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Equity Okays Production Pact

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Actors' Equity Association's Broadway and touring actors have approved a new four-year Production contract that will increase wages and producers' health-fund contributions and create a new experimental program for tours that the union hopes will increase jobs.

Equity announced on Tuesday that of the 2,421 valid ballots received, 2,332 -- or over 96% -- were "yes" votes and only 89 voted "no." Ballots had gone to a 6,000-member ratification group composed of members who have worked under the Production contract at some time in the last eight years.

The agreement with the League of American Theatres and Producers also was signed by four major individual producers: Buena Vista Theatricals, the Nederlander Organization, Clear Channel Communications, and Dodger Stage Holdings Theatricals.

The pact provides an annual wage increase of 2% in the first year and 3% each of the next three years. Actors will receive weekly minimums of $1,381 in the pact's first year and $1,509 in the final year. Stage managers will garner first-year wages of $2,270 for musicals and $1,951 for plays, with minimums increasing in the final year to $2,480 for musicals and $2,132 for plays. The new salaries will be retroactive to June 28.

Tiers for Tours

Touring shows were the chief issue -- followed by health care -- that Equity had taken into the talks. The union cited the fact that actors worked 44,000 weeks on tour five years ago while that figure fell to 21,000 weeks last year, reflecting the growth in non-Equity tours.

In an attempt to turn those stats around, the two sides have created a three-year experimental tiered touring program. Designed only for touring musicals, the pact establishes a sliding scale, or tiers.

For producers to qualify for a particular tier, they must provide Equity with the show's average weekly guarantees and the schedule of playing weeks that shows that one-week engagements make up a majority of the tour. The entire traveling company should number more than 40.

Also, all productions using the experimental program must provide "verifiable financial information such as weekly box office statements and settlements, unaudited profit-and-loss statements, and weekly operating expenses," according to Equity's press release on the new pact. The two sides also agreed that Equity has the right to audit any production utilizing the program, which provides for profit sharing by actors and increased salaries after a production recoups its initial investment.

Equity will monitor the tiered system for the next three years. After that time period, Equity can "exercise its right to cancel the agreement" if the union determines the experiment a failure.

Health and Safety

Equity had wanted producers to greatly increase their contributions to a health plan that has been as deeply in debt as $16 million over the last year. Producers eventually agreed to "significantly higher contributions," but Equity still hasn't publicly said what the figure might be. The union has stated that producers of plays and touring musicals will contribute at the standard Production-contract rate, after contributing less than that in the past. Also, supplemental workers' compensation will continue, ensuring that Equity members acquire "meaningful financial support during their recovery period" for on-the-job injuries.

As for safety, the two sides will develop "a protocol that will assist producers, directors, designers, and actors in the development and staging process to try to reduce the risk of injury to performers." Other new provisions include the requirement that the union be notified of raked stages over one-half inch; a standard protocol for reporting all injuries and illnesses; and the promise that producers will provide Equity with all C-2 reports, the New York state workers' comp injury report form.

The new pact provides a "revamped structure of commercials" consisting of use fees for actors at the on-camera principal rate for one year rather than the traditional 13-week cycle of airing.

The contract creates a branding commitment for both Broadway and the road, which the union contends is "the first of its kind in the industry." The league will commit $500,000 to using the "Live Broadway" logo and Equity will work with producers to develop the program.

"This is a benchmark contract for all of professional theatre in America," Patrick Quinn, Equity's president, said. "It acknowledges the outstanding contributions actors make to the quality of the productions and it will ensure that audiences across the country will be able to enjoy the best theatre America has to offer."

Alan Eisenberg, the union's executive director, added, "This contract is a turning point in our history. We have addressed the two key issues -- health and the road -- and, despite the long, arduous negotiations, we have achieved a contract that is forward-thinking and progressive. It will strengthen the health fund, create more roles for actors in touring productions, and it addresses the important issue of safety for actors."

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