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Equity Courts EMCs

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Actors' Equity Association is pushing to solidify its relationship with thousands of actors and stage managers who are part of the Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) program. The push includes efforts to add EMCs to the union's collective bargaining agreements.

The EMC program involves an apprenticeship in certain Equity theatres that permit actors and stage managers in training to credit theatrical work towards eventual Equity membership. An EMC who acquires 50 weeks of work credit becomes eligible to join the union. Over 300 theatres currently offer the program.

But Equity has gotten the word that EMCs have been less than happy with the process.

"We learned that many EMCs feel 'out of the loop,' that they don't hear from us and that their first encounter with Equity is a negative experience," said Equity Councillor Kevin McMahon, chair of the Entry to Equity Committee. "The committee's recommendations address those issues in an attempt to make Equity a more welcoming place."

The recommendations McMahon referred to went before Equity's national council in mid-February. They called for the union to expand efforts to communicate with and serve EMCs. The council responded by mandating that Equity provide EMC identification cards and publish a "Welcome to Equity" newsletter for all new candidates. The union also will propose language when negotiating new contracts that will require theatres "to abide by all the applicable provisions of the EMC program as established by Equity."

Equity will use the EMC newsletter as a key to the bonding process. The news will include facts about the program and participating theatres, along with available discounts and other information. All new EMCs will receive the newsletter via mail, and it also will be available on Equity's website, www.actorsequity.org.

Equity Executive Director Alan Eisenberg noted that communication is a key to EMCs feeling included in the union effort, adding, "EMCs are our future members, and it is important that they have a positive connection with Equity as they pursue their professional careers."

Even though the union has perceived problems in the EMC program, it still has witnessed the process bearing fruit. The union currently has 7,500 registered EMCs, all active over the past five years. In 2003, 792 new candidates joined the program, while -- of those already enrolled -- 111 EMCs united with Equity by completing the program and 682 candidates became union members by signing an Equity contract. In 2002, 850 new candidates began while 190 EMCs joined Equity by completing the program and 682 entered via contract. Equity's most recent annual report shows the union with a total of 39,981 members.

To register for the program, an actor or stage manager must secure a qualifying position at an Equity theatre that offers the EMC program. After filing an application form with a $100 registration fee, the artist is enrolled in the program. At this point, the Equity regional office that administers the contract for that theatre will issue the new ID card.

Equity's effort to involve EMCs also appears to be an expansion of the union's endeavor to energize the membership before talks begin April 1 on a new Production contract. The pact -- which covers Broadway shows and national tours -- is with the League of American Theatres and Producers. It expires on June 27. Since it does cover the White Way and its tours, it proves to be Equity's most lucrative agreement, and one performers and stage managers -- including EMCs -- would hope to work under.

Equity has committed $1.6 million to prepare the membership for the 2004 Production contract talks, and for fighting nonunion road shows. The union's major concern with the Production pact involves non-Equity tours that have eaten into the workweeks of union members. The union has stressed that, while union actors worked 44,000 weeks on tour five years ago, that figure fell to 21,000 weeks this past year, reflecting the growth in non-Equity tours.

The union's annual report shows that Equity members working under the Production contract totaled 65,864 weeks, or 22.8% of the union's total, during 2002-03. Their labor brought in 48.3% of members' total earnings, or $127.7 million.

An effort to educate the thousands of future Equity members -- to the value of the Production pact and other contracts -- through a new EMC communication program could prove a benefit to both the EMCs and the union.

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