The war of words continues between Actors’ Equity and a group of Los Angeles-based actors and theater owners opposed to the union’s plan to force small playhouses to pay their actors minimum wage. In a recent email to members, the union said the minimum wage opponents have “openly threatened Equity staff and councilors and blacklisted members of their own community for speaking on behalf of fair pay.”
Opponents say that forcing 99-seat theaters in L.A. to pay minimum wage will force many of them out of business, or to go non-union. The union, however, scoffed at that notion, telling members it’s just part of a “campaign of misinformation and propaganda.”
“This is a stunning assault by Equity on its own membership,” said Frances Fisher, one of the leaders of the group opposed to Equity’s plan. “It’s really too bad my union has chosen this scorched-earth approach. Publicly discrediting your own membership because they have a legitimate disagreement with you is just poor leadership, in my book.”
Added actor Alfred Molina: “The fact that Actors Equity would send out an email like that is shocking and distressing. Actors Equity has provided no concrete examples to back up the claims, and when questioned by its own membership, it has refused to clarify.”
Fisher and Molina are part of a group called Pro99, which filed suit against the union last October to prevent the imposition of minimum wage. They argue that “the new rules will severely damage LA’s theatre scene, stripping theatre artists of vital opportunities and protections.”
Many actors who appear in small productions in Los Angeles work for as little as $7 a day, even though the state’s minimum wage is $10 an hour. Kathleen Hennessy, a spokesperson for the California State Labor Commissioner, told Deadline stage actors are not exempt from the state’s laws. “There is no such exemption for actors at non-profit theaters.”
In its email, the union said opponents to the minimum wage “have claimed that Actors’ Equity is trying to destroy Los Angeles theatre, even though the sum total of Council’s actions last April – including all the carve-outs eventually included for members who legitimately wanted to continue to volunteer for the sake of artistic satisfaction — meant that a total of only 26 small LA theaters would be subject to organizing and contract work — just about 14% of the 180 which regularly utilized the old 99-seat plan.”
“Most of our concerns center on Actors Equity’s new 99-seat agreement, which we strongly believe would destroy a vibrant and developmental theater scene, and force many theaters to close,” said actress Lisa Glass.