Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: Actors' Equity

This is the first post in our new series that will take a deeper look at each of our affiliates. The series will run weekly until we've covered all 55 of our affiliates. First up is Actors' Equity (AEA).

Name of Union: Actors' Equity Association

Mission: To foster the art of live theater as an essential component of society. To advance the careers of members through negotiating wages, improving working conditions and providing a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans.

Current Leadership of Union: The current president of Equity is Kate Shindle. Shindle was elected in 2015 and is the youngest person to ever hold the Equity presidency (and only the third woman). She originally joined in 1999 and was first elected to Equity's national council in 2008 before starting a three-year term as eastern regional vice president the next year. As an actor, she made her Broadway debut in "Jekyll & Hyde" before appearing in "Cabaret," "Legally Blonde" and numerous other shows. She was an associate producer on the Broadway premiere of the Tony-nominated "A Christmas Story: The Musical." Before joining Equity, she earned the title of Miss America in 1998 and used her platform to advocate for HIV prevention and education, work she continued as a member of Equity. She is a board member of the Actors’ Equity Foundation, the Actors Fund, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and has been a vocal supporter of marriage equality and anti-discrimination laws for the LGBTQ community. Mary McColl currently serves as the executive director for Equity.

Current Number of Members: More than 51,000.

Members Work As: Actors, stage managers, dancers and singers.

Industries Represented: Equity has more than 40 contracts in the theater industry, from Broadway to dinner theater.

History: In the early 1900s, theater acting was alluded to with the phrase "life upon the wicked stage," as actors and stage managers were forced to rehearse without pay, left stranded throughout the country when shows closed on the road, required to pay for their own costumes and worse. In 1913, 112 actors in New York decided they'd had enough. They formed a union that day and adopted the name suggested by William Courtleigh, Actors' Equity. In 1919, the new union was recognized by the American Federation of Labor and shortly thereafter Equity launched the first actors' strike in American theater history. During the strike, chorus and ensemble members also went on strike and formed Chorus Equity, which would later formally merge with Actors' Equity in 1955. At the conclusion of the strike, the theater producers signed a five-year deal that met most of Equity's demands.

Equity has long fought for civil rights. In 1947, Equity resolved that its members would not play at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., when the theater banned black audience members. This was an early bold stance that not only worked (the theater closed and re-opened with a nondiscrimination policy), it set the tone that Equity would follow to this day, fighting against discrimination in the theater, both on stage and off, and increasing employment opportunities for actors and stage managers of color, women, seniors and those with disabilities. The union has consistently fought to raise wages, expand benefits and protections, preserve historic and advance other reforms that benefit actors and stage managers in the theater and working people broadly.

Current CampaignsEquity's Annual Report gathers and collates data about employment, finances and membership. Equity’s Regional Theatre Report examines annually the density of work opportunities for Equity members across the country. Equity's annual awards recognize the contributions of Equity members to the theater industry. The Actors' Equity Foundation provides grants to nonprofit theaters and institutions serving the arts community. The #ChangeTheStage campaign fights for inclusive hiring across the entertainment industry. Ask if it's Equity! helps fight back against nonunion productions in areas covered by collective bargaining agreements. The Everyone On Stage petition is focused on getting chorus and ensemble performers the Tony Award recognition they deserve. The Not A Lab Rat campaign looks to win better wages and profit participation for Equity members working in the early stages of developing new Broadway shows.

Community Efforts: Equity supports many service organizations, including The Actors Fund,the Career CenterActors Federal Credit UnionArtists Health Insurance Resource CenterBroadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDSCareer Transition For Dancers, the Conrad Cantzen Shoe FundPhyllis Newman Women’s Health InitiativeThe Actors Fund Home and The Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts.

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Reposted from the AFL-CIO

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From AFL-CIO

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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