Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dues Referendum 2014 - guest post

I write to you here as an elected councilor of Canadian Actors Equity, as a member of Equity’s Finance Review Committee, and as an individual member of this association. I will be blunt: Equity needs to increase its membership dues. It needs to do this in order to continue its core service and to ensure that its basic functionality as an association stays strong into the future. It needs your help to do this.

“What has Equity done for us lately?” I hear that a lot from CAEA members. My answer is always the same: Quite a lot, actually. And it has done so with increasingly limited resources. Prior to becoming an Equity councilor I always wondered whether Equity was spending our money prudently and in the best interests of its members. I still hear that question now from other members. Having spent the last five years on CPAG and Equity Council I can tell you that Equity takes the matter of fiscal responsibility very seriously. And Equity does have the best interest of ALL of its members in any decision that it makes.

As individual members it is easy to forget all the labour gains that Equity has successfully fought for over the years. Take a moment to think about what your pay, working conditions, and the general state of theatre would be without those gains. What has Equity done for me as an individual member? Lots! Equity responded quickly to my concerns regarding the challenges of creating of Indie theatre. Equity created an extensive member survey followed by a new series of updated indie contracts that go a long way to address challenges faced by small scale theatre in this country.

Equity recently introduced a Service Standards protocol to improve staff service. It has streamlined and improved member communications. It has significantly cut Council and staff spending. What can Equity do for its members in the future? How about a website upgrade? Less paperwork? More audition initiatives? All of these things cost money and we haven’t had a dues increase since the late nineties. So we now turn to you. Your association needs you now more than ever. Please vote yes on the referendum.

Mark Brownell
National Councilor for Ontario

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dues Referendum 2014 - what are basic dues for?

At a recent referendum info meeting, a member who doesn't often work in theatre asked what they get for their basic dues each year. They understood that working dues were related to the costs of negotiating and administering a contract they were engaged on, but basic dues were harder to grasp. Arden and I listed several things that all members get, regardless of work patterns, but I'm not entirely convinced we made the sale, as it were.

Any of the individual items we might talk about, regardless of what they cost, are only worth the value an individual member places on them. So, for instance, an automatic health and wellness benefit that is, on paper, worth three-quarters of the basic dues rate all by itself, the member found to be not worth their time to use. For them, the effective value of that $100 benefit was zero.

That got me thinking: what is the core benefit of the basic dues, for all members? It's hard to make an argument for worth, when it is subject to debate on the basis of 6000 individual value systems and career patterns.

Perhaps the best point to be made then, is that the core benefit of the basic dues we all pay in equal measure is that Equity simply exists.

When you need some information regarding an engager or contract, there is someone to pick up the phone and provide the answer. And there is a phone, for that matter, that is connected and can be picked up. When you do get a gig, you don't have to draft your own contract; there is one already written for you, and the engager has already agreed to it. When it comes time to negotiate a fee, you or your agent don't have to start from scratch; you can start from a living wage commensurate with the means of the theatre, and negotiate up from there. And so on.

Perhaps, then, this a better answer to the member's question than providing a laundry list: Equity's existence is what the basic dues pay for. Without your basic dues there would be no Equity, and without Equity, there would be no one to provide the benefits and protections you do use, whichever ones they may be.

Please support the dues proposal, so that you can continue to have access to whatever it is that you personally value.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dues Referendum 2014 - guest post

One of the greatest joys of being involved in the theatre is the sense of collaboration and community. We become fast friends as we go through the process of creating theatre, and we are constantly reminded that we cannot do it alone – we are always beholden to our fellow performers, our crew, our creative team, our stage manager, our audience. That sense of togetherness and interconnectivity is tangibly manifested in the work of CAEA.

This is a huge country and each theatre centre has its unique strengths and challenges and CAEA helps to give a sense of national consciousness. As a national whole, we carry more clout as a professional association, can help effect policy-makers and funding agencies, promote the concerns of theatre constituents, and help foster a sense of group.

We are not alone in the increasingly difficult struggle to produce meaningful work, we have a collective voice in our continuing fight for respect and support and we have a central support system to ensure fair, and equitable treatment by our engagers. This united front cannot be everything for everybody, but tries to prioritize the desires of the membership under the guidance of Council.

These collective desires require resources.

Staff and Council have stretched the Association's resources as far as they will go, because it is understood that many members cannot make anything that resembles a living from the venues under CAEA’s jurisdiction, and it is also understood that we are operating in an industry always hungry for money. There is no more fat to cut. Annual membership dues and working dues (our only major source of income) have remained frozen for the past 14 years. Expenses have risen – this has put tremendous pressure on the Association’s healthy financial picture.

