Sunday, October 28, 2012

Insurance plan update

It has been almost exactly a year since we reported completion of our insurance survey and the resulting policy changes, and staff is very close to rolling out the new program.

It will be significantly different from the one we currently have and will offer 365-day coverage for members who work a minimum number of weeks per year. Premiums will be scaled to category size, and there will be some new coverage in areas the survey identified as important. Members desiring additional coverage beyond that will also have the ability to purchase further insurance at discounted rates (provided through ACTRA Fraternal).

Staff is also looking at creating a preferred provider network of dentists across the country, which would offer members a 25% discount on dental services. For a $20 flat fee per year, this coverage would be available to all members in good standing, including their families. This part of the plan is still under construction, and introduction may lag behind the main plan while the provider list is assembled.

Final planning and development of informational material is under way, and we expect to be able to release full details by Christmas.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Independent theatre update

A draft of the new "Indie" (it still doesn't have a name that isn't so long it needs to be printed on legal sized paper...suggestions welcome!) has been circulated to the two former ITRC co-chairs to make sure that staff has dealt with as many of the concerns expressed by the members as possible, both in the content and in the administration of the policy.

Staff are also finishing work on a second policy, which will be called the "Artists Collective Activity Project" or ArtCAP. This will replace the Co-op, and be similar in some regards, but offer a more open take on collaboratively-produced projects.

Together, staff anticipate that these two new engagement policies will make it easier for members to initiate the work they want to do, work with whom they want to, and do so on a schedule that is appropriate for the work and the participants. The new policies remove the impediments that were identified in the survey, while still ensuring a level of protection for the artists involved. 

Staff has already started building the contract forms and other material to support these. Once Council elections have concluded, staff will be able to fully turn their attention to getting these out for use.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Joining Process Update

We've been talking about this for a while now, but work on a new joining structure for Equity is now complete. At the final in-person meeting of the 2009-12 Council, the necessary bylaw changes were implemented and the amendment details will be circulated to the membership within the next two months. The changes are consistent with the interim material reported earlier and currently confined to the theatre jurisdiction. 

In a nutshell, we will be moving from a system that prioritises immediate joining, to one that prioritises informed joining.

Going forward, the default approach for non-members working in theatre in their first contracts will be to do initial contracts on a permit basis. This will offer the chance to build work experience, career momentum, and familiarity with Equity agreements, while preserving the opportunity to work flexibly in the earliest stages of a career. Non-members will still be able to join if they wish, but only upon application, and will not automatically gain membership simply by virtue of having signed a contract. Where apprenticeships exist, how apprentice credits are accumulated for work will not change.  

These changes replace the existing provisional, probationary, and child probationary memberships. Although borrowing many of the same terms as these legacy options, and building on the same impetus that drove their creation in the first place (informed joining, flexibility), the permit approach is different in that no membership status (including benefits and protections) is conferred until a joining decision is made.

Of course, this opportunity to work on a permit basis is not open-ended, and will be limited to prevent repeated engagements as a non-member. In order to ensure no financial advantage for permit engagement, the usual source deductions will be made, and will serve as contributions against the eventual joining fee. This has the corollary benefit of progressively lowering the barrier to joining over the span of several permit engagements. Permittees, as non-members, will not have access to the same suite of benefits that members do. Protections will be limited to those specifically germane to an individual engagement contract, and will terminate with the end of the contract.

Equity will retain the right to compel joining in some circumstances: where an "early stages" exemption would not be applicable (even if the non-member is new to CAEA); where reciprocal agreements require it; and for long running productions, where working without a full suite of protections would not be something that Equity is willing to contemplate.

Access to membership for young performers will also change. Previously, regardless of work experience and work history, performers under the age of 16 years could not join. Equity now understands that this age barrier, while well-intentioned, is no longer defensible from several perspectives, including non-discrimination. Again, application must be made to Equity in order to join. Obviously, we are still not interested in encouraging premature joining; it benefits no one. We plan to ensure particularly well-informed and carefully-made decisions for young performers

Joining requirements for stage managers working in theatre remain similar to those previously in effect, with a minimum number of experience credits required before an application to join may be submitted. However, some structural changes have been made to bring the mechanics of the two joining streams into sync, to simplify administration, and to avoid having to explain two very similar, but confusingly different processes. Apprenticeship for both performers and stage managers will be retained to support those currently working toward membership in that way, and any apprenticeships credits that have been accumulated will be counted towards membership under the new requirements.

