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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.