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Equity to L.A. 99-Seat Plaintiffs: The Deal’s Off

After months of negotiations, the actors’ union pulls the plug, giving small theatres until December to comply with new minimum wage rules. The case will now go to court.

This post has been updated throughout.

LOS ANGELES: Actors’ Equity Association announced on June 28 that they were unable to resolve a longstanding dispute with plaintiffs in litigation over changes to the Los Angeles 99-Seat Plan, in the case of Asner vs. Actors’ Equity, and further announced that this is the last year the old plan, which allowed small theatres to employ union actors for small stipends, will be in effect for most theatres under 100 seats in L.A. County. Under Equity’s new guidelines, qualifying theatres will be required to offer union actors a contract that pays at least minimum wage ($10.50 in Los Angeles as of July 1).

In a statement, Equity reiterated its version of events over the past two years, writing:

In an effort to ensure that a percentage of actors who appear onstage in 99-seat productions are paid a wage, the National Council of Equity conducted surveys and membership meetings over the course of several months. The Council conducted an advisory referendum and, after carefully considering the results, created opportunities that would allow for some members to work under contractual agreements and be paid at least minimum wage. The Council also created 3 internal union membership rules that provided members the opportunity to volunteer their time: a) self-producing, b) performing with membership companies, or c) appearing in 50-seat showcases. This was and remains an essential step forward for fair pay in L.A. County, which was out of sync with the rest of the nation prior to the new rules being adopted.

Pro-99-seat advocates not only vigorously fought this effort to make changes to the plan which has allowed their theatres to exist; they’ve also countered that the results of the Council’s advisory referendum strongly favored Equity making no changes to the existing plan.

In its statement, Equity gave the deadline of Dec. 14, after which the “99-Seat Transitional Code” would no longer be available. The transitional code was offered “to give theatres and producers time to make the transition to one of the contractual agreements or membership rules and was extended while the facilitated discussions with the plaintiffs were underway.”

Equity further stated that it will vigorously fight the lawsuit, which plaintiffs filed but never served.

UPDATE: The plaintiffs—former Screen Actors Guild president Ed Asner, and actors Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, and French Stewart—responded on June 29 with a statement, which reads, in part.

Over six months we had a series of facilitated discussions with Equity. We hoped to forge a path for financially successful theatres to grow, step-by-step, stage-by-stage, to minimum wage contracts. We agree that theatres should pay artists more when they can. But they should not be closed down if they can’t. We want to see theatre thrive in Los Angeles. We want to see more contract work here. We will continue to urge Equity to reconsider; to gain an appreciation for the importance of small theatre to our city.

We are not New York. We are not Chicago. Models used in those cities, however successful they may be, should not be foisted on us here.

They also claimed that Equity’s proposals will be end of “volunteer small theatre” in Los Angeles. The full statement can be read here.

The case will head to federal court in July.

  • D Martin

    To be completely accurate, the only reason “the results of the Council’s advisory referendum strongly favored Equity making no changes to the existing plan” was because the entire membership wasn’t allowed to vote on the referendum, only the Los Angeles region. Nationwide, in every other city, membership was vocally in favor, particularly those that had worked in L.A. before. AEA adjusted the original plan after considering the strong appeal for some in L.A., but the plaintiffs in this case want no changes to a plan that only exists in Los Angeles. Frankly, your editorial headline of “the deal’s off” makes AEA seem intractable when it’s quite the opposite. And to suggest these theaters will cease to exist because of the changes is not true, they simply hire non-union actors or the AEA actors who chose to can leave the union. Those others can hire AEA actors at minimum wage.

    • Sean K

      To be completely accurate, have some hard facts and numbers about the 99-seat plan. And then take a seat.

      http://footlights.click/2016/03/letter-editor-99-seat-plan-equity-contract-data/

    • Louedda

      It is inaccurate to state that “the plaintiffs in this case want no changes”. The Pro99 movement has used the slogan “Change but not this change” for over a year. Have you been living under a rock? And the fact that this announcement comes from AEA, and is not a joint statement, seems to make it quite clear that AEA is, in fact, intractable. I’m also wondering why you seem to believe that the entire national membership should have been given a vote in a non-binding referendum that was mandated by a legal settlement agreement as including only those affected by changes to the plan.

      • Truthyness

        Actually, it’s precisely accurate that they want no changes. Anyone can find the text of the Complaint online and the very first remedy that the Plaintiffs seek is:
        “An injunction setting aside actions taken by Equity on February 6, 2015 and April 21, 2015, and restoring the 99-Seat Theatre Plan,”
        What part of restoring the 99-Seat Plan sounds like change to you?

  • Oops, we had that exactly backward. Thanks for pointing it out.

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