Members often contact me privately with questions and concerns, and I respond in the same manner. But sometimes the questions bear repeating, such as these from member, Josh Lamon.
Hey Brian! We don’t know one another but I’m following the AEA campaign and am glad to see you are running for council! I am trying to get in touch with as many people as I can to ask questions, considering how many seats are open this time around. What do you think was the biggest move you have made while serving the AEA community that created great change? What do you think is an area that you need to work on and how to you hope to tackle that? What can you offer that the other candidates on your slate don’t have? Besides the issues the slate are standing behind, what are other areas that you want to improve if elected? Thanks for your time!
Thanks for getting in contact, Josh, and thanks for your questions. I remember your questions on touring and health coverage from 2016. Here’s what I have for you now:
Easily, my biggest accomplishment was developing the strategy for and leading the 2016 Off-Broadway negotiations. I leveraged grassroots organizing to build momentum and strength. I convinced staff, the Off-Broadway committee, and two proposal selection committees that our proposals needed to be lean, and we needed to clearly identify our most important goal (in this case, wages), and to make that goal in line with our real needs, not what we thought we could achieve. I convinced both our Eastern Regional Director, who would become the chief negotiator, and our Executive Director—both of whose jaws hit the floor when they saw our proposed numbers—that moving the needle 20 years into the future was what needed to happen, that this was the best opportunity in a generation to do it, and I laid out my strategy to make it happen. They agreed (though they still harbored reservations which I eventually had to reign in) and we set out to do what many told me was impossible, some even moments after they voted to approve the negotiation proposals. I was asked many times, “Don’t you think we’re asking for too much?” I always replied, “No. We’re finally asking for what we need.” After five months of negotiation, I was proven right on all three of my arguments to Tom and Mary. This was the time, and my strategy held to the end.
Inherent in that strategy was addressing three things that Equity has historically not done very well, or at all:
•Prioritize and narrow proposals to a very small list, with a clear goal
•Look at institutions’ full financial picture to determine what a fair wage should be
•Actively organize around a contract negotiation, from preparations through ratification, and leverage that power
The grassroots organizing in the Off-Broadway community was key to keeping negotiations on track, keeping the Off-Broadway League at the table and giving my team courage. Prioritizing our short list of proposals allowed the team remain focused on our goal to significantly and meaningfully increase wages in line with what they are able to pay.
These concepts are replicable at every level. Identifying and organizing around the priorities of the members in any market will take a new kind of communication. I have high hopes that the Equity2020 model can be an effective tool to that end. Categorizing institutions by operating budget and scope of operations instead of seating capacity will allow Equity to identify a more fair wage. And internally, focusing proposals to those that are most important to the member stakeholders, and identifying a clear goal for the outcome will give the grassroots organizing something to rally around, and a clear metric for our success.
As for myself, I know my strengths: building consensus; focusing discussion; and simultaneously seeing the big picture, the merits of both arguments, and the details that will make a solution work. I have a penchant for numbers and statistics, and I’m a great editor. Therefore, I’ve learned to surround myself with great brainstormers, “blue sky” dreamers, people whose passions and candor reveal possibilities I may not see through my pragmatic lens. The relationship I’ve had working with the Fair Wage movement, from when they were the Off-Broadway Action Group in 2016 to now has been incredibly simpatico as we play off each others’ strengths.
Every candidate must run on their record and/or their ideas. I have a long record with a depth of service that I am very proud of. I have a reputation of being a sought-after voice of reason, able to sway a room by focusing the debate on what’s really at stake. My experience with institutional investing, actuarial projections, and the challenges of providing meaningful health care in a highly challenging and expensive marketplace—all of which I’ve done for the last eight years as a trustee of the pension and health funds—add to my unique skill set. I find that kind of in-the-weeds policy work incredibly fulfilling. As a slate, each FWOC candidate comes to this election with a unique set of skills and experiences that complement both our four central tenets and each other.
In addition to moving to a union-wide strategy of Judge It By the Budget, and understanding the membership better and actively organizing around their needs, my “blue sky” dreams are pretty big issues with no easy solutions. These include improving access to health coverage; finding ways to prevent women from losing coverage mid-pregnancy because their work opportunities often virtually stop the second they learn their due date; keeping our investments in line with our consciences. These all have to do with my P&H trustee work, which is SEPARATE AND APART from Equity, though obviously related enough that many (maybe even most) members assume the union runs the funds (it does not.) But those funds do impact every Equity member profoundly, and I lose sleep over ensuring their long-term health.
I am also very concerned about sexual harassment in our industry. As a VERY youthful-looking young, gay actor, I can’t count the number of times I fended off unwanted sexual advances, or parried inappropriate and uncomfortable sexualized talk in the workplace from employers and creatives with power over my circumstances. If this was happening to me, I know that every woman in this industry has lived through a similar sordid history of laughing off/pretending not to hear/pretending not to understand/shutting down and shutting off in order to protect herself while not endangering her job or her career, or worse. I’ve been especially disturbed by the number of founding artistic directors, and others in positions of power in our industry, who have found themselves in the #MeToo crosshairs due to their abusive behavior as they ruled over the fiefdoms they created. It draws attention to the widely entrenched culture of patriarchal entitlement that controls the work that reaches our stages, the artists who create that work, the voices and stories that get heard, and the workplace cultures that enable, justify, and protect questionable and discriminatory behaviors. We are only at the very beginning of exposing and airing out this underbelly of our seemingly progressive industry, and Equity must be at the forefront of protecting our members.
Well, that’s a start. Thanks again for reaching out, though I’m afraid I didn’t see your FB message request right away because Rich Topol stole my iPad when I helped him tape his speech. OK he didn’t steal it. I forgot it. But I’m gonna go ahead and blame him anyway! And it’s taken me a bit to give your thoughtful questions the attention they deserve.
There’s more on me at TheActorRevolution.com and on FWOC at FairWageOnCouncil.org, and I’m active on Twitter at @BriMyCooper. Let me know if you have more questions!