Actors' Equity seeks to unionize Broadway production assistants

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Actors' Equity seeks to unionize Broadway production assistants
A souvenir stand in New York’s Times Square on Sept. 14, 2021. Actors’ Equity, the labor union representing American stage performers and stage managers, is seeking to unionize Broadway production assistants, one of the few nonunion segments of the industry work force. (Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet/The New York Times)

by Michael Paulson

NEW YORK, NY.- Actors’ Equity, the labor union representing American stage performers and stage managers, is seeking to unionize Broadway production assistants, one of the few nonunion segments of the industry workforce.

The campaign comes at a moment when labor unions in the United States have become increasingly restive; there are organizing efforts in many sectors of the economy, and Hollywood’s writers and actors have been on strike for months.

Broadway production assistants work with stage managers in entry-level positions that are usually filled only during rehearsal and preview periods. Equity described them as “doing everything from preparing rehearsal materials to ensuring decisions made during rehearsals are recorded to being extra sets of hands and eyes during complicated technical rehearsals to efficiently running errands that keep the rehearsal productive.”

Many of the workers are young and are paid minimum wage, according to the union.

Late Thursday, Equity asked the Broadway League, a trade association representing producers, to voluntarily recognize Actors’ Equity Association as the bargaining representative for production assistants working on commercial productions on Broadway and in sit-down productions, which are extended nontouring engagements produced by members of the Broadway League outside New York.

If the league does not agree, Equity said it would ask the National Labor Relations Board to oversee an election.

“Broadway is an extremely heavily unionized workplace, and these are some of the only folks without union contracts in these rooms,” said Erin Maureen Koster, an Equity vice president who represents stage managers. Koster said that without union membership, production assistants have less protection should they be injured or harassed or have other concerns.

Equity said that there were only about a half-dozen people working in the job category on Broadway and in sit-down productions at any one time but that about 100 people have worked in the position over the past two years. The union said the position was an important rung on the career ladder for people aspiring to work as stage managers on Broadway; even some people who have worked as stage managers off-Broadway or in regional theaters take temporary jobs as Broadway production assistants as a way to break into the industry.

“As shows are getting more complicated, they are hiring more production assistants and hiring qualified stage mangers into these roles,” said Stefanie Frey, Equity’s director of organizing and mobilization. “It’s time.”

The Broadway League said in a statement that it was considering the union’s request and looked forward to discussing it further. “The Broadway League and our members support the right of employees to lawfully choose a bargaining representative,” the statement said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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