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Equity Demands Meetings

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Actors' Equity Association's national council appears dedicated to banding the union's brothers and sisters into one knowledgeable body going into next year's Production Contract negotiations.

The council has mandated membership meetings with casts of Broadway shows and road tours, obviously to provide personal, up-close experiences of actors and stage managers who work under the Production pact, the union's most lucrative agreement.

"It is imperative that all actors and stage managers working under the Production Contract attend these meetings," Alan Eisenberg, Equity's executive director, said in a union news release. "Equity is keenly interested in hearing from our members about any and all issues, both positive or negative, in order to help us prepare for this seminal negotiation. There could be a bumpy patch next June when the contract expires."

The Production agreement covers Broadway, and national and international tours. It is also used for touring productions at large performing arts centers such as the Kennedy Center. Both commercial and not-for-profit producers, for either limited or open-ended runs, can use the pact, which covers both musical and dramatic productions. The union's latest annual report showed 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. The current pact, which Equity negotiates with the League of American Theatres and Producers, expires June 27, 2004.

"The membership of Equity, especially those who regularly work under this contract, will be watching these negotiations very closely and have already made it quite clear that the loss of Equity work weeks on the road is totally unacceptable," said Patrick Quinn, Equity's president. "This issue has rallied the membership in substantive numbers and will ultimately be the flashpoint of these negotiations. As always, Equity looks forward to a fair and just agreement that will benefit not only the parties involved, but also the theatregoers of this country."

Nonunion tours have risen as a contentious issue for Equity. 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. Also, Equity's Quinn, in two major missives to Equity members, has explained that the Equity-League Health Trust Fund is suffering a $16 million deficit. So, in effect, the nonunion tours are exacerbating that debt.

The union has become so concerned about touring, its council recently dedicated $1.6 million toward a campaign to turn national tours back Equity's way.

Equity's Production Contract committee will review suggestions from members who have worked under the agreement since June 26, 2000.

"Each and every suggestion will be read and discussed by the committee," said Ken Greenwood, an Equity senior business representative. The committee is considering a plethora of issues, according to Greenwood, including health contributions, housing, organizing nonunion tours, overtime, per diem, publicity, rehearsal, rest period, reopening, safe and sanitary issues, salary, taping, transportation, touring, and unpaid leave.

That indicates the union will be encouraging cast members to discuss all those areas when meeting with the membership.

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