It has taken a long time to work out all the details on this, and Council will be monitoring the situation to ensure the intended results. 

Staff will be revising joining information documents over the next few months, to bring them up to date. In the interim, if you or others have questions about the new arrangements, the best resource is the staff at either Equity office. We are confident that this new approach will lead to a stronger membership, and a stronger Equity for the future.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Questions about Policy Governance

A series of questions about Policy Governance was posted on Facebook a few years back. They were good questions, and things I think the membership would want to know, so I've copied them and the answers here.

Q: How much of the membership knows how PG works?
A: Not many, but then why whould they? PG is how Council operates, not how Equity operates. Saying that Council works under PG is similar to saying that we operate under Bourinot's Rules of Order, which we also do. It is simply a way of structuring Council's approach to governance.

Q: Is it a perfect model?
A: Nothing is perfect, but it is by far the most coherent and comprehensive that I am aware of.

When Council was considering a switch to PG in 2004-5, I was its fiercest critic. I spent a solid 18 months reading books on governance, researching online, examining critiques of PG and other approaches. I really dove into that. PG turned out to be the only model that was built from the ground up for the specific purpose of encouraging excellence in governance in non-profit organisations, and was not merely a set of generic labels slapped on existing practice in order to sell books or consultancy services. In the end, I was impressed enough by what I learned, and what Council was taught, that I made the motion myself. Council was similarly impressed - the motion passed handily.

At the beginning of each term, we have two days of training. One of the Councillors present for those sessions had a lot of experience working with a board. In the middle of the second day, he turned to me and said, "I wish I could get my board to work this way." I think that comment pretty much says it all.

Q: Is it the most efficient model?
A: As a general statement, the biggest inefficiency in any not for profit board are the board members themselves. Volunteer boards have a tendency to go round and round the block on the thorniest issues; they tend to favour discussion over decision; they are only "in the office" for a few hours per month; for any given meeting, about 1/4 to 1/3 of a volunteer board are absent due to work and other commitments; and, in our case, most of us get replaced every three years. Despite the intelligence and dedication on Council, or perhaps because of it, we experience all of these. Adopting a model like PG provides a backbone that helps keeps the whole thing together and moving forward. That's where efficiency and effectiveness comes from - bringing a professional approach to a volunteer board.

Q: Does our ED like it?
A: Arden has said that she does. Under PG, Council takes care of its own business, and she is able to take care of hers. The monitoring reports Arden needs to write take a lot of time and effort, but she recognises that because Council has delegated a lot of work to staff, it is only reasonable (and necessary) that we we regularly confirm that the work is being done. Delegation is not about giving something away and losing control over it.


Q: When does PG not work?
A: That's a bit like asking when filing things in alphabetical order doesn't work. It "doesn't work" when you want it to do something that it was not meant to do.

PG imposes some constraints on how Council operates: it requires all Council decisions to be voted upon to be official; written down in one place, so that they don't get lost, misremembered or forgotten; assigned to either Council or the ED for action; and monitored regularly to make certain they happen as stipulated. If what a board is looking for is an organised board and staff, it works. If what a board wants is continuity, track-ability of decisions, comprehensive monitoring of an organisation's operation, and effective direction of staff, it works.

If what a board wants is a governance model that lets them do whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want, PG does not "work." That approach may be satisfying in the moment, but it is a mess in the long run and it was the biggest reason for switching governance models in the first place.

Q: Do things take more time under PG?
A: First see my notes about Council efficiency. That accounts for most of the time taken on most topics. The remainder is taken up by careful writing of the policy language required to make things happen consistently, on a national basis, over long periods of time. It's not easy to boil hours of discussion down into succinct direction to staff, and it usually goes through several drafts, worked on at monthly intervals.

There are also monitoring responsibilities and policy review that take up a modest amount of time. Most not for profit boards only monitor things sporadically, and generally just after something has gone wrong, rather than cyclically. Similarly, few boards regularly review the decisions they have made, and (seemingly) expect them to be valid forever. This work is a part of every Council meeting, although put at the end of the agenda in order to ensure that it doesn't take over.

Q: When does Council get frustrated with PG?
A: PG divides the work of an organisation between the board and the staff, and requires that both sides rigorously adhere to that delegation. Council gets frustrated when it really, really, really wants to take over the work of the ED. Here's the thing, though: when a board does that, accountability goes out the window. It's always better to have one set of hands on the steering wheel, than several. Council charts the course, and the ED does the driving.

Q: What about the human sacrifices?
A: No comment.