The War of Words between Actors’ Equity and Los Angeles Actors has heated up since the breakdown of mediated talks between the two groups. First, on June 28, Equity sent out an unsigned email to its entire national membership explaining its version of events. In response, the Plaintiffs of the lawsuit that has been filed but not yet served on Equity put out their own statement of events the following day. And the day after that, Equity Executive Director Mary McColl released a response using numbers that turn out to undermine her entire argument.
In addition to these public statements, the War of Words has been waged on a myriad of closed groups on Facebook and other social media. It is clear that Equity is trying very hard to win the court of public opinion before going into the court of law.
Current Equity President Kate Shindle was elected with strong support from Los Angeles by addressing the 99-Seat Plan issue head on and even admitting that Equity’s communication on the issue had been poor. Once in office, however, Shindle’s demeanor on the topic changed dramatically and less than a year after being elected, she fully adopted the general arguments made by Mary McColl. Now, in a July 8 post on Facebook, Shindle points out that the Los Angeles’ rejection of Equity’s original plan of February 2015 by landslide vote was not a landslide rejection of Equity’s revised plan hurriedly introduced and promulgated by Equity in April of 2015. In short, Shindle claims there is no evidence how the general membership in the City of Los Angeles feels about the April 2015 plan.
Plaintiff Gary Grossman, who was also a plaintiff on a lawsuit filed against Equity that was settled out of court in 1989 and is a member of the Review Committee, responded directly to Shindle’s Facebook post. That response is reprinted here with permission:
Until now, I avoided the social media fray. Like you, I feared my comments would unnecessarily stir the pot. Your statements this week, however, compel me to break my own rule and address you publicly.
Kate, you know I respect you. You have been professional throughout the process. And I am sensitive that this is a situation not of your making. You inherited it. But still, I was taken aback by your denunciation. At the end of your post you say DEEP BREATH, as if to say calm down. Do you really not understand that we are fighting for our lives?
You say “a significant majority in quite a high-turnout advisory referendum voted against a plan that included several proposals.” Certainly you understand that when a “significant majority” voted against the plan, they were sending a clear message that they were angry and upset about Equity’s lack of understanding for Los Angeles Theatre and how it has evolved to serve Members’ specific needs.
I know you were not at the helm at that time. And you said publicly that you would have done things differently if you were in charge. This suggests you know that the Los Angeles Membership asked for the referendum to be postponed. Repeatedly, we voiced our objections on how Equity’s Plan was being foisted on the Los Angeles Community without full investigation into its serious adverse consequences.
We are not a “concentrated group of members and producers,” as you inaccurately characterized us in a recent Equity letter. Nor did we forge an “extremely unpleasant, and very public, campaign of misinformation and propaganda.” This is a united Los Angeles Theatre Community that banded together to say “no”.
If you saw the rallies, the town hall meetings, and the Equity Membership meetings that preceded the voting, you would know that a large majority of the Los Angeles Theatre Community believe that the true purpose of Equity’s plan was to eliminate the 99-seat system, eliminate the 1989 settlement agreement and its Review Committee, and prevent members from volunteering in intimate theatre. This is not propaganda. This is not misinformation. This is the truth. That is why we had a “history making” turnout. That is why Equity’s Advisory Referendum was voted down 67% to 33%.
And instead of acknowledging what clearly was an embarrassing defeat, Equity downplayed it…as you are doing in your Facebook post. Instead of doing what your membership asked for, which was to talk to the leaders in the community and fashion a workable plan that would bring this community forward instead of breaking it apart, the National Council unilaterally imposed its new Agreement and eliminated the 99-seat plan.
By doing so, the National Council turned a deaf ear to the Los Angeles membership. But to ease the pain, they offered a Trojan Horse. They created exceptions. They granted limited stays of executions. They created a code for membership companies; a showcase code for 50-seat theaters; and a self-producing code. Why? Because they thought they could buy time and appease a segment of the community. A divide and conquer strategy.
The Los Angeles Community is not fooled by any of this. It understands that Equity’s new Agreement does not only affect “26” theaters, as you claim. Actors in Membership companies will no longer have the protection of their union, because their code has no restrictions and no protection for actors. Theaters with 50 seats or less are limited in the amount of productions they can do, how much they can spend, and how many performances they can offer. As for the self–producing code: it too has many restrictive provisions.
Equity’s actions affect the entire Los Angeles Community. And Kate, you know all of this. We have talked about this in our private and public conversations. But as you wisely say “if one wants to represent ‘how LA feels’ as an outgrowth of the vote, all we officially, numerically know is how LA felt about last February’s proposals. We have not had a referendum on what happened April 21, 2015.”
So I propose we fix that. I’m a betting man. I trust my instincts and my instincts say that this community is still enraged at its Union. I’m willing to test my gut feelings… are you? I propose we give the Los Angeles Members another referendum. Our small concentrated group of members and producers (as you call us) will make a new proposal public. And we would welcome Equity to make its plan public as well. We can place them side-by-side on the same referendum and have the Los Angeles Members have a say on which one they would like.
Now I’m breathing better,