What does Equity actually do?

  • David Vaughan Knight

    Actor

    ?

    • 23rd Dec 2011
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    Hell of a question.

    • 17th Dec 2011
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  • Dan Gregory

    Actor

    3rd Party insurance alone is worth the membership. Negotiates for a miriad of other benefits too.

    To quote JFK's Harvard lecturer "Ask not what it can do for you, but what you can do for it."

    • 17th Dec 2011
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  • Kevin Patrick Buxton

    Actor

    "TAKE COVER!!!!"

    • 17th Dec 2011
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  • Kevin Patrick Buxton

    Actor

    Brave!, but scary!!!

    • 17th Dec 2011
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  • Steven Elliott

    Actor

    Work under a Non-Equity contract and then work under an Equity contract and spot the difference.

    • 17th Dec 2011
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    Not as much as it would like to, given that the vast majority of its ability to dictate terms and conditions to the industry has been reeling, crippled, since the mid 90's when the closed shop was outlawed by statute,and the open market began to operate with a vengeance.

    Where it can, it is obvious to anyone who takes five minutes to notice (though a conspicuously poorly designed website does little to faciltate this, it's true) that Equity maintains strong commitments towards upholding union duties in arenas where these are relatively straightforward to uphold: the union offers insurance cover, legal advice and support in court cases, disseminates best practice advice to members, sustains and strengthens reciprocal agreements where these are in place, protecting pay, health and leave, and consistently strives to increase negotiations bringing more companies and organisations into line with these best practice reciprocal agreements. The organisers negotiate on Equity's behalf with such organisations as the NCDT, Skillset, the HMRC, PACT, the ITC, the CDS etc. etc. I think it's actually quite erroneous to assume that certain members of Equity's staff are not doing considerably more every single day than the majority of working actors to try and improve conditions for everyone within the industry (though, in truth, they are probably being paid a lot more to do it!). The complex and (admitedly) torturous infrastructure of the union is mainly designed so that member candidates (who are supposed to represent the voice of the membership - when they can be bothered to vote) pass on policy decisions to the organisers so that they can attempt to shift industrial and governmental conditions in our favour. This is, to be blunt, what a union is *supposed* to do.

    I don't think that matters much, though, because actor greivance tends to register anyway even when these sorts of things are said ad infinitum. There seem to be two areas that most actors are exercised by, which are a) the fact that Equity can often seem out of touch and reduced to little better than a talking shop, whilst simultaneously patting itself on the back for achieving the most minor of concessions and b) the fact that it seems to be able to do nothing to stop the rampant undercutting and degrading of actors that seems to occur in the open market.

    In actual fact, both greivances are justified to some extent, but what I will say (from a standpoint where I am now sitting in on Equity councils and working parties, rather than just sniping at them from the sidelines) is that there does seem to be some movement beginning to be apparent within the union: a sense that the old attitudes and outmoded perspectives that have sustained the union for some years are not actually fit to address the exigencies of the 21st century market, and that policy inititaives need to start changing. While I am sure it remains true that many of the 'old guard' are still addressing issues as if we were all living and working in 1958, there is a notable surge in new initiative coming from a younger segment within the active membership to address and table the issues that we feel need to be faced here and now. The main obstacle that is, in fact, encountered when I watch ten well disposed people sit around a table and agree that e.g. the film schools *should* be forced to pay all employed actors for their time or that 'league tables' *should* be drawn up in order to keep low scale theatre companies up to a benchmark of professionalism, is legal. And very often, the reason Equity seems not to be able to enact a policy that would substantially improve conditions here at the bottom of the marketplace for us all is because there are legal challenges to it. This is cold comfort, but it's worth knowing - because the assumption that these problems are never even raised is a pernicious one. And it will not ncessarily be the case that challenges of this sort will last forever, if we are strong enough at lobbying, and enough of the membership get behind campaigns to change things. Similarly, the mechanisms through which Equity operates are extremely time consuming and abstruse, but the talk on the shop floor is that streamlining is being seriously considered for the future. Don't get me wrong: I don't think Equity currently pushes campaigns of especial worth, I think it is still far too obsessed with sitting on its laurels and decrying the state of the modern industry, but I am not the only one who thinks that there has been a significant shift of opinion seen even in the last three-four years. The fact that I am even *sitting* on the first working party that I think Equity have ever convened to discuss matters of lo and no pay, and that the existence of such work is being taken remotely seriously, is an important first step. Equity need to seriously buck up their ideas in many areas: why they have no dedicated film and screen committee in the early 21st century frankly boggles my mind, but at least I see movement of opinion.

