Monday, March 28, 2011

Member benefits - secured fees

Unlike many member benefits, working with secured fees is one of those invisible protections of which most members are thankfully unaware. I say "thankfully" because in the best of circumstances, it, like a high-wire safety net, remains unused. However, just like a safety net, you would not want to be without that protection if you do need it.

All member benefits and protections have their roots in Council policy. In this case, the applicable policy is
End-2: Working Under Contract, which states:
Members will work with secure contracts in place, ensuring…appropriate and consistent remuneration [and] a guarantee on a portion of the fees payable…
In practice, this means that either the engager must put down a deposit on a portion of the fees (typically two weeks' worth of fees, taxes and benefits) or must prepay the artists. In the case of a tour, the per diems for the same period are also require a bond.

For established theatres, this security is most often posted in the form of an irrevocable letter of credit, although some theatres post cash bonds with the office. Cash bonds are kept separate from all other Equity accounts, and are not used for any purpose other than as security. Also, interest paid on cash bonds is credited to the engager, and does not go into Equity's general revenues. In all cases, Equity has the unilateral right to withdraw funds from the security deposit if required.

If you have served as a deputy on a show, you will recall having signed a "release" form at the end of the contract. Receipt of this form is critical, as it advises our staff that all the contractual financial obligations have been satisfied by the theatre, and Equity may now release the security back to the engager.

If you are the deputy, it is really appreciated, by both the theatre and Equity staff, when you get that form back to the ofice promptly at the end of a contract. If you are contacted by the deputy on your show and asked to confirm full payment so they can send in the release, please get back to them ASAP
Theatres are understandably anxious to know that their security is unencumbered, and Equity does not want to tie up an engager's money any longer than absolutely necessary. If you happen to have misplaced the form, please download one here – send it in as soon as the production has closed and  you can confirm that there are no outstanding fees.

Does Equity ever have to pay members out of the security deposit? In a word: "yes", several times per year. I'll pull together some details for a future post.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Council's environmental responsibility policy

In a recent post, October methinks, I talked about how Council has an annual roster of cyclical agenda items, so that every aspect of Equity's work gets examined on a regular basis. One thing I neglected to mention is that Council also examines its own work on a cyclical basis – we have committed to excellence in governance, and that means engaging in regular appraisal of ourselves.

Part of last year's review included consideration of Council's environmental footprint. With 10 meetings per year, and three of those being full two-day meetings, Council goes through a lot of paper in the preparation of agendas, minutes, policy documents, discussion papers, etc. Council meetings also necessitate a fair amount of travel, since we bring all members of Council together three times per year.

Having written new policy to reduce our environmental footprint, here is what we have done since then to put that policy into action.

In the middle of last year, we switched to an electronic meeting package format for all seven teleconference meetings. This means that not only is much less paper consumed, but the environmental impact of sending that paper across the country is avoided. Councillors who are away from their home base can still request hard copy packages as needed, but that is now very much the exception.

Meeting packages are still sent out for in-person meetings – the number of documents that need to be reviewed in advance of a two-day meeting is more than we can reasonably expect Councillors to print at home. Also, while on a conference call, Councillors can usually refer to documents on a computer screen, something not easily managed when we meet in person.

We reviewed this approach at our February meeting to ensure it is working well for Councillors and staff. Although it will see a few tweaks to be more user friendly, it appears to be a success. We will also be reducing some of our other reprint schedules in favour of update sheets when necessary. Aside from the environmental benefits, there are also financial benefits to these changes: we are now using much less paper and toner and staff time for our work, as well as reducing courier costs.

We also looked at turning some of our in-person meetings into telephone conferences. However, m
uch efficiency is gained by actually having participants together in the same room – converting even one two day in-person meeting into teleconference format would mean the addition of roughly ten more two-hour phone meetings in order to complete anywhere near the same amount of work. We did, however, add teleconference capability to our meetings, so that Councillors who are not able to attend in person are now able to be there by phone.

Video conferencing was also explored, but the current cost of having that set up for two whole days in nine or ten locations across the country is enormous. Doing the same thing through personal computers is not a viable option when meetings involve 20+ participants. Perhaps some day...

Instead, we will be purchasing carbon offsets for our travel on an annual basis. At the end of last year, a calculated equivalent in carbon offsets for our Council travel footprint were purchased from
Less Emissions Inc. Less is currently the highest rated carbon offset vendor as reviewed by the David Suzuki Foundation and The Pembina Institute. Here is a link to their guide and grading report, if you want more information.

In order to ensure environmental awareness throughout all of Equity's operations, Council established similar policy for our Executive Director and her staff. A recent monitoring report detailed several new and updated initiatives:
  • Waste paper is  now sent to a shredding company, both for security reasons, and to ensure that it is properly recycled and not combined with other waste.
  • When the office photocopiers were replaced due to age, new ones were chosen that cost less per month and are much more energy efficient than the ones they replaced. Used toner cartridges and old drums are recycled through the manufacturer.
  • Fax machines have recently been eliminated and all incoming faxes are now delivered via email.
  • Every effort is made to distribute information regarding member services and other topics of interest via “piggybacking” with necessary mailings: either EQ or member invoices.
  • The dep pack, one of our most constant mailings, was recently pruned to use less paper.
  • EQ is packaged in an oxo-biodegradable polybag, and while the EQ paper stock has a glossy feel, the paper used for it has 50% recycled content and is acid and elemental chlorine free.
  • When choosing a hotel for Council meetings, one of the criteria assessed by staff is whether or not the hotel has an environmental policy and what the specifics are.
Running a national organisation unavoidably has a significant environmental footprint, at least given current technologies. Council and staff will continue, however, to actively explore options to reduce that footprint wherever possible.