Monday, July 28, 2014

Did you know? - Equity's service standards

Every year, members call and write to the office a few thousand times, for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it's just an information request. Other times, it has to do with an imminent or active contract, where the member needs specific details on engagement terms. Every so often, members contact the office because there is a problem that needs solving. And on top of all these service interactions with members, there are many more from engagers and others with various needs for assistance.

Equity is, at its heart, a service organisation, so Council has placed a big focus on doing that well – we have written comprehensive policy to ensure the best possible service standards in all areas.

But service standards are only lip service, if you don't know what they are – what you can expect in terms of service and response times – or how to proceed if those standards are not met. And so, we've made some recent changes to up our game even further.

At the top right of our main web page is a new button labelled "Compliments, comments, criticisms?" If you have a service issue, both Council and Equity's staff encourage you to use it. Behind that button lies information on our service standards and a simple, three-step process to ensure any issue with service receives the timely attention that it deserves.

Most problems are readily solved. But for those that aren't, a formal complaint process is also available. All complaints are addressed promptly by the appropriate staff, or by Council, if the matter involves the Executive Director. But beyond that, they are also logged and reported to Council on a regular basis, so that we can watch for patterns and address them proactively.

In the context of the thousands of service interactions each year, problems are fortunately rare. However, we're all human, and sometimes things do go awry. Council and staff recognise the impact that even minor seemingly issues can have in the context of an individual production or a members' livelihood, and we are committed to identifying problems if they occur and working toward continued improvement.

Please, help us help you better.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Did you know? - Health and Safety Training for Theatre Artists in Ontario

Under an expanded initiative by the Ministry of Labour in Ontario, all workers must take basic health and safety training. Including theatre artists of all stripes. Including employees and independent contractors. In short: including you.

Perhaps the easiest way to take the training is online, where it consists of roughly 45 minutes of videos, information pages, and short quizzes. There is also a paper-based version.

The response from many in the community has been about what you'd expect…
"What a waste of time!" 
"The material is boring."
"The questions are so simple, it would take an utter fool to get the answers wrong."
"I can see how this would apply in an office/factory/construction site/warehouse/etc., but it has nothing to do with me."
Well, it does.

In Ontario, there are three levels of responsibility for health and safety in the workplace.  (I suspect it is similar elsewhere, too.) Business owners have their layer of responsibility. Supervisors have their layer. And workers have theirs. And the law says that you have to know, understand, and live up to yours. In fact, you have had this responsibility for a very long time, whether you knew it or not.

So, if you've managed this long without the training, why should you bother now?

Well, you could learn something about health and safety in the workplace, and your rights and obligations. That wouldn't be so bad. You could learn something about how to recognize an unsafe situation and respond, and save yourself from injury. That wouldn't suck too much, either. You could learn how to save someone else from injury or illness. Probably worth a few minutes of your time, no?

But if learning stuff and staying safe just isn't your thing, then consider the following. One of the owner and supervisor responsibilities is to ensure that all of their workers (including you) have the requisite training, and failure to do so is a huge liability for them. If something goes awry, and an MOL inspector wants to see copies of all the training certificates, the last thing any theatre will want to discover is that they don't have them on file for everyone involved. And so you can expect that theatres will begin to require these as a condition of engagement.

How's that for a reason?

So, invest an hour of your life in acquiring some useful knowledge, and a skill certification. You're going to need to show that piece of paper sooner or later, so don't forget to save or print it at the end of the course. (You don't want to have to watch those videos twice, do you?)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Equity work patterns over time - 2014 update

Every year, staff prepares a report on work weeks from the previous year, and a condensed version appears in the EQ from time to time. There are certainly lots of numbers to sift through, but statistics are nothing without context – a comparison of those numbers over time. Are they climbing, declining, or staying steady?

In an effort to provide some of that context, I started charting the workweek numbers a few years ago, and here is what the picture looks like as of mid 2014:

Over time, the typical year has hovered around 70,000 work weeks for our members - that's the bold red line at the top. Contracts under the CTA and ITA make up about two-thirds of that. 

It's a bit hard to make out at this scale, but the cluster of lines immediately below the 10K mark are opera, dance and guest artist, all roughly at the same 6-7,000 level. Below that are small scale and indie projects of all types, and the line right at the bottom is actually two lines: amateur and other (a grab bag of miscellaneous engagements), both of which only account for a few hundred work weeks annually.

There have been a couple of interesting changes in the past year. The most noticeable of these is the increase in overall workweeks, reaching a new high since this chart was first compiled. This is partly due to an increase in CTA/ITA workweeks, almost back to their pre-recession levels. But there are two other large contributors as well: dance and small-scale/indie. The change in dance has a lot (but not all) to do with the addition of the dancers at les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and the change in the indie numbers reflects the very positive uptake on the Indie 2.0 and Artist's Collective policies.

It's nice to see the chart take a turn for the better, and it will be very interesting to see what 2014-15 holds in store.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Did you know? - Withdrawal

Most professional associations and unions offer some form of honorable withdrawal from membership, and Equity is no different.

A member may choose to go on hiatus from active membership in the Association by applying in writing to the Executive Director. Full details can be found here. Really, it's pretty much as simple as dropping us a note.

Withdrawal allows you to place your membership on temporary hold, when you know that you will not be working in Equity's jurisdiction for a while. Common reasons are a return to school, new parenthood, absence from the country, etc. Withdrawal does not end your membership.

