New Broadway Labor Agreement Includes Pandemic-Prompted Changes

The union representing theater actors and stage managers has ratified a new contract that provides pay increases for those working on Broadway and, in a move prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, allows producers to make short-term hires to cover absent actors.

Actors’ Equity Association announced Monday that its membership had voted in favor of the three-year contract, which by late 2024 would raise the minimum salary for performers working on Broadway to $2,638 per week. That reflects three years of pay increases: 5 percent this year, 4 percent next year, and 4 percent the following year.

The Broadway contract, negotiated by Equity and the Broadway League, applies to commercial productions on Broadway, as well as to so-called sit-down productions, which are extended runs of commercial shows elsewhere in the country.

The contract is important because Broadway is the segment of the American theater world where artists can most reliably make a living wage, and also because provisions in this contract influence others in the industry. The union will next turn its attention to negotiating contracts for touring shows and regional theaters (the regional theater contract also applies to the four New York nonprofits that operate Broadway houses).

This Broadway contract, which goes into effect immediately, is the first negotiated since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. As shows returned, the challenge of staying open when company members tested positive for the coronavirus called attention to the important work of understudies, swings and standbys who keep shows going when illness strikes, and also highlighted the tension between a historic show-must-go-on ethic and disease transmission.

The contract is the first to provide paid sick leave for anyone working on an Equity contract; previously, those earning above a certain amount were not entitled to paid sick days. In another first, the contract caps how many roles a swing can cover in one performance.

And the contract allows for the use of short-term actors, with rehearsal time, to cover performer absences. The provision was a concession by the union to the producers.

The union also highlighted a few wins for its members: a limited number of very long rehearsal days, and fewer rehearsal hours post-opening.

The contract includes several new provisions prompted by discussion within the industry, and the broader society, about diversity concerns. Among them: commitments to employ technicians for certain hair styles, to consider gender identity when identifying spaces for dressing rooms and bathrooms, to set up a committee to talk about onstage intimacy, and to improve casting notices for those with disabilities.

Kate Shindle, the president of Actors’ Equity, said the deal was a compromise reflecting the economics of the moment. The contract was ratified by a smaller margin than some previous pacts, suggesting disagreement within the union’s membership about whether it was good enough.

“The industry is not entirely back yet, and while we were looking to reinvent the whole way the theater industry operates, we’re also faced with real financial considerations,” Shindle said.

She said the wage increases were significant at a time when inflation is high, as are real estate costs in New York (which, of course, is where many Broadway workers live). She also noted that many in the industry had not had work while theaters were shut down, making their current salaries more important.

Charlotte St. Martin, the president of the Broadway League, said in a statement that she was pleased with the ratification of the agreement, “which we believe represents a significant step forward for our industry.”

She said several provisions “were ultimately directly responsive to the push from the union for less time spent in rehearsal and more time off for actors,” and she also hailed the diversity provisions, which were, she said, “in the forefront of our priorities.”

“A key component to these changes is language that will allow us to hold everyone, including actors working on our productions, to the same standards when creating a safe and inclusive working environment for all,” she said. “We were able to achieve all of these significant improvements for each side while providing a meaningful and yet responsible economic package.”

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