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Actors’ Equity Association is forming its own political action committee.
The union for more than 51,000 stage managers and actors will be launching the PAC in the first week of April, with the goal of contributing money to federal candidates who support Actors’ Equity priorities. These include more arts funding, expanded health care coverage, protecting the right to organize, and specific entertainment legislation, such as the Performing Artists Tax Parity Act.
The PAC will be a separate organization from the union. Union members can choose whether or not to contribute money to the PAC (and contributions will not be taken out of dues paid to the union). Actors’ Equity would not share exact fundraising numbers, but said a “significant” number of current and former union leaders have already pledged to contribute to the PAC.
It joins a few other entertainment unions with PACs, including The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the American Federation of Musicians, the Writers Guild of America West and the Directors Guild of America.
The creation of the Equity’s PAC came out of a resolution passed at its national convention last fall. But more important, Actors’ Equity wanted to have the organization in place ahead of the 2024 election. There’s concern that funding for the arts may face further cuts. The union also sees an opportunity to help flip House seats in New York that went to Republican candidates in the last election to what they call “pro-worker candidates.” This could determine control of the U.S. House, they say.
“Every cycle is important — 2024 is going to be heightened. And we want to make sure that we get pro-worker candidates elected who care about arts workers and workers in general,” said Al Vincent Jr., executive director of Actors’ Equity.
For more than a century, the union, which was founded in 1913, had a policy in place that prohibited endorsing political candidates. In 2016, Actors’ Equity reversed the policy and made its first presidential endorsement for Hillary Clinton and then endorsed Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
The union became more involved in politics during the pandemic, as Actors’ Equity was one of many to lobby for COBRA and pandemic unemployment subsidies for its workers, as well as additional funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
“Throughout COVID, institutionally it became very clear that we couldn’t just sit on the sidelines and say, ‘We’re the arts.’ It’s pretty near impossible to pretend as if we live in an apolitical world as long as we are on stage. We’re still workers,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity.
During that time, Actors’ Equity, like other theatrical unions, found that many lawmakers had an appreciation for the arts, but did not understand its economic impact, Shindle added, prompting the need for further advocacy. The union has also spoken out about legislation, including condemning the recent passage of a bill in Tennessee restricting drag performances.
The priorities for the PAC will include continued funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the passage of the PRO Act, which many unions are backing as it offers greater protections to workers trying to organize, and the passage of equity, diversity and inclusion priorities, including the Crown Act, which prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and texture. The union will also continue to push for the Performing Artists Tax Parity Act, which raises the income ceiling for artists to deduct certain performance-related expenses.
Overall, the union will look to support issues such as universal health care, reasonable gun legislation reform, and nondiscrimination and LGBTQ+ rights, Shindle said.
Actors’ Equity is launching the PAC while it’s in the process of negotiating several contracts, including a new one for touring productions.
“We’re still in the room. Our members are really fired up. And we know what they need. I believe we have a pretty clear picture of what they need, and we’re still working on getting it,” Shindle said of the negotiations.
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