9 + 1 Questions that AEA has Yet to Answer
By Kevin Delin
The upheaval in the Los Angeles theater community caused by the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) rejiggering of the decades-old 99-Seat Plan has been a complex story. It’s easy to get lost in a myriad of details and false starts. Here, then, is a short list of straightforward questions and issues that the AEA has not yet addressed in any significant way. The list is pocket-sized (assuming your tablet or smartphone fits in your pocket) for easy access. Background hyperlinks are also given for further information and issue clarification.
These questions and issues note where Executive Director Mary McColl or Union President Nick Wyman or their AEA Council have been inconsistent or sloppy or both. The questions are basic and often based on statements made by Mary McColl and other AEA officials.
In fact, the questions and issues are so easy to address, perhaps it’s surprising they haven’t yet been. Maybe they should be asked over and over again until they are:
1) What happened to the requirement, stipulated in the 1989 court settlement, that the Council had to present any changes to the 99-Seat Plan to both the Review Committee and the Membership 45-days before voting? The new proposal that came out of the Council on April 21, 2015 was not presented to anyone beforehand. (Dakin Matthews thoroughly discusses this in a two-part column: Part 1 and Part 2.)
2) Why has the AEA not addressed the fact that the Member Survey, sent out in October 2014 and used by Mary McColl as key evidence on the mood of the LA membership, is fundamentally flawed? These flaws are not associated with push-polling or response bias (though these are also possible issues with the survey). The flaws are mathematical not philosophical and associated with the fundamental methodology used in the survey.
3a) The Union included a complaint about minimal pay for a director in their “vote for the referendum” materials. Why? While the complaining person is a member of AEA, her prominent remarks were not about actor-pay but director-pay.
3b) And doesn’t this complaint therefore disprove the AEA claim that only actors go without pay in 99-seat theaters? (See point #2.)
4) Mary McColl often talked of a “silent majority” of actors who were for the new AEA plan. The historic landslide defeat of the AEA proposal, 66% to 34%, shows no such group existed. And this referendum defeat came after extensive and pervasive phonebanking and email campaigning by the Union. McColl has never explained what real evidence she had that this “silent majority” group existed. (See last subsection.)
5a) Why did Mary McColl imply that the number of members who voted in the referendum would be taken into consideration as a negative thing? The Union kept touting that “only” 45% of the LA membership voted in the referendum while neglecting to point out that national AEA elections had less than 10% turnout – yet that number didn’t figure into those elections. (See point #4.)
5b) And why did the Union get a very odd “correction” for the New York Times’ front page coverage of this debate? The “correction” reads:
Correction: April 21, 2015 An article on Monday about a debate in Los Angeles over whether members of the Actors’ Equity union should be paid a mandatory minimum wage for their work in small theaters referred incorrectly to the number of Equity members who voted against the proposal in a nonbinding referendum. Some 66 percent of Equity members in Los Angeles who returned ballots voted against it; 66 percent of all Equity members in Los Angeles did not do so. (About 45 percent of the 6,990 ballots sent out were returned.)
The Union obviously wanted the non sequitur number of non-returned ballots + “yes votes” to be counted as “not no votes.” Why did they ask for this nonsense to be included with the article?
6) Why do Union officials respond with “Equity is a national union” to lessen the impact of complaints from Los Angeles? According to AEA’s own numbers, LA actors comprise 74% of the Western Region and 20% of the national membership (second only to New York). By sheer numbers, LA’s issues are national issues.
7) The new AEA plan keeps less-than-minimum wage compensation intact for a year. Previously, Union official Gail Gabler and others (including a labor attorney) implied that these levels were illegal. Why the inconsistency between the Union’s old rhetoric and their new proposal? (See point #2 and point #6.) Los Angeles theater critic of note, Steven Leigh Morris, pointed out the first AEA proposal released in February 2015 itself might have been illegal. One wonders if the new membership rules voted in on April 21 were in response to this fact.
8) Why did AEA limit the LA Showcase Code to a maximum number of 50 seats when the NY Showcase Code has a maximum number of 99 seats? Los Angeles, after all, is full of 99-seat theaters.
9) Now that the Council vote is completed, President Nick Wyman has made a comprehensive statement about where the Union is headed on this issue. It includes this bit:
“We will all see how things work in the coming months. Nothing is set in stone… Equity will be scheduling sit-down meetings with groups of members to get their ideas and suggestions.”
Why was there a rush to a Council vote if the President, mere days after launching the new plan, admits the need to sit down with membership to modify the newly minted plan? Wasn’t this the reason the 1989 court settlement had a 45-day period for presenting to the membership any plan on which the Council was to vote? Besides, the full effects of the newly voted-in AEA plan won’t be known in the coming months since there is a year period where something extremely close to the old 99-Seat Plan is in effect. So, again, why the rush for the Council to vote something in?
+1) Why is the Union exerting so much effort on a few pennies of increased wages in Los Angeles when there’s a real crisis with non-Equity national tours representing a going-backwards, hundreds of weekly-dollars loss of actor compensation?
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