A BETTER MODEL FOR INDEPENDENT THEATERS
When you look at a list of Equity's employers, you can easily divide them into two categories: members of multi-employer groups, and independent producers.
When producers decide to band together as a multi-employer group, they do so for one primary reason: they want to get the best deal possible when bargaining with unions. They understand that they'll have more bargaining strength together than separately, and so they collectivize. Many of our contracts are agreements made with multi-employer groups (the Broadway League, the Off-Broadway League, LORT, etc.) and they are formidable bargaining partners. When a negotiation with one of these groups concludes, those producers all get to use the resulting contract, including everything they were able to achieve from us.
Unfortunately, the process of negotiating with our independent producers is far less straight forward.
Currently, when an independent employer enters into negotiations with Equity, there are a number of different contract options they might be presented with. They might be offered a promulgated agreement (like the SPT), which is a contract that Equity has authored unilaterally. They might be asked to enter into a unique agreement, which is built specifically for them. (The Pip's Island Agreement is a good example of that.)
Or—and this is where it gets troublesome—they might be offered a contract based on a currently existing Equity agreement with a multi-employer group. Sometimes those are called Letters of Agreement (or LOAs), in which the agreement with the independent producer is largely the same as an existing rulebook (like LORT, CORST, or COST), with some small deviations (usually including salaries.) And beyond that, there are a number of independent producers who are simply given full access to an existing agreement—like LORT or Off-Broadway. They're known as Independent Users of an Agreement.
And herein lies the problem: The members of multi-employer groups are able to get better outcomes in negotiations because they've decided to team up. Why, then, would we offer those terms to producers who aren't members of those groups? Why would we give them access to terms that they haven't been able to achieve on their own?
The short answer is: We shouldn't.
Thankfully, work is already underway on a new path forward—one that empowers us to negotiate based on the specific circumstances of an independent employer—allowing us to achieve fair outcomes, without giving prodcuers automatic access to terms they haven't achieved. Guided by our new Judge It By The Budget policy at Equity, this will allow the union to be more nimble, flexible, and attuned to the specific needs of the stage managers and actors who work for our independent employers. With the majority of those theaters in our Liaison Areas, this will be all the more important in our coming time of recovery.
I'm proud to already be deep into this work, and I look forward to continue to champion it as Eastern Regional Vice President.