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Senate Proposal Expands Access to Unemployment Protections for Arts and Entertainment Workers

Stage Directions • Industry News • March 26, 2020

Senate bill boosts weekly unemployment benefit by $600 and includes new triggers to file for unemployment for those who accepted offers but productions were postponed by COVID-19 before they started work

March 26, 2020—Kate Shindle, President of Actors’ Equity Association, the national labor union representing professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, released the following statement following regarding the updated Senate “Phase 3” bill, the CARES Act, which passed the U.S. Senate last night.

On Broadway alone, 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.

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 important new access to unemployment for gig and self-employed workers who would not otherwise qualify for unemployment. It also includes 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 Kate Shindle, President of Actors’ Equity Association. “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.”

Actors’ Equity first made the public case for emergency relief for arts and entertainment workers on March 11, when news reports emerged that Washington state and others would limit public gatherings. Equity quickly mobilized to partner with other arts and entertainment unions to make the case to key members of Congress for relief for arts and entertainment workers during this unprecedented crisis. Since then, Equity members have sent more than 27,000 letters to their member of Congress seeking relief. Equity has also partnered with the Coalition of Broadway Unions (COBUG) to seek relief for members in New York State.

Further information from Actors’ Equity Association: www.actorsequity.org

 

 

 

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