The proposed dues increase has been kept to a bare minimum and warrants your approval because I know that you, like I, value a strong national voice and a valid national presence. My concern is that if the dues increase does not pass with the rigorous ⅔ approval rate required, that present services will have to be cut – including some hard fought for services, like the Western Office!

David Adams
Member, BC/Yukon

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dues Referendum 2014 - Council costs

Council may represent a small minority of association costs (8%), but we didn't leave our finances unexamined, either.

It may be useful to start with a few facts about Council…

We are members just like you, and you elect us to run the organisation on your behalf for a three year term. Council seats are allotted proportional to membership across all nine geographical regions, with an additional five seats to ensure national representation from the minority disciplines of opera, dance and stage management. There are a total of 22 Councillors, and we meet ten times per year: seven times by conference call, and three times in person.

Basic meeting costs represent about one-quarter of our total expense, or about 2% of the association budget. The seven teleconference meetings do not cost a lot, however the in-person meetings are much more expensive, due to travel and accommodation. We have periodically looked at converting an additional in-person meeting to teleconferences, but it would mean adding another 10 phone meetings to handle the same amount of Council business. That's really not a practical option, and despite the higher cost, it is far, far more efficient to get together in person in order to hash out major topics.

Council, itself, has changed over time for a reduction in costs. Prior to 2006, Council used to be 38 people, and we met three times per year for three days each time. On top of that, add ten conference calls for an Executive Committee, plus resources for all the advisories and various committees, and the money added up quickly. The decision to downsize Council, aside from lending the governance structure greater efficiency, was a big cost-saver. We've also streamlined our committee structure, to more closely reflect the issues members have asked us to address.

The remaining ¾ of our budget goes toward supporting the various issues advisories, and fostering improvement in how Equity provides benefits and services to the membership. This includes all research costs, outside advisors, and even particularly big ticket items such as this dues referendum.

As an example, totally rebuilding the insurance plan took about a year and a half of steady Council work, including significant research costs to find out what the membership wanted. A massive review of independent and small-scale theatre saw a similar investment, and culminated in the creation of two new-and-improved engagement policies, and the Tangerine provisions in the CTA.

In summary, we spend about one-quarter of our budget talking about stuff, and three-quarters of it doing it – that is an excellent balance.

When you receive your voter package, Council encourages you to vote “yes”. It’s your association – please support Equity, so Equity can support you.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Dues Referendum 2014 - guest post

Why a dues increase?

We need one. Has Equity cut costs? Yes it has. Will we continue to find ways to cut costs? I assure you that I, and others on Council are pushing for them. Yes, we will. Are you satisfied with the service you receive from Equity? I’d be surprised to hear you are, considering the earful of frustration I’ve listened to over the years.

I’m here to tell you there have been major changes to the mindset running Equity. If you haven’t already noticed, there are some new rules and genuine flexibility going on as we contemplate all this. There is also a commitment to greater transparency and less paternalism; the challenge we now face is to service our almost 6,000 strong membership with enough staff to deal with daily business as well as the never ending renegotiating of the various agreements staggered strategically to ideally allow one agreement’s attention at a time.

After looking at various scenarios, we as a Council have decided to ask for an increase of $45 a year in basic dues (so, $90 every six months, instead of the current $67.50), and a 0.25 percent increase in working dues. There will be no other increases for the next six years at the very least, and if any may be needed then, or even at a later date, we will go to you the members first for another vote before we can implement anything at all. Like we are doing here.

At the core of all of this is this: do you want a strong association representing and serving you? We need a two-thirds majority in this vote to move ahead. A simple majority like we received in the last dues referendum is not sufficient. I cannot stress enough how important it is that you not only vote yes, but that you also help convince others to do the same.

Please take the time to look at the issues and make an informed decision. I am confident you will reach the same conclusion I have and vote yes. Otherwise, trust me and vote yes anyway.

Thanking you for your attention.

In Solidarity,

Howard Rosenstein
National Councilor for Quebec

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dues Referendum 2014 - where the money goes

We've let you know the reason that Council is asking your support for a dues increase, but it's important to also let you know what your dues money does…


Your dues cover the overwhelming majority of the costs of running the association and providing services to members. They pay for negotiations, contract review, advocacy, administration of the insurance and RRSP plans, all communications to the members, membership meetings, the governance of the association by elected members, overall administration, etc. In short, all the operational costs of Equity are paid for by its members.