When you go on withdrawal, you are no longer charged basic dues, saving you $90 per half year. If you come back off withdrawal within one year – to accept a contract, for instance – you will be back-billed for the missed basic dues and any penalties that would have been charged had you not withdrawn. (In other words, withdrawal cannot be used to simply avoid paying your current dues.) However, if withdrawal extends beyond a year, you are not back-billed for those dues, and will owe only basic dues for the current billing period, plus a $25 reinstatement fee, regardless of the length of the withdrawal.

There are a few key restrictions to going on withdrawal.
  • You can't go on withdrawal if you are not in good standing, which means that you can't use withdrawal to avoid paying back dues, or avoid any other penalty or disciplinary action.
  • When you are on withdrawal, the rules of membership continue to apply, which means that withdrawal doesn't give you the option of working off-contract.
  • As a member on withdrawal, you are not eligible to vote on any matter, or attend membership meetings. Your RRSP remains active, but you are not eligible for insurance coverage.
Oh, one other thing. You are not officially on withdrawal until you hear back from the office, accepting your application. It's generally handled within a day or two.

Withdrawal is an honorable approach to placing your membership temporarily into an inactive status, and we strongly encourage members to use it where needed. It can save you a lot of money if you know you're going to be "out of the business" for a bit, and is much less expensive than resigning and rejoining.

If you need to know more about withdrawal, please call either office, and staff will be glad to assist.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Did you know? - Equity's Bylaws

Every so often, Council sends out notice of changes to the Association bylaws. We realise that these updates may be generally yawn-inducing, but bylaws govern the structure of our entire organisation, and it's important that you are aware of them, and any changes to them.

So, for those of you for whom Equity's bylaws are not riveting reading – and that would include pretty much everyone, methinks – here is the Reader's Digest version.

If any topic in this list is of importance to you – and that would include pretty much everyone, methinks – then you can find the whole document right here.

Happy reading!

Membership Classes
Regular Members
Non-Resident Members
Unit Company
Honorary Members
Life Members
Associate Members
Withdrawn Members
Suspended Members
Joining Program
Engagement Permits
Limits on Engagement Permits
Stage Management Apprenticeships - Additional
Limits on Apprenticeships
Joining as a Regular Member for Performers in Theatre
Joining as a Regular Member for Stage Managers
Joining Program Fees
Duties Of Membership
Membership Card
Address and Discipline
Standards Of Conduct And The Disciplinary Process
Filing and Filing Deadlines
Verifiable Communication
Preliminary Review and Resolution Process
Timeline for Completion
Review by Council
Hearing Committee
Hearing and Mediation Timelines
Hearing Process
Mediation Process
Appeals Process
Reasonable Accommodation in Process
Notice to Membership
Administrative Penalties
Finances And Dues
Fiscal Year
Initiation Fee
Basic Dues for Regular Members
Basic Dues Remission for Senior Members
Dues and Initiation Fee Reduction
Working Dues for Regular and Non-Resident Members
Meetings Of Members
National Meetings
Regional Meetings
Special Meetings
Rules of Order
Scale Agreements
Retirement And Insurance Benefits
Registered Retirement Savings Plan
Special Accident and Sickness Insurance
Council Advisory Committees
Regions And Elections
Elections for Council
Eligibility for Voting and Election
Nominations and Candidacy
Executive Director
Indemnity Of Council Members And Employees
Membership And Organizing Activities
Bylaw Amendments
Reciprocal Agreement With AEA

Friday, May 2, 2014

Council statement regarding "Helen Lawrence"

At its April meeting, Council reviewed the recent events surrounding the cancellation of Canadian Stage's presentation of Helen Lawrence at the Festival TransAmériques (FTA).

One of Equity’s chief responsibilities is to act on behalf of its members when the going gets tough. In almost all cases, that means taking the personal concerns and decisions of individual members and putting them forward as the concerns and decisions of Equity. This approach provides important anonymity and protection for member deliberation on the topic at hand.

Council supports our Executive Director’s careful handling of the review process on this production, and her decision not to go into greater public detail on the matter.

Members should also be aware that Council, not staff, sets the rules governing review of all concession requests.* Perhaps the most important among them is this: where members have already been contracted, a request cannot be approved without their majority approval.

Whether on this production, or any other, our members need to have confidence that their decisions are respected by their association and their colleagues. Council wishes to express its unequivocal support of the artists involved in Helen Lawrence, and calls upon all members to do likewise.

*For a more complete explanation of the concession process, and how requests are decided, see here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Equity's Health and Insurance Plan

Interesting timing. I had just finished doing up a list of extraordinary risk riders for my current show a couple of weeks ago, when a friend forwarded the following link from The Stage to me:

Long story short: actor, in the business 20 years; never joined Equity (UK); injured on the job; no disability (income replacement) coverage; off work for at least a year; young family to help support; and worrying about being branded a "troublemaker" for seeking insurance assistance from the engager.

Contrast that with how CAEA's coverage for members works:

- no tenure requirement for coverage
- automatic coverage while on contract, from day one
- disability coverage for up to 104 weeks

I'm not certain what the insurance situation is with our sister organisation in the UK, but I'm betting it's better than "none". It's a shame the artist never saw the value of becoming an Equity member, and I wish him the best in his recovery.

Take the time to review your CAEA insurance coverage. A lot has changed in the past year. So, if the last time you read that brochure on the callboard was when you joined, it's time for a refresher! You can find all the details here

Learn about your insurance coverage. We hope you never have a critical need for it; but if you should, it's there.