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Home » Officer Columns » Actors’ Equity, Touring Producers on Verge of a Strike

Actors’ Equity, Touring Producers on Verge of a Strike

  -  AFM International President

As I write this column over Easter weekend, my thoughts turn to the actors and stage managers who work and perform the Broadway touring musical productions across North America, represented by the AFL-CIO affiliated Actors’ Equity Association (Equity). For months, Equity has been negotiating with producers, represented by the Broadway League and Disney Theatrical, for a fair agreement covering its members who work on the road. At issue is the producers’ refusal to increase traveling per diem rates, which include housing and food costs for employees. Equity and the producers were scheduled to return to the bargaining table on April 11 and 12 under threat of a strike.

By contract, musicians touring with the shows receive any subsequent per diem increases obtained by Equity from their negotiations with the producers; thus, the producers must match any Equity per diem increases and apply them to touring musicians. This arrangement is another reason that the AFM and its musicians working under our Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Touring (SET) Agreement have expressed such strong support for Equity’s efforts to improve conditions of employment for touring professionals.

The AFM’s International Executive Board endorsed Equity’s “Unite the Road” contract campaign. I issued a statement declaring that AFM members will stand together with Equity members in their quest for fairness, just as we do when we provide the music essential to every performance.

By the time you read this column—probably during the first week of May—it is highly likely that either Equity 1) has reached an acceptable agreement with the tours or 2) has initiated a work stoppage. And in the event the tours have been struck, all other workers traveling with the productions will be affected, including musicians performing under the AFM’s Pamphlet B and Short Engagement Touring Agreement, as well as union stage employees represented by the International Alliance of Stage and Theatrical Employees (IATSE).

If discussions break down and Equity has declared a strike, actors and stage managers are expected to refuse to perform, halting further performances of the affected shows. AFM musicians traveling with the shows are subject to the existing “no strike” rule contained in the Pamphlet B and SET Agreement, which prohibits musicians from engaging in or condoning any strike or sympathy strike.

The unique situation presented by an Equity work stoppage on the road is such that without actors and stage managers, the show would not go on. With no show running, there would be no work for musicians to perform, no gig to play, and no show for theatergoers to attend. Producers could not assemble replacement cast and crew members to continue a single show or to resume the 23 shows now touring across the US and Canada.

AFM’s Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director George Fiddler and I are in direct communication with Equity officers and staff and monitoring the latest developments at the bargaining table and with the “Unite the Road” campaign for fairness for all touring professionals. We will also strictly enforce the existing producer obligations toward AFM musicians on the road relating to weekly salary, housing, and living expenses in the event of a work stoppage. The AFM International Executive Board, which maintains and administers the AFM’s Theater Defense Fund, is discussing preparations for its use for the purpose of assisting participating members who may be affected in the event of an Equity work stoppage.

As I stated earlier, by the time you receive the May 2023 edition of the International Musician and read this column, there will either be a deal or a shutdown, unless the parties are continuing to negotiate. AFM stands in solidarity with Actors’ Equity Association in its quest for fair pay and safe working and living conditions for all professionals on the road. The Broadway League and Disney Theatrical should wake up and smell the nachos and negotiate in good faith with Equity for an agreement that will meet and protect the needs of its members and all other touring professionals.

On a personal note, you will find elsewhere in this issue a section containing statements from candidates seeking election as AFM officers at the 102nd Convention, which will convene in Las Vegas in June. You will find my name absent from that section. After over 40 years of service—28 years as president-secretary of Local 72-147 (Dallas-Fort Worth, TX) and 13 years as your international president, I have decided to step away from the calling that has followed me during my entire adult life—improving the welfare and interests of the Federation, its locals, and its members. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve.

Note: Actors’ Equity Association, the Broadway League, and Disney Theatrical reached a tentative agreement on a new touring contract April 13, averting a strike. Full details of the contract settlement are not currently available.

Actors’ Equity and Broadway League Reach Tentative Agreement

Actors’ Equity Association, the national union representing more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers working in live theater, and the Broadway League, the national trade association for the Broadway industry, have reached a three-year collective bargaining agreement for a new contract governing touring productions. The agreement remains subject to ratification by Equity members in a vote by electronic ballot.

The deal comes after the union for actors and stage managers had recently authorized a strike pending a resolution over disagreements on wage increases and per diem rates. They had been negotiating since mid-January to create a new contract.

The union’s priorities for the touring contract included increasing members’ per diem rates to cover the rising cost of food and housing on the road and wage increases. Members made gains around equity, diversity, and inclusion; paid sick leave for everyone in the Equity company (regardless of their contractual salary); as well as reproductive care.

Ahead of the final bargaining days, union members across the entertainment industry supported Equity’s #UniteTheRoad campaigning with social media posts and in-person leafleting about the negotiations to audience members. 

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