For far too long, freelancers - including dramatists - have been forced to choose between owning their copyright and organizing with collective bargaining power. Thanks to The PRO Act, it may no longer be necessary to make that difficult choice.
Under current federal law, playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists are NOT employees - we are intellectual property owners who license our property for others to use. The Dramatists Guild, therefore, is a trade association of independent contractors, not a labor union of employees. As such, taking certain types of collective action can expose the Guild to anti-trust liability, so there are legal limits on what we can do or say as an organization. These limits are not merely theoretical. The DG has been sued twice by producers seeking to use the anti-trust laws to eliminate this organization. Consequently, we are the only people working on theatrical productions that aren’t entitled to take collective actions to protect ourselves.
The “Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” will change that, by addressing archaic loopholes in a system stemming from the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. Back then, freelancers (including playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists) were legally treated more like small businesses, because they owned their own copyright. But, as the past few weeks have made clear, a writer who is at the mercy of, say, a vindictive producer (or others in a business in which workplace harassment is sadly still all too common) deserves to have the same right to organize as other employees.
The bill seeks to revise the National Labor Relations Act by allowing independent contractors (like you) act collectively through your guild. This new law won’t make the Guild a “union” per se, nor will it make you an “employee” that does “work-for-hire” nor will it change your tax status, but it would give the Guild the exemption from anti-trust laws that we have sought for so long.
The PRO Act would enable The Dramatists Guild to fight even more proactively on your behalf.
Under the PRO Act, freelancers - including dramatists- could legally:
- Negotiate collectively with more bargaining power to advocate for minimum wages, pensions, and healthcare;
- Share information regarding their hourly rate (to ensure equal pay for all races and genders);
- Report incidents of sexual harassment without fear of retaliation;
- Place industry bullies on a Do Not Work List.
And even so, dramatists will still own their copyrights.
What Can YOU Do?
How can you help ensure that this vital piece of legislation passes in the US Senate? You can all call your senators. The House has already passed The PRO Act (H.R. 842) and is now before the Senate (S. 420), but it remains stalled in the Senate by a few pro-“business lobby” Democrats who have yet to sign on as sponsors.
For those of you represented by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), or Mark Kelly (D-AZ), it is particularly urgent for you to contact them and demand they support the bill.