Actors’ Equity Association has filed a grievance against Waitress producers Barry and Fran Weissler and Waitress licensor National Artists Management Company for "double-breasting," simultaneously profiting from union and non-union workers.
With a book by Jessie Nelson and a score by Sara Bareilles, Waitress has been in the unusual situation of having concurrently running union and non-union tours.
Equity has uncovered evidence that NAMCO has a financial interest in the non-Equity production. This violates the union recognition clause of both Equity’s Production Contract and Short Engagement Touring Agreement to which NAMCO and the Weisslers are party through their membership in the Broadway League.
Equity, the union that represents performers and stage managers on professional stages on Broadway and beyond, had previously filed with the National Labor Relations Board to represent the actors and stage managers of the current non-union tour. The filing was triggered by a card campaign—the first for Actors' Equity in more than a decade—in which a "critical mass" of company members expressed their desire to be represented by the theatrical union.
Non-union company members cited the union production's dramatically higher pay—the non-union performers are reportedly being paid a third of what their union counterparts receive—and comparatively less stringent safety protocols as the reasoning behind their decision to unionize.
When Equity first approached the National Labor Relations Board, the Waitress producers had performances planned through 2023. NETworks, the production company, subsequently informed the NLRB that the show was now scheduled through June 2022, which would not allow enough time for a union vote. In response, Equity has withdrawn its election petition. Equity, however, will continue to work to seek union protection for the Waitress workers.
“It is obvious that these producers fear the will of their workers,” said Al Vincent, Jr., executive director of Actors’ Equity Association, in a statement. “But this problem is much bigger than one employer. Equity additionally has open grievances against the John Gore Theatrical Group and Nederlander Presentations, Inc. for their own double-breasting practices. By pursuing legal action, we intend to get at this issue at its source.”
“The members of this company have been vocal that they want union representation,” added Stefanie Frey, Equity’s director of organizing and mobilization. “And this new pathway will make things right for them—and for hundreds of other stage managers and actors being denied the wages and workplace protections a union guarantees. When we prevail in this grievance process, and I am confident that we will, these workers will retroactively be placed on Equity contract for the entirety of the time the Equity Waitress has been contracted, and compensated in salary and benefits accordingly.”
“We are proud of the work we are doing bringing this wonderful show to audiences across the country, but the work we do is the same work our friends in the Equity tour do, so we are asking our employers why we can’t be treated with the same respect,” the Waitress company said in an earlier statement. "We have tried to work with management to improve our conditions on multiple fronts and have come to the conclusion that we need a union to work on our behalf. We now appreciate Equity helping us come together as a company and showing us a clear pathway to fair treatment.”
Playbill has reached out to the producers of Waitress for a statement.
Led by Jisel Soleil Ayon as Jenna, the non-union tour cast of Waitress also includes Dominique Kent as Becky, Gabriella Marzetta as Dawn, David Socolar as Dr. Pomatter, Brian Lundy as Ogie, Shawn W. Smith as Earl, Jake Mills as Cal, and Michael R. Douglass as Joe. The ensemble comprises Elvie Ellis, Stephanie Feeback, Olivia London, Jake McCready, Dayna Marie Quincy, Zoë Brooke Reed, and Woody White, with swings Nicole Clemetson, Justin Forward, Justin Glass, Andrew Burton Kelley, and Julia Rippon. For a full touring schedule, visit WaitressTour.com.