Thursday, March 18, 2010

Member Benefits - a safe and sanitary work environment

As part of this blog, Council has asked me to include information on some of the many benefits and services offered by Equity to its members. This article is the first in that series.

First off, I hope everyone is aware that a summary of your membership benefits and protections is set out in the Ends section of our policy document. If not, you should give it a read sometime; the Ends statements outline Equity's commitment to you as a member. They're what you pay your dues for.

Ends policies state that (paraphrased):
All members will have protection, support and resources while under contract and while pursuing future contracts, including safe and sanitary places of work and audition. 
I've condensed two parallel policies into a single statement here, so please forgive the somewhat awkward construction. In the policy document you will find it divided into "work under contract" and "pursuit of future contracts," because Equity needs to deal with these two conditions separately. I'll go into more detail below.

While under contract
All engagement policies and agreements include specific language setting out expectations for a healthy and safe work environment. Take the Canadian Opera Agreement as an example. It requires a safe and sanitary place of engagement, including clean and properly heated dressing rooms and washroom facilities; hot and cold running water; clean, safe, accessible and well-lit access to the stage door; enclosed access from dressing rooms to the stage; minimum temperature requirements met; well-delineated passageways in case of blackouts; safe rehearsal and stage surfaces; security from threats to personal safety; regularly cleaned costumes and hair pieces, etc.

You get the idea, and you can find the details listed under "Safe and Sanitary Places of Engagement." In situations where performances take place outdoors, more detail is added. Additionally, Equity has the right to inspect any venue on request to ensure compliance.

All other major agreements are similar. Smaller agreements, such as the Indie, include parallel language. Safety of the Artist is a frontmost concern. Always.

Finally, all major agreements stipulate adherence to provincially mandated health and safety requirements, or to the Ontario Health and Safety Guidelines for Live Performance where no specific provincial regulations exist. As of this writing, BC, Alberta, Ontario and Qu├ębec all have health and safety requirements geared toward workers in live performance.

While in pursuit of future contracts
Ensuring safe and clean places of work and audition is more complicated. Where a negotiated agreement exists, such as the Canadian Theatre Agreement with PACT, we include requirements for audition and associated warmup and other spaces, and these apply even in the absence of a signed contract.

Working with independent engagers outside such negotiated agreements is admittedly tricky. Without pre-agreed conditions for audition, we can't point to a piece of text and tell the engager that they must live up to those terms. We rely on engager common sense and goodwill, not to mention the fact that a large percentage of independent engagers are members or ex-members, and they don't need a lot of prompting to provide a decent audition environment. That said, we are certainly not shy about weighing in on the few occasions when we hear of poor conditions.

What to do if you feel that work or audition conditions are unsafe, unclean or otherwise dangerous
If you are under contract, tell your Deputy and your Stage Manager. The overwhelming majority of concerns can be addressed quickly and locally, once brought to the attention of these two. If your concern persists, or you are not yet under contract, then get on the phone to a business rep in either office. If the matter is urgent, you will even be able to contact someone outside of office hours.

Equity exists to help protect you, but we can't do our work if we are unaware of a problem. One of the most common answers to questions that begin "Why didn't Equity...?" is "We didn't know." Thankfully, issues of unsafe working conditions are few and far between, but if you find yourself in an unsafe or otherwise unhealthy work environment, and the problem is not cleared up pronto, get on the phone. We're there to help.