By Alan S. Gordon, National Executive Director
After more than a decade of jurisdictional conflicts and a hostile relationship, the two principal unions representing live performers across the United States have undertaken a new and mutually symbiotic relationship. Equity’s selection of Mary McColl as its Executive Director has helped immeasurably, as she and I were able to work out an innovative basic jurisdictional understanding, and begin a new focus on mutual cooperation.
Previously, jurisdictional disputes were handled by the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4As), an AFL-CIO created entity that consists of AGMA, Equity, SAG, AFTRA, AGVA and the Guild of Italian American Actors, with Theodore Bikel as its President.
The 4As’ determinations about jurisdiction, however, tended to follow rules created in the 1950s, took inordinate amounts of time, were inconsistent and produced results that displeased all parties. The new AGMA-EQUITY system, approved by AGMA’s Board of Governors and Equity’s Council, takes all such determinations away from the control of the 4As, and provides a structure that essentially eliminates any need for future jurisdictional disputes, protecting AGMA’s jurisdiction in opera and ballet houses and Equity’s jurisdiction on Broadway and in legitimate theaters.
Of special interest to members is the fact that now members of either union can attend the other union’s auditions. To attend an Equity audition, AGMA members must show a current or lifetime membership card to the Equity delegate.
Beyond resolving these issues, AGMA and Equity have taken some initial steps toward becoming the joint collective bargaining representative of an entirely new group of live performance talent: fashion models.
When an organized group of models in the United States, known as The Model Alliance, wanted to explore union representation, they came to AGMA. In England, models are represented by British Equity. For that reason, and as part of our new relationship with Equity, we suggested that this was a project that could best be undertaken jointly. As live performers, fashion models are, essentially, in the same situation now that dancers were in decades ago: They are objectified, abused, subject to all sorts of illegal and discriminatory workplace conduct, often cheated out of compensation and work without any meaningful rules or protections.
Although, for a variety of legal reasons, actual collective bargaining representation will not happen in the near future, AGMA and Equity agreed to assist The Model Alliance now, in the role of ombudsman, providing a confidential forum through which models could report instances of abuse or other misconduct and seek the appropriate redress. Deborah Allton-Maher for AGMA and Flora Stamatiades from Equity work along with me in this role.
We are continuing to work with Equity to explore the potential of jointly representing other groups of live performance artists, and fully expect that our new relationship will better protect and advance the interests of all of our members.