Members of Actors' Equity (search) have overwhelmingly approved a new four-year contract that covers Broadway shows as well as touring productions.

The contract, approved Tuesday night, increases minimum salaries on Broadway by 2 percent in the first year and 3 percent in subsequent years. It also significantly increases theater producers' health-fund contributions.

The Actors' Equity Association and the League of American Theatres and Producers (search) reached a tentative agreement on the contract July 12 after tense negotiations.

Although health care benefits and actors' safety were major concerns, at the center of the dispute was the question of non-Equity tours, which have been gaining in number over the last several years.

The contract adds an "experimental touring program," designed specifically for musicals, that provides different tiers of salaries and other compensation to reflect the different economic conditions of each show that goes on the road.

Touring productions traditionally have not employed Equity actors, sometimes using actors willing to work for less instead, and the union hopes the "experimental touring program" will provide more work.

Actors' Equity Association was founded in 1913 and represents more than 45,000 actors and stage managers in the United States.

In March 2003, more than a dozen Broadway musicals went dark for four days after the musicians' union walked out, and theaters lost more than $5 million in revenue.

Nobody wanted a repeat of that scenario. During negotiations this time, shows continued to play both on Broadway and on the road as both sides talked.