Actors’ Equity Lauds Senate For $2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill

David Robb

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Actors’ Equity, the union representing actors and stage managers in live theater, is praising the $2 trillion Senate bill for the expansion of access to unemployment benefits that the bill will afford to arts and entertainment workers. The bill, which gives unemployed workers an extra $600 a week on top of their regular state benefits for four months — and $1,200 to most tax-payers — is expected to be approved by the House shortly.

“On Broadway alone,” the union said, “16 shows were scheduled to open during the period when all shows were suspended. One off-Broadway venue has postponed 109 shows impacting the livelihoods of 37 actors. For those who lost work who had not begun the job, the bill will create new access to claim unemployment.

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“Among other provisions, the bill defines covered individuals as someone who ‘was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job,’ and for workers where ‘the individual’s place of employment is closed.’ This would help arts and entertainment workers who accepted an offer of employment but had their show postponed, along with those working who had productions shut down.

The bill also includes new access to unemployment for gig and self-employed workers who would not otherwise qualify for unemployment, and an additional $75 million for the National Endowment for the Arts.

“From day one, we have made it clear that arts and entertainment workers need help,” said Equity president Kate Shindle. “Our industry is structured far differently than most, and when this is over, we must have a ready and healthy workforce to jump-start local economies across America. I’m encouraged by the provisions of the new Senate bill, which will make it easier for arts professionals to get the unemployment assistance they need for work they had booked, but not yet started. We especially appreciate the efforts of Senator Schumer and the New York delegation, as well as Senator McConnell, for including these essential provisions. We urge swift passage in the House.

“We are also tremendously happy that the Senate legislation includes language that will allow freelancers who have been put out of work – or seen their event-based jobs vanish – will be eligible for unemployment assistance if they don’t otherwise qualify. Although this type of work is not always done under Equity contracts, we know that thousands of our members have been suffering major financial stress due to cancellations.

“At the bargaining table and in Washington, I’m proud that we have joined together with the other arts and entertainment unions to aggressively lobby for relief. Our industry faces an unprecedented crisis, which threatens a powerful residual effect on related businesses where theatergoers spend money. We have difficult times ahead, but we need everyone – onstage, backstage, front-of-house and beyond – to remain engaged in our unions’ efforts. Only by doing so will we all emerge stronger on the other side.

“We will continue to fight for arts and entertainment workers, because by doing so, we are fighting for all of the communities in which arts centers are both cultural hubs and economic drivers. At the same time, we will keep advocating for broader arts funding at all levels, so that employers have the resources they need to quickly recover and reopen when the time comes.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), whose Southern California district includes tens of thousands of suddenly unemployed workers in the film and TV industry, also had high praise for the bill. “I’m particularly pleased,” he said, “that the bill covers the millions of Americans who work as contractors, freelancers, in the gig economy, and a variety of other employment structures. This concern acutely affects many of my constituents who, for example, work in the entertainment industry and have non-traditional employment. I was proud to play a leadership role with House and Senate negotiators on this issue and I’m grateful that this bill covers them, and many others.”

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