    It is certainly true that, in an era when the power of the trade union seems to be becoming progressively stronger again, Equity does not appear to be in the vanguard of such developments. At the same time, it has to be legitimately asked: what would you suggest? That that terrifying weapon, the actors' strike, be unveiled on everyone's behalf - unlikely as that is to inconvienience the majority of the population? With that said, serious initiatives of this sort have been proposed: such as a member wide boycott of the student film industry in coming years. It could happen, but only if large numbers of the membership were actually prepared to back it.

    In conclusion, then, I wouldn't say that Equity can do much more than it currently does: it can protect what it can, and aim to try and lobby for alterations in policy elsewhere. This remains basically unsatisfactory, but there has maybe never been a better time in twenty years for the Union to actually start building the momentum back up with which it can seriously challenge the freebooters who now dominate the industry. Maybe in time this will make the Equity card a valued commodity again.

    Anyway, you don't have to pay the subscription if you don't want to now the closed shop's long gone - such is the power of open market choice.

    • 17th Dec 2011
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  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Just to support what Lee is saying, Equity is definitely improving. It's not only because of a younger element joining the committees but also because there are more people joining the committees who represent sectors of the industry that haven't been there before. Equity does run campaigns which are relevant; for example, their campaign on removing age and sex discrimination from the industry (a campaign close to my heart, for obvious reasons). Another recent initiative is Equity's investigation into working conditions on the fringe (Edinburgh and London). As for me, I've always been a trade unionist and I'd hate not to be a member of Equity. Union membership is valuable to me, and not just because of the insurance (although I agree that is important).

    • 18th Dec 2011
    • 7
  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Provided Liability insurance, paid my legal fees when I was injured during filming, made sure I was not asked to work stupidly long hours without overtime.... just to mention a few things Equity has done for me over the years.

    Its' good to have someone else fighting your corner and to be part of a community

    I agree website is bafflingly bad

    Happy Sunday everyone

    • 18th Dec 2011
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  • Monty Burgess

    Actor

    Think we need a 'like' button for Lee's posts on the forum.

    • 18th Dec 2011
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  • Dan Gregory

    Actor

    I'll second that.

    • 18th Dec 2011
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    After serving Equity as a Branch Officer for over 20 years I am confused with advice given by it to members trying to develop work prospects for its members.

    Contradictory information and poor quality of red tape advice can lead you into awkward and also expensive litigation.

    Be a member by all means. But use it for your own benefits and not as a source of quality information. Or you will be lost in the depth of historical thinking and useless and possibly damaging guidance.

    • 18th Dec 2011
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  • Lee Ravitz

    Actor

    It's interesting you say that Alan because the impression I get from sitting on (albeit a single) working party is that the officers are singularly *unhappy* to give out much in the way of formal 'best practice' guidance for fear of tying the Union too strongly to specific guidelines for which they may be held liable, and one of the biggest frustations being found is that the type of guidance that newer Equity members might ideally like to be presented with - such as better information on how to run fledgling theatre companies, better information on 'open book' accounting and so on - is not endorsed by the Union, and so unlikely to be forthcoming from it. Similarly, I find it particularly frustrating that much of what is said in 'in camera' sessions is confidential (for good reasons of negotiating politics) but could actually do wonders to boost morale if news of principles being tabled and debated could actually be passed on to the wider constituency of members.

    I'm a little unclear on what exactly you were referring to specifically, though I recognise your long standing seniority in Equity terms, and will concede that there may, at different times over 20 years, have been widely differing directives issued by different administrations.

    However, it does seem to me (and here I agree with Linda) that in the last five years (the time period within which I have been paying attention to Equity practices) something significant has really started to change. I honestly do not believe that five years ago anyone around a table in Equity would have been willing to concede that lo/no pay work held any legitimacy whatsoever: now, the consensus is that it is not going to go away, and it should be debated about, that there should be attempts to better regulate it (if these prove possible), and so on. Although pride comes before a fall, I am not sure that this pattern will reverse any time in the near future: we are seeing an older generation of Equity members, whose ideas were often formed in the context of closed shop protectionism and the codes of the 'gentleman's agreement', finally beginning to be superseded by those who have known only the industry in the days of the open marketplace, and who are no longer happy to accept the verities of Equity's past as being binding on them, and as defining their industry concerns. Most modern members, after all, would much prefer a form of Equity response that could serve to better regulate and improve conditions within a lower earning sector rather than to see it delegitimised altogether.

