Letter: Leo Marks on Upcoming AEA Meeting

Footlights received this open letter to the entire Actors’ Equity membership from actor and Equity member Leo Marks.  In it, he references an upcoming Equity meeting on November 7th, 2016: 

leo marks headshotTo my fellow Equity members,

You might remember that we recently had an Equity Special Membership Meeting scheduled, then suddenly cancelled. It’s now finally been rescheduled for Monday, November 7th.

Please don’t skip this meeting! This one is really, really important.

If you’ve been frustrated by top-down, one-sided communication from Equity leadership, this meeting is your chance to finally do something about it. RSVP and come to this meeting to be held, simultaneously, in:

New York
2 p.m. EST
New York Hilton Midtown
The Sutton Room, 2nd floor
1335 Avenue of the Americas
(53rd St.)
New York, NY 10019

1 p.m. CST
Actors’ Equity Association
3rd Floor Conference Room
557 West Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60661

Los Angeles
11 a.m. PST
Sportsmen’s Lodge
The Empire Ballroom
12825 Ventura Blvd.
Studio City, CA 91604

and vote to reform the rules of how our Union communicates.  More details are given below. You can also contact me via private message on Facebook.

Please forward this to Equity members you know who care about basic fairness and open communication!

Thank you for caring about this union and about your theater community,

Leo Marks
Los Angeles, CA


The Short Version:
Here’s what the meeting is about: I’ve written reforms to Equity’s rules that create more fairness and openness in communication, and make one-sided propaganda campaigns a lot harder.

One reform requires our Union to acknowledge dissenting viewpoints. The other reform creates a way for members to communicate with each other directly.

At this Special Membership Meeting, a 2/3 majority of those who show up can pass these reforms. If you’ve been saying you wish you could do something about the way our Union communicates: you can.

But only if you show up.

This vote will be close: your attendance really matters. We have one shot at changing the rules.

If you want more openness and less one-sidedness, then RSVP and show up on Monday November 7th. We won’t get another shot at this.

That’s the overview and might be all you need to know. You can stop reading now.  Or if you’re hungry for more detail, read on:

The Deep Version:
These are 2 amendments to the By-Laws of the AEA Constitution. Stay awake! It gets interesting. The first amendment would update an existing By-Law that is pretty clearly outdated. “Article 7” says that when Equity communicates about a referendum, it has to include differing viewpoints (if any). That’s just good basic fairness–but as written, the language applies only to paper mailings, and not to other forms of communication, which in 2016 kind of undermines its own purpose. It’s an easy fix: to serve the article’s clear intent, we can simply expand it to include other media. So that’s what this amendment does.

It’s very hard to see any principled argument for opposing this amendment. It simply closes a giant loophole in an existing rule, to make it apply to the forms of communication we actually use today. Like the existing rule, it says that if enough members hold a dissenting view to a referendum, their voice should be heard.

The other amendment would allow members to communicate with each other directly. If you think about it, it’s strange that we don’t have any real way to reach each other. Facebook is one corrective to that, but Facebook groups reach only a small fraction of members, while AEA leadership can reach all 50,000 members at will. It can only strengthen us collectively to be able to share our concerns and ideas at times, through an email to fellow members.

Of course, it’s important to prevent abuse, so we’ve built in some very clear limits:

  1. You need 250 signatures to access this tool.
  2. For the sake of privacy, all emails would be sent by a third party service, so as a sender you don’t get access to anyone’s email address.
  3. The sender would pay for any associated costs. You can’t use it to promote your show or for political endorsements.
  4. And most importantly: any member can choose to opt out of receiving these emails at any time.

(Essentially, this is the same tool we currently offer to Council candidates who want to reach the membership, with a few extra safeguards built in).

You might hear people say “But I don’t want my inbox flooded.” Remember: anyone can opt out at any time. No one will be forced to receive unwanted emails, and no one’s private information will be shared. We simply need a way to communicate with each other – as opposed to passively receiving messages, which is the flawed current system.

These are straightforward, common-sense ways to make sure members’ concerns are heard, not ignored or denied. Though I think Pro99ers are natural supporters, because they’ve seen how the current system can easily be abused, these reforms are totally independent of any particular issue. They’re about basic fairness and openness.

Support for these reforms comes from an extremely wide range of members, from a dozen cities in all three regions (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Seattle, Ashland, Houston, Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon, and Portland, Maine).

If you’ve ever been bothered by the way our Union communicates: RSVP and come to the November 7th meeting!

About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and footlight.click. While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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One comment

  1. Follow-up: In a sad turn of events, a union’s rank-and-file voted for less democracy and transparency. Actors Equity members in NY overwhelmingly shouted down their brothers and sisters in LA. This member left the room with the sound of their cheers ringing via the live-feed.
    Their ebullience is that of the French nobility in the years prior to the revolution. No people will go unheard and unheeded forever. As long as AEA remains a union for, by, and of east coast actors, the schism will not only remain, but deepen. AEA remains a “union” in name, only.

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