Actors Unite Against Mandated Higher Wages
In the most recent example of union leadership failing to accurately represent the desires of the organization’s members, the Equity Council of the Actors’ Equity Association (Equity), the AFL-CIO-affiliated union representing actors and stage managers, has voted to strip actors in Los Angeles of the freedom to volunteer their time and talents performing at small theaters for less than the minimum wage. The vote ignores a 2-to-1 advisory vote from union members against the action.
In opposing Equity’s recent decision, individual performers are asking for an opportunity to gain experience, the chance to be noticed by an agent and an outlet to perform in creative ways they enjoy. Many established actors, including Helen Mirren, Jason Alexander and Kirsten Vangsness, have publically thrown their support behind efforts to protect this freedom, recognizing the start small theaters can give actors and the importance of maintaining the viability of the artistic ventures small theater companies provide.
Previously, the “99-Seat Theatre Plan” provided a waiver allowing union members to work for a stipend at theaters with fewer than 100 seats. Actors rehearse for free and are then given expense stipends of anywhere from $7 to $25 per performance. Equity’s recent vote removes the current waiver and requires small theater companies to pay the minimum wage, prohibiting actors from volunteering their time.
Many in the acting community are outraged because small theaters already struggling to remain open will be forced to absorb additional costs. Those opposed to the union’s decision claim the recent action will threaten the existence of many small theaters that provide an artistic outlet and enrich the performance community of Los Angeles.
The recent actions will prevent actors from doing what they want to do most—act. The only explanation is that union leadership, purported to represent the interests of the organization’s members, has priorities grossly misaligned with the union’s members.