Equity, B’way at an impasse

<B><I>Updated:</I></B> Guild offers temporary pact; 'Boy' signs

This article was last updated at 12:46 p.m. on July 12, 2004.

Actors’ Equity and Broadway producers have come to an apparent impasse in their negotiations for a new contract, but the thesp union decided to get tough by sending an interim agreement to producers of current Broadway shows.

On Saturday night, Equity issued a pact that included a combo of elements from the old 2000-2004 contract and proposals the union has made to the league for their new contract.

Alan Eisenberg, Equity’s exec director, said the interim agreement included the tiering (sliding scale) proposal that gives reduction in actors salaries of “between 35% and over 50%” in some categories of road productions.

According to Eisenberg, the producers of “The Boy From Oz” have signed the interim agreement, which would exempt it from a possible strike by actors. A spokesperson for “Boy” confirmed that the producers had accepted the agreement.

“We expect several other shows to accept the interim agreement by noon Monday,” added Eisenberg.

The league disagrees. “Every other show has rejected the individual agreement option,” said a spokesperson, “and has reaffirmed their commitment to bargain together.”

As the situation developed on Monday, the Kennedy Center production of “The Glass Menagerie” also signed the interim agreement. Unlike most nonprofit venues, the Kennedy Center operates under a production contract and not a LORT (League of Regional Theaters) contract, which offers reduced salaries and per diems.

“We would have preferred the LORT contract, but Equity offered us the production contract and we signed it,” said Tiki Davies, spokesperson for the Kennedy Center. She stressed that last year’s Stephen Sondheim festival productions and this season’s Tennessee Williams plays were all being performed under the production contract. Regarding the interim agreement on “Menagerie,” Davies explained, “This is not an open-end commercial venture. It is a very limited engagement.” Sally Field stars.

“The Boy From Oz” would be especially sensitive to a strike since it is skedded to close Sept. 12 when Hugh Jackman’s contract expires. The tuner has been doing sell-out biz since Jackman won the Tony Award June 6. The tiering proposal is a moot point for “Boy.” The show has not announced plans to tour.

While the two sides appear to be in agreement on salaries and health care benefits with regard to Broadway shows, road issues have continued to divide labor and management. Much of the negotiations have been devoted to a tier system for road productions that would provide up to six sliding scales in salaries and per diem. Under the old contract, which expired June 27, there was no tier system and all Equity productions on the road paid actors the same minimum salary and per diem.

It has been quite a weekend for Broadway. Talks between producers and Equity broke off Friday evening, after which the union made a “final offer” to the League of American Theaters and Producers. On Saturday morning, league prexy Jed Bernstein essentially rejected the union’s offer in a written statement:

“The league and Actors’ Equity have worked hard and reached tentative agreement on virtually every issue on the table with the exception of salary and per diem for certain categories of touring productions. We believe that having a viable economic plan for the road is critically important to both sides, and we want to continue to work toward an agreement on these issues. However, we will not accept a deal that does not realistically address the problems that face touring Broadway. Equity’s last offer on touring is still hundreds of dollars per week higher than the rates they have agreed to in the special deals they’ve made with non-union producers. The overall package now on the table is fair to both sides. It provides reasonable increases in wages and benefits, and most importantly, protects the health and safety of union members.

“While we prefer to resolve our negotiations in a way that addresses the touring marketplace, we do not want to hold Broadway in New York hostage to our inability to find common ground on the road. Thus, we have offered Equity a package that covers all other issues and takes touring off the table. In short, we’ve said let’s do a deal now on the issues we can agree on and leave touring to the next contract negotiation.

“Producers are ready to go back to the table and to make a fair deal with or without touring today.”

Early Saturday afternoon, the union responded to, but did not absolutely reject, the league’s call to postpone the road issues to another round of negotiations.

“Broadway productions in New York and Broadway shows on the road stand for a certain quality of performance,” wrote Eisenberg. “These negotiations must make certain that Equity productions remain the norm across the United States. This is the only way to ensure that audiences across the nation are pleased, not disappointed.”

Meanwhile, shows continued to perform over the weekend.

The union has called for a meeting of its governing council Monday afternoon, with a press conference to follow. If the union calls for a strike, all Equity road shows and most Broadway productions would be affected. Shows produced by nonprofit theaters are covered by a LORT (League of Regional Theaters) contract and would continue to run in case of a strike. On Broadway, they include “Assassins,” “The Frogs,” “Sight Unseen” and “After the Fall.” Off Broadway shows would also continue to perform.

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