Fractious contract negotiations between Actors’ Equity Assn. and the League of Resident Theaters concluded last weekend in a surprise, down-to-the-wire agreement.

The actors’ union won increases –“modest” according to LORT, “disappointing” says Equity — in salaries and producer contributions to Equity’s health plan.

A key element of the three-year pact is a much-sought-after restriction on the number of weekly hours worked by stage managers. Equity won a 60-hour cap on the work week before overtime kicks in, a cap that Alan Eisenberg, the union’s exec secretary, called “a substantial achievement.”

But the achievement had a cost. The producers, who feared big increases in overtime payments, took a hard-line stance in other areas of the negotiations, particularly the health contribution increases. Equity had hoped to raise the producer contribution from the current $ 79 per actor per week to $ 100 by the pact’s final year. Instead, the contributions max out at $ 86. Eisenberg called the increase “a big disappointment.”

Pending ratification by the memberships of both unions, the new contract will cover actors and stage managers at 64 LORT theaters and 20 independent theaters nationwide operating under the agreement. The pact was hammered out last weekend.

The health insurance fund apparently played a major role in those fears. Equity recently OK’d sweeping changes in the eligibility rules of the fund to reverse the depletion of the fund’s reserves.

And now to compensate for the lower-than-expected health contributions of the settlement, Equity will divert $ 500,000 from the union’s “subsidiary rights trust fund” to the struggling health fund, Eisenberg said.

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