In Showbiz, Organized Labor’s Motto Should Be: “Live Better, Party Union”

Actors-Equity-Centennial-CelebrationHollywood’s unions have been partying hardy with their members’ dues money. For example, Actors’ Equity spent more than $450,000 for a bash to celebrate its 100th anniversary last year. That’s roughly equivalent to the dues of 300 struggling off-Broadway actors. The tab included more than $77,000 for an event planner and $36,000 for floral arrangements. Altogether, industry unions spent more than $2 million partying in 2013, according to LM-2 financial reports they filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

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Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Dinner parties, luncheons, retreats and holiday get-togethers are good ways for union leaders to connect with their members and staff and for members to meet their leaders. Some of the money spent is charitable or educational, some of it is celebratory or promotional and all of it is well-meaning. Even so, some of this money might be better put to use organizing non-union reality shows and film companies. Even in the best of times, unions have to spend their members’ dues wisely. In tough times, every expenditure should be questioned.

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The Writers Guild likes to party too. Every two years, the WGA West holds a weekend retreat for its members at California’s Lake Arrowhead. Last year’s bill was $26,450 – roughly equal to the initiation fees paid by 10 new members. GladstonesIn November and December, the guild spent nearly $12,000 on “hospitality services” for two staff events at Gladstones restaurant in Malibu. Three more staff events held last year at Universal Studios Hollywood cost $17,000, and a staff conference at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa cost $19,400. The guild spent another $88,000 on hospitality services for various other membership and committee events last year. Said Kat Smith, chair of the WGAW’s Activities Committee: “Studies have shown that we need playful activities to keep our creativity intact and stimulate brain function. These events also allow writers to develop relationships that don’t necessarily happen when we attend panels. Members form bonds with other writers who then become their support community.”

One group, IA Stagehands Local 2 in Chicago, spent $11,00 testing” — to make sure its members and/or staff don’t party too hard.

Among the celebratory expenditures at other Hollywood guilds: The DGA spent more than $800,000 on catered affairs in HolidayParty2013, SAG-AFTRA dished out $44,000 for such events, the Animation Guild dropped nearly $90,000 for its two most recent holiday parties, and IATSE Camera Local 600 spent $102,000 hosting the IATSE’s general executive board meeting at the luxurious JW Marriott in downtown L.A. and $83,400 hosting another at the posh Le Méridien Delfina hotel in Santa Monica. As part of its membership appreciation program, LA-based Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians spent $35,200 over the past two years for season tickets to the Hollywood Bowl and chalked it up to “representational activities.”

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CoffeeAmong the guilds’ more popular excuses to party are holiday celebrations – IATSE Studio Mechanics Local 476 in Chicago spent $27,000 for its bash, for instance — retirement dinners and golf or bowling outings. Then there’s the caffeine factor. Last year, the WGA West spent $103,500 on gourmet coffee for its staff and visitors – more than most writers make in a year. SAG-AFTRA, with a much larger staff, spent $75,000 on coffee. The DGA, meanwhile, spent $45,000 on coffee services.

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