A federal judge in Los Angeles has dismissed a lawsuit that would have prevented Actors’ Equity from requiring small L.A.-based theater companies that sign its contract to pay their actors at least minimum wage.
The suit, whose lead plaintiff was former SAG President Ed Asner, argued that forcing small companies to pay minimum wage will put many of them out of business, thus reducing opportunities for local actors. Actors currently make as little as $7 a day at some small venues. Beginning January 1, the minimum wage in California will be $10.50 an hour.
Declaring the “case closed,” U.S. District Court Judge Terry Hatter dismissed the lawsuit today “without prejudice,” meaning that the plaintiffs can file suit again if they so desire.
“The dismissal of this lawsuit, which we had always viewed as a frivolous and costly legal matter, is a victory for our union,” said Equity executive director Mary McColl. “Not everyone in our union agreed with changes in policy that our council put in place in April of 2015. We understand those opposing views, however many of our members needed more than the nominal performance stipends, which had been the longtime practice. These are not unpaid internships – this is work. Now that this matter has been addressed internally and validated by a federal court ruling, we can devote our energies to working with Los Angeles’ theater producers to help them find the best ways to employ our members.”
Under the union’s old 99-seat waiver plan, small-theater owners in Los Angeles had been allowed to operate outside the state’s minimum-wage laws. The union allowed this practice for decades on the grounds that the actors were working as “volunteers.” But the state says there is no minimum-wage exemption for stage actors – even for those who work at small nonprofit theaters.
Under the new rules, companies signed to an Equity contract will have to start paying minimum wage beginning Dec. 15.