Actors' Equity Association, representing professional actors and stage managers, has authorized its Executive Director Al Vincent, Jr. to call a strike of all Broadway national tours following an impasse in negotiations with The Broadway League, representing producers and theatre owners. If the strike happens, touring productions will come to a halt.
The move follows a protracted battle—negotiations began in January—between the two organizations over the touring contract, which expired February 5. Equity has been seeking to win increases in per diem payments to cover housing and food costs when its members are on the road, sufficient coverage for stage managers and actors (for when they're sick and can't work), and wage increases reflecting the current cost of living. The union hopes it will be able to establish a newly unified touring contract.
The current touring setup allows bigger budget shows to use the Broadway production contract with the addition of per diems, or a separate SETA (short-engagement touring agreement) contract that pays less—which was created for productions with lower guarantees. This secondary, lower-tier contract has become increasingly popular with Broadway-originating touring productions in recent years, and is the primary pain point for Equity's membership.
The disparity between the two touring contracts can be extreme. The SETA contract allows for six categories of productions based on the tour's guarantee, with weekly minimum salaries for actors ranging between $662-$1,255, and between $751-$2,063 for stage managers. Compare this to a weekly minimum of $2,439 for actors on Broadway and tours using the Production contract, and between $2,645 and $3,165 for stage managers.
Actors and stage managers employed on SETA contracts can have their salary supplemented by sharing in overages, or ticket sales over the producer's weekly guarantee. Before the production has recouped its initial investment, actors and stage managers receiving less than three times the Production Contract minimum receive 0.275% of the producer's share of the weekly overage, and that figure increases to 0.4% when the production recoups. This provision can lead to a substantial increase in pay, but it's not consistent, with actors and stage managers still often finding themselves with only the weekly minimum.
Per diem rates currently range between $58 and $86 daily, which are expected to cover food and accommodations, should the actor or stage manager decline production-provided housing.
"Our goal is to get a fair deal for our members,” says Equity President and Broadway alum Kate Shindle in a statement. “No one wants to disrupt the work of bringing theatre to audiences across the country, but we are prepared to strike...if we are not able to reach a fair agreement. If the producers don’t return to the table with good faith responses to our proposals addressing the hardships our members face on the road and the information they are required to share, that strike will happen.”
Equity's membership has been waging an online campaign (including posts from Into the Woods touring cast members Stephanie J. Block and Gavin Creel, amongst many others) to get the League to agree to their requests. Many actors have been posting stories of having to work while sick due to lack of coverage, or cover housing and food from their own pocket due to insufficient per diems.
"We are not asking to tour at an unreasonable level of luxury. We merely want conditions that enable us to do our work successfully without struggle," write a number of touring stage managers and actors in a joint public statement. IATSE, the union representing many backstage workers on Broadway and tours, has also voiced their support for AEA.
The union has had strike authorization for some time, with 90% of its membership currently employed on national tours officially on board with the move. What's new in this case is formalizing that threat to The Broadway League, which has declined to comment on the matter.
Negotiations are set to resume April 11 and 12, which could be when it will be determined if a strike will be necessary.