    I agree that there is often much disagreement in the Union about exactly what policy line should be followed: I accept (though I have little personal experience of dealing with) the notion that there are self - interested factional groups within Equity who still dominate on the Council and affect its decisions on the behalf of all members. But I genuinely believe that things are starting to shift at the grass roots: there are even hints that they are starting to move within the infrastructure, and certain reformist policies are beginning to be initiated.

    I don't know whether that has much bearing on your branch concerns or not, as I wasn't quite sure what you were alluding to in your last post.

    • 18th Dec 2011
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  • Mark Kempner

    Actor

    Slightly confused and bemused by the original question ...what does Equity do?! Don't you know?

    It's a Union….and Unions are supposed to look after its members. Over the years….the "Equity contracts" pay rates are only where they are….because of the exhaustive work and complicated negotiations does on our behalf. Something you need to bear in mind when on Tour etc. Yes we would all like the rates to be higher.....the employers would like them to be lower! As has been mentioned, on a practical level - Equity is a very useful and cheap insurance policy for legal fees and or liability insurance for actors.

    I have voiced my concerns on many occasions about the gripes and seemingly archaic thinking which seems to still be inherent at the top end of the Equity High Council. The red tape and utter drudgery of trying to find something on what was suppose to be a new easier all singing all dancing website drones on. The Equity forum lost my attention a long while ago…..though I do dip into it now and again. The same 10 persons seem to be arguing about the same 10 subjects still! Though it has to be said….this forum is just as guilty of that at times too!!

    I feel for those Equity officers who take our fight forward for fair pay etc ……and I admire their commitment and appreciate their efforts too.

    Their battle is three-fold it seems to me.

    1)Fighting employers who are hell bent on paying as little as possible to actors….mostly because actors allow them to do so

    2)Fighting archaic political pontificating - red tape and a hierarchical set up which is way overdue to have been modernised and its thinking bought out of the 50's and 60's and bought into the 21st century.

    3) and this is probably its biggest battle of all: Actors and their agents who don't bother joining and or upholding to Union pay rates affecting their fellow members and colleagues.

    There is no other Union who would tolerate its members agreeing in a democratic vote, only to see the same members go against what was fought for and agreed….to go and accept a crap rate of pay in order to say one is working! Working for what?!!

    So whilst I am not actively involved due to time, interest and or wanting to be (its not compulsory after all!) ….I do uphold the Union's principles by not working regularly on jobs at the wrong rate….or to undermine Equity rates by working for Zilch! I wont touch them and neither will my agent.

    Any union is only as strong as its membership allows it to be. Equity can only do so much…..but its up to its members to adhere to agreements made….and not to wine about lack of respect for actors and moan about low rates of pay….and or whinge about why Equity does not do more etc etc!!

    The Union pisses "me" off at times too….but not as much as fellow members who regularly undermine their colleagues and fellow Union members.

    If this thread takes the direction of that all too familier cry: "Oh but I need to work…." Etc I for one wont even bother reading such short sighted drivel any more!

    Instead of cursing our union, or trying to save around £13 per month (two - three glasses of wine/two packs of fags) ….one would do well in researching a bit and you will find much to annoy granted….but you will also find plenty to appreciate and be thankful for too.

    The reason we are deluged with low offers of pay is not all down to recession, nor is it all down to the Union…. Its mostly down to short sighted actors....educated to believe its a crime to turn down an unfair rate of pay!

    I hope Lee - I can share your enthusiasm and optimism - and I know there are is a lot happening on the modernisation…..but the Union does seem to fail at every turn in "connecting" at grass roots level, with its membership. So much so….that the original poster of this thread…and many many others ….are left genuinely wondering what their Union does?!

    If that ruffles some feathers ...so be it! I'll help anyone....but I do get annoyed at the ridiculous notion....that we feel we must be in work all of the time....if only. If you want experience....join and or form actor groups and create the experience yourselves.....but when it comes to rates of pay which would be Union rates....walk by the casting if they are not prepared to pay what your union has agreed.

    If we all did that….the Union would soon have a very different and a much better complexion.....and we would all create and evoke a greater respect for ourselves within the industry.

    • 20th Dec 2011
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  • Dan Gregory

    Actor

    Thanks for a great post again Mark.

    As you said "Any union is only as strong as its membership allows it to be."

