The Actors’ Equity Association, the union that represents performers and stage managers on professional stages on Broadway and beyond, has filed with the National Labour Relations Board to represent the actors and stage managers of the current non-Equity tour of Waitress.

The filing was triggered by a card campaign – the first for Equity in more than a decade -in which a “critical mass” of company members expressed their desire to be represented by the theatrical union. In the coming days, a more formal election will be held among company members that, if successful, would clear Equity to begin bargaining on the company’s behalf with the tour’s presenter, NETworks.

A new tour of mini-residencies of Waitress, featuring Equity actors and stage managers, is due to start soon, meaning there will be concurrently running union and non-union tours. 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 unionise.

Equity said, “This season Waitress sent out 2 tours – 1 on a full Equity Production contract, the other without union actors or stage managers. We reached out to workers on the non-Equity tour to find out how they felt about doing the same show for 1/3 the pay and few workplace protections. Their answer: not great! Our conversations turned to how Equity might help with the situation, which grew into a card campaign, a formal mechanism for members of the company to authorize Equity to bargain on their behalf. There’s no limit to what we can achieve when we stand together, and your support means the world to the Waitress company. Call on NETworks to treat these artists with the respect all workers deserve and share your support.” You can register your support for the company here.

A company statement said, “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. 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.”

Equity has also said that videos of the non-union actors have been used to train performers with the Equity tour. “Clearly, the workers in both productions are equally talented and hardworking, doing the exact same job for different audiences. For equal work, they should receive equal protections and equal pay,” said Equity Executive Director Al Vincent, Jr.