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Monday, February 23, 2015 3:27 PM

Union Group Mobilizes "Against" Pay Hike

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In what may be a first (otherwise an extreme rarity), a substantial force within a union has mobilized against a pay hike to $9.00 per hour from essentially nothing.

"Nothing" you say? Yes, it happens in small non-profit theaters that pay aspiring actors $7 to $15 per performance. Rehearsal time does not count.

Curiously, but rightfully so, the aspiring actors realize there will be no work at all if they have to get paid $9.00 an hour for acting and rehearsals.

Reader Richard, who works in the film industry writes ...

Hi Mish

Actor Equity (the union of stage actors) wants to force small theaters in Los Angeles “to pay the legally mandated minimum wage.” There is no doubt this move will decimate local theater and goes against the vast majority of their LA member’s wishes.

We have a few theater districts in the city which have sprouted restaurants that depend on the theater traffic to survive. Whole areas such as North Hollywood have transformed themselves as the NoHo Arts District [a play off the SoHo Arts District in New York City] all because of the theaters in the area. 

Many actors have vowed to withdraw from the union. I myself work almost exclusively in the film and television these days, but I started my career in theater and benefited from the contracts negotiated by Actors Equity.

But Los Angeles theater is a completely different animal from New York theater and includes many actor run companies with national and international reputations. The economics of LA theater just do not support the model Actors Equity wants to foist on the theater community and will result in the closing of dozens of very well regarded theaters.

Anyway I thought it was an interesting twist on unions. Actors Equity has a vote planned for March 25th but the result is only advisory and the union leadership will them do what they want.

Hope you are well. Keep up the good work.

Small Theater Community Speaks Out Against a Pay Hike

The LA Times reports, L.A. County's Small-Theater Community Speaks Out on Proposed Wage Hike.
An impassioned, two-hour, open-mike meeting about the future of Los Angeles County's small-theater community Saturday at the Renberg Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center in Hollywood drew an overflow crowd of well over 200 theater folks.

With just one exception, the dozens of speakers, including a calmly emphatic Tim Robbins, were motivated by a deep fear of what a proposed higher wage might do to their artistic scene.

Actors' Equity, the national union for stage actors, is seriously considering imposing a $9 hourly minimum wage for its members when they perform or rehearse in L.A.'s small venues.

Robbins and the rest think $9 an hour is exorbitant and that actors should continue working on small stages for what they have been receiving for decades. The going rate is $7 to $15 per performance, depending on ticket prices and seating capacities. Rehearsals, which can consume scores of hours, pay nothing.

Most of the small theaters are nonprofit organizations that need donations to augment ticket sales in order to sustain what's typically a hand-to-mouth existence.

Robbins is the founder and artistic director of the Actors' Gang in Culver City, launched before his 1988 ascent to movie stardom in "Bull Durham."

He stepped to a microphone wearing a pale blue denim jacket and said it made no sense for union officers to expect small theaters to survive under the proposed new terms. Even with volunteer labor from actors, Robbins began, "I've lost hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I should rephrase that — invested [it]."

The Actors' Gang has often done shows with big casts, developing new plays from scratch in lengthy rehearsal processes. Some have toured nationally and overseas — where real wages kicked in.

"I've gotten so much out of it, and so have the actors," Robbins said. "Actors have launched careers." The Actors' Gang would have died in the cradle, he said, had there been a minimum wage rule when it began.

"I may be the only person in this room voting yes," said Ann Colby Stocking. She said that she and some actor friends had in fact approached union leaders asking their help because they need better pay.

She painted the scenario she has seen actors endure: "They've come [to rehearsals] from working an eight-hour job. They're crying from exhaustion, they're fainting. They can't take time off, because they can't afford it." With better pay, she suggested, the play could be the thing, the exhausting day job, less so.

Stocking was politely received, even applauded. But by the time the meeting broke up it looked as if a civil war were at hand and that, in an extreme rarity for the U.S. labor movement, a substantial force within a union was mobilizing against a pay hike.
I believe this is a first. Yes, we have seen non-union forces organize against a union drive and alleged higher wages, but I cannot recall ever seeing unions rally against pay hikes. And this membership is not only against a pay hike, but overwhelmingly against.

Hats off to the LA guild for recognizing the theater itself may go under if this hike is forced upon them. So why be in a union at all?

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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