    • 20th Dec 2011
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  • Alan Brent

    Actor

    I'm sorry to disagree with you, Dan. The Union is only as strong as the Council and its Officers. The members have very little democratic control over them though the idea of Voting, Representative Conference decisions (of which I have attended so many and still seen nothing of value arise from them) are over ridden regularly. Add to that the lack of understanding of developing work due to ignorance or lack of experience in developing work for those not already a 'Name' in the Industry.

    Small companies BEWARE. Equity will bankrupt you if you don't understand what information you get from this Union.

    • 20th Dec 2011
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  • Dan Gregory

    Actor

    I disagree having been very active in the Union when Thatcher was using her allies within it to attempt to destroy us (as a precursor to wrecking all Trade Unions). We had to fight her all the way to Lord Denning.There is now a branch and delegate structure that means everybody is able to make a difference if they commit themselves. Anti Union legislation has made it a hard task. How many members go to branch meetings?

    The one thing I personally miss is the AGM where it was possible to meet up with old friends and colleagues. But it does not need an Arab Spring for rank and file members to make a difference.

    PS If anybody is inclined towards working full-time for the Union there is a current vacancy for a Film Organiser.

    • 20th Dec 2011
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  • Sara Kunz

    Actor

    I am pondering on the question. Currently equity is supposed to be taking my dishonest agent to the small claims court. It has been some months and they have just found out that they have an other case against the same agent pending from Feb. They have only just realised. I have argued with equity and spotlight that while my case is pending the same agent seems to be doing the same thing to other actors and representing them and approaching other actors to represent them. Any of these organizations could have drawn attention to potential problems with this agent without it being libellous. So it has been left to myself to inform some actors about the agent.

    • 20th Dec 2011
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  • User Deleted

    This profile has been archived

    Nothing, I was dealing with legal team 2 yrs ago. Had meetings etc and then I got brushed under the carpet. Call after call and nothing

    • 21st Dec 2011
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  • Mark Kempner

    Actor

    This is exactly the problem. I have no doubt Equity have many many success stories too.....but the general image and perception is that they are not of much use.

    I know this is very wrong.....but unless the union is prepared to quickly update itself and make some radical changes to its image......I worry for its general future.

    Its also about time this archaic gripe that the members do not attend meetings etc is the reason why we are where we are.... is worn out! We are all paying a hefty membership fee after all.

    I would argue why do we have to attend at meetings all the time? What would change if we all went and packed out meetings at our various branches. Its not everyone's cup of tea, and not every member wants to attend and argue about rule 14.2 1968 motions…and or argue about walk-ons getting another £1 a day if they bring their own shirts etc etc etc. Is it the case that you are not achiving or gaining enough membership votes a these meetings? Then for heavens sake bring in On line branches then? Though I have seen senior members bleating that why should they....some of us do not even have a computer!!! For heavens sake......its soon goiung to be January 2012. Helloooooo!!

    Yes I know I am being facetious…..but all joking aside... this is the general perception and imagery I have come across when trying to get involved or researching the benefits of being more involved with the union. I also note that there is still an enormous divide by the grass roots elected members at these meeting all trying to get policy change and motions pushed through higher council and often failing due to 1960's bureaucracy and red tape. If one could see that attending these meetings would honestly make a big difference, more of us might attend.

    I too have struggled to get information from Guild house on more than one occasion and one is often treated like a schoolchild for even attempting to find out information.

    The union needs to sharpen up its act and get modernised. Bring in On Line meetings and equity branches….this is the 21st century for goodness sake…..this will widen the unions connection with the membership 10 fold. They keep talking about it…..but nobody it seems is brave enough to even try it? Spending 1000's on a Clunky website does not bode well either. Quite a few Branches do not even have their own website it seems?

    I know there are a few changes that have taken place and or are in progress and that there are a younger breed of keen officers doing their very best for us. …..but amongst a fed up and disillusioned membership….stories of non co-operation when required……a new expensive website that just looks different but is still very clunky and sometimes impossible to use…etc etc…..the Union needs to accept as a whole…..actors/members are often not feeling that impressed.

    Equity council should recognise these issues and do something about it. The union is not just about Dame Judy Dench and or Sir Ian and co.....yes we could all rush and attend the meetings….but many of us feel it will simply fall on the deaf ears of Council…..so we wonder….what's the point?

    Get connected to the membership, assure us that the meetings will not be politics packed arguments guff and pontificating….and perhaps more of us would be interested in getting involved.

    In Equity's defence, I still argue the case for more actors to uphold the pay rates which have been fought for ans agreed and voted for as being a very good starting block for improvement and change.

    • 21st Dec 2011
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