiling information and statistics on the financial condition of our employers nationwide. We examine their total expenses, executive staff compensation, and how their growth compares to the wages they’ve agreed to pay us. This research remains enlightening and frustrating. The more we learn, the more we see that much of what we’ve been conceding—in terms of salaries, Equity/non-Equity ratios, and company categorization—is unfair, with stage managers and actors getting a disproportionately small piece of the pie.
We advocate for member resolutions like “Judge It by the Budget,” because we firmly believe that a producer’s ability to fairly pay stage managers and actors must be based on their entire financial narrative. It will help us hold our healthier employers’ feet to the fire, while also allowing us to nurture theaters that are struggling or just getting off the ground. While commercial producers primarily take in money from box office receipts, non-profit companies have multiple sources of income including ticket sales, charitable contributions, and return on investments—the distribution of which varies as widely as the companies themselves.
Unfortunately, many of our agreements with our non-profit employers base our salaries on outdated and irrelevant metrics. Across our contracts, there are as many as fourteen different ways in which we determine how much an employer pays our members, whether it’s the number of seats in the theater, how many tickets are sold, how many tickets could be sold, or even just the number of performances per week. We maintain that a producer’s ability to employ and pay our members is best measured not by what they’re bringing in on our backs, but rather on what they’re spending every year. The more a company spends overall, the more it should be spending on the contracts of stage managers and actors. It’s simple, it’s fair, and it’s how every single member of a non-profit theater’s staff is paid, except for us.
Something had to change. The #FairWageOnCouncil slate of candidates want to continue to make that change happen.
How exactly will electing #FairWageOnCouncil impact your paychecks, and move our agreements towards fairness? Equity’s National Council approves the contracts that determine what our members are paid, and does so in three distinct ways: Negotiation, Promulgation, and Committee Approval.
Contracts like Production, LORT, COST, and CORST are negotiated through collective bargaining. Input and feedback are solicited from various Equity committees regarding these contracts, from which the National Council approves a set of proposals and priorities for its negotiating team. The team then sits across the table from our employers and fights for the best deal it can get, within the laws that govern collective bargaining, with the National Council having final responsibility for evaluating the terms agreed to, eventually giving its stamp of approval (except for Production and LORT, which are ratified by member referendum).
Once elected, we promise to accept only what is truly fair on negotiated contracts.
Other Equity contracts are promulgated, such as SPT, Guest Artist, and Special Appearance. Rather than being the result of a negotiation, these template contracts are created internally, using input from Equity staff, Councilors, and committee members to determine what our members need and deserve when working for producers under these agreements. Already, your FairWagers on Council and several on the 2018 #FairWageOnCouncil slate populate the committees that work to oversee these contracts, and a stronger presence on the National Council will allow us to have even more of a say in the terms set forth.
Once elected, we promise to accept only what is truly fair on promulgated contracts with an eye to the deeply varied employers that utilize them and their divergent needs. We will amend committee proposals to hone them so that they get the best possible compensation for our members. We have an opportunity here, to write our ideal contracts as templates to teach our employers what we want from them!
Finally, we have employers that we refer to as “Developing Theaters” that produce on Letter of Agreement (LOA) contracts. These agreements are individually negotiated by the wonderful Equity staff with the producers before being sent to one of Equity’s three regional Developing Theater Committees for committee approval. Many factors are examined when evaluating a Developing Theater, including an employer’s production budget, the needs of stage managers and actors in the city and region, the producer’s history of salary increases, and even the inclusiveness of their hiring practices. There are already a number of FairWagers on Council and 2018 #FairWageOnCouncil candidates serving on Equity’s Developing Theater Committees, and electing our slate to the National Council will further empower them to provide oversight of these agreements.
Once elected, we promise to accept nothing less than what is truly fair on committee approved contracts. We will encourage Developing Theater Committees to hone proposals so they appropriately reflect the producer’s actual ability to pay.
Overall, FairWagers on Council and on committees are already shifting the conversation within the union, and committees and Council are becoming more judicious about concessions.
#FairWageOnStage saw the need for change Off-Broadway, and we all came together, over a thousand of us, to make a change. We righted that ship, but we had taken on so much water from decades of substandard wages, that we’re not yet coasting. And we have ships to turn all over the country. We ask that you empower the #FairWageOnCouncil slate of candidates to help us get underway and spread this change nationwide.