Effective immediately, Actors’ Equity Association (Equity) – the US labor union founded in 1913, representing more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers in live theater – is implementing an “Open Access” membership policy. The updated rule will allow theater workers who can demonstrate they have worked professionally as an actor or stage manager within Equity’s geographical jurisdiction to join the union, regardless of country of origin or residence.
Previously, eligibility for union membership had been limited to those working for an Equity employer – whether by direct contract offer or through the “Equity Membership Candidate” program – or to members of a sibling union. Through “Open Access,” Equity is now broadening access to union jobs that offer living wages, benefits, and important workplace safety provisions, with an ongoing commitment to eliminating workplace discrimination based on age, gender and gender identity, race and ethnicity, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or veteran status.
The new policy is one of the pillars of the union’s “Diversity & Inclusion Retrofit” initiative – a strategic framework for re-examining its own systems, structures, and processes from the ground up, designed to move Equity toward becoming an anti-racist organization.
According to Equity President Kate Shindle, “The old system had a significant flaw: It made employers the gatekeepers of Equity membership, with almost no other pathways to joining. The entertainment industry is disproportionately white, including and especially theatrical leadership. The union has inadvertently contributed to the systemic exclusion of BIPOC artists and others with marginalized identities by maintaining a system in which being hired to work those contracts was a prerequisite of membership. We hope that artists from all backgrounds will join us in building a union that uplifts the entire theater community, especially those who have not felt included or welcome in the past.”
The “Open Access” policy invites former members of Equity to rejoin the union without having to secure a new Equity contract, as required under previous policy. Former members and former applicants for membership who choose to join under this policy may also apply previously paid initiation fees (presently set at $1700 and payable over three years) toward their current application. Once becoming a member, annual dues are to be paid in May and November, as well as working dues (a percentage of the member’s paycheck), which help Equity function and serve its members.
Eligibility will extend for two years, with application and down payment of applicable fees required by May 1, 2023. Further details about the policy are available on Equity’s website.