Based on the 2013-2014 budget, the overall costs break out as follows:

Contract Negotiation, Administration and Review.........................62%
General Administrative and Office Overhead...............................30%
Governance (Council)............................................................8%

Of course, there's lots more to a whole year's worth of numbers than that, but the financial report doesn't really translate readily into a blog post. You can find 2011-2012 audited statement here if you want more details.

Ok, so that's where the money goes. But are we using it prudently, and have we taken all reasonable steps to cut back on expenses?

Absolutely – we do that as a matter of course. The basic dues amount that used to purchase $135 of business services, supplies and manpower in 1999, now only purchases (comparatively) $90 worth. Over that time, we have steadily pruned costs wherever possible to keep pace with the reduction in purchasing power.

In the past 3 years alone we have:

  • elected to not replace one senior staff member who left, despite the fact that we desperately needed someone at that level 
  • cut an additional part-time position 
  • cut EQ magazine from four to three issues per year 
  • discontinued our one Council meeting per year held outside Toronto 
  • cut staff travel to the various regions 
  • cut the professional development subsidy by 75% 
  • changed the honours ceremony to be held biennially, and combined it with the national AGM to save costs 
  • changed how Council apportions resources to committees and advisories 
On top of that, Council recently approved another $35,000 in savings, including potentially discontinuing all remaining professional development subsidies and the honours programme.

Additionally, Council sets expense priorities (based on member input), sets tendering requirements for major expenses, and regularly monitors finances to ensure that money is being spent effectively and efficiently. With the aid of our Finance Monitoring Committee, our external financial consultant, and our auditor, there is no area of association activity that sees more monitoring attention than Equity's finances. Hey, it's our money in there, too!

When you receive your voter package, Council encourages you to vote “yes”. It’s your association – please support Equity, so Equity can support you.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dues Referendum 2014 - guest post

From Stats Can: "In the past decade, the average price for food staples has risen. From 1999 to 2009, the average price of a loaf of bread has increased from $1.31 to $2.50, a dozen eggs from $1.77 to $2.61, 454 grams of butter from $3.01 to $4.35, a litre of partly skimmed milk from $1.41 to $2.11 and 1 kg of ground beef from $3.90 to $7.02."

Are you paying the same amount for rent, utilities, transit, phone, cosmetics, gym membership, etc as you did in 1999? How can any Equity card-carrying member expect their Association to continue operating our "business of show" at a loss?  I run my own gardening business when I'm not onstage, and much as I hate to raise my fees, I must, if I want to maintain a high standard of service to my clients. Revenue Canada wouldn't tolerate a business running at a loss for long. 

I fully support increasing our dues rate and keeping CAEA operational at the high standard of service we have come to expect, and indeed, need.  CAEA has had my back in a number of disputes with producers and I hate to imagine the dark days of no regulation. I ask you to keep us strong and united by keeping our professional Association in good business stead.

Paula Wolfson
Member, Ontario

Monday, January 6, 2014

Dues Referendum 2014 - the proposal

As you may be aware, Council has been carefully monitoring Equity's ongoing financial stability for several years now. Although we have been able to weather inflation for most of the last decade and a half, it has finally caught up with us.

In response to increased costs over the past 14 years, Council proposes to adjust basic dues to $180 (currently $135), coupled with a change in working dues to 2.25% (currently 2%). Because a change in the dues rate requires member approval, we will be conducting a referendum on the matter this coming February.

At Council's request, staff prepared 5 different dues adjustment projections for our consideration: a change in basic dues only; a combination of changes to basic and working dues, and three options for a change in working dues only. We went with a combined basic and working dues format based on member feedback, which suggested that a modest increase to basic dues, coupled with a small increase to working dues, would be an appropriately balanced approach. 

The final work was done at our June 2013 Council meeting. Using real-time financial projections, we adjusted the amounts to what we anticipate members will regard as fair, reasonable and bearable across the whole spectrum of member incomes.

So, what will the proposed change in dues look like on your paycheque? If approved, the semi-annual dues billing will go up to $90 in May and November, or an increase of $3.75 per month. On the working dues side, the rate would increase to 2.25%, so a member in the middle of our income range, earning about $15,000 per year, would see working dues go up by $37.50 for the whole year.

We value informed voters, so if you want more info, we want to hear from you. Contact us at and we'll get you the answers you need.

When you receive your voter package, Council encourages you to vote “yes”. It’s your association – please support Equity, so Equity can support you.