Collective Bargaining for Actors’ Wages

Theater actors in July 1919 wanted higher pay for extra performances. When managers refused, the first strike in American theater history occurred.

The old contract had specified eleven national holidays in the year on which the actor was required to play a matinee without additional salary… The actors demanded that they be paid upon a basis of eight performances a week, and that all performances over that number, for whatever cause given, should be paid for proportionately.

The managers, in reply, said that it was a financial impossibility; that it was at variance with all the established customs of the theatre and would mean simply that the players must accept smaller salaries; that actors often had been paid for full week when only six or seven performances had been given in place of the scheduled eight — and refused.

The next month, this resulted in the first strike in American theater history. According to the Actors’ Equity Association, “The strike lasted 30 days, spread to eight cities, closed 37 plays, prevented the opening of 16 others and cost millions of dollars.”

In the end, the actors won.

Collective Bargaining for Actors’ Wages: Equity Association Demands, Not an Eight-Hour Day, but Pay for Overtime, and Managers Refuse to Recognize the Union — Possible Effect on Playgoers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, July 13, 1919

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Written by Jesse

July 12th, 2019 at 5:31 pm

Posted in Business,Theater

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