A group of actors and playwrights employed at a nonunion tour production of the musical “Waitress” are seeking union representation, encouraged by a growing focus on working conditions in the theater industry and by the recent successes of the labor movement in other industries.
The Actors’ Equity Association, a union representing 51,000 artists and stage managers, said it had collected signatures from more than 30 percent of the workers needed to run in an election, and that it had submitted an election petition on Tuesday. at the National Labor Relations Board, which holds such elections.
The number of affected people is small – there are 22 actors and stage managers employed during the tour, according to Equity – but the move is important because it is the first time Equity has tried to organize a nonunion tour since a failed attempt two decades ago to unite a tour production of “The Music Man”. (The union also sought a boycott of that production.)
Union officials said the “Selneresse” tour was an obvious place for an organizing campaign because of an unusually clear comparison: There are currently two tour companies of that musical, one of which is represented by the union and none of that. The workers in the nonunion tour are paid about one-third of what the workers in the union do, and have less security protection, Equity said. (The minimum wage for unicorns is $ 2,244 per week.)
“We thought it was not right or fair that we approached them to see if they were in a position to represent them,” said Stefanie Frey, the union’s director of organization and mobilization. Frey said the productions were so similar that some of the nonunion artists were asked to teach artists in the union production, and that some were moved from the nonunion production to the union production. “It’s a clear group of people who are being exploited,” she said.
Jennifer Ardizzone-West, chief executive officer at NETworks Presentations, the company that produces the nonunion “Waitress” tour, declined to comment immediately, saying: “Until we see the actual submission, it’s too early for me to comment. to give. “
Tours are an important, and lucrative, part of the Broadway economy. During the 2018-19 theatrical season – the last full season for the pandemic – union unified towers raised $ 1.6 billion and were attended by 18.5 million people, according to the Broadway League. Similar statistics are not readily available for nonunion tours, but Frey said, “The nonunion tour world has grown over the last 15 years.”
Equity is hiring two additional organizers as it seeks to expand its efforts, according to a union process, David Levy, who noted recent successful efforts to organize some employees at REI, Starbucks and Amazon. The National Labor Relations Board said last week that the number of trade union election petitions has increased dramatically.
Frey said the long-running pandemic closure of theaters had also contributed to a new interest in organizing in the theater sector. “Workers feel a little more of their power and want to fight in a different way for what they deserve,” she said.