By David Robb Deadline March 20, 2020 9:29 am
With hundreds of thousands of entertainment industry workers suddenly unemployed by the coronavirus shutdown, unions and guilds affiliated with the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees are calling on President Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Congress to quickly pass emergency relief legislation to enhance and expand state unemployment benefits and send direct cash to the impacted workers they represent.
“Arts, entertainment, and media workers have been hit hard by this public health and economic crisis,” said DPE President Jennifer Dorning. “Overnight, production and performances industry-wide shut down indefinitely, leaving most entertainment and media workers without a source of income to cover essential expenses. Workers who are left without a paycheck and may not qualify for unemployment have no recourse unless Congress acts now. Elected officials have a moral responsibility to ensure emergency relief packages address these workers’ unique circumstances. DPE affiliate unions representing arts, entertainment, and media professionals are committed to working with the federal government to provide economic relief during this long-term national crisis.”
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Existing state unemployment insurance benefits tend to be insufficient for arts and entertainment workers, and many will not be eligible for the paid leave expansion in the newly passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
“Creative professionals have unique work situations that prevent them from gaining much relief from state unemployment insurance programs,” Dorning said. “For workers in the arts and entertainment industries who are classified as employees, the benefits tend to be minimal. In a state like California, weekly benefits for creative professionals range from $40 to $450, which is not enough to weather this crisis – and far below what creative professionals would be earning if they could work.”
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law this week, providing relief to many workers across the country, but its paid sick leave and childcare leave provisions only apply to a limited number of still-employed arts, entertainment, and media professionals.
“We thank the President, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader McConnell and the rest of Congress for this much-needed first step in providing support to workers impacted by the COVID-19 public health crisis,” Dorning said. “We look forward to a future emergency relief package that applies to all affected Americans, including those who have been laid off.”
DPE and its affiliated arts, entertainment, and media unions are calling on the federal government to include the following in its future COVID-19 related emergency relief legislation:
• Provide states with dedicated funds to increase unemployment benefits and extend the number of eligible weeks beyond 26 weeks, similar to what was done during the 2008 recession.
• Access to unemployment benefits for the many creative professionals who rely on contract work, tipped jobs, or their own small business to supplement their income and earn a living.
• Continue enhancing the Unemployment Compensation system, including for those who lose expected work because their productions are shut down.
• Direct cash to affected workers and self-employed individuals that’s unrestricted, sent bi-weekly, and not tied to actual lost wages, work histories, or federal tax obligations.
• Direct cash plans that consider the number of children a worker has to care for.
• The benefit amount for direct cash plans should exceed $1,000 a month, due to the cost of living throughout the country. For example, in New York the estimated cost for a family of four is $6,976 and in Birmingham, Alabama the estimated monthly costs for a family of four is $3,434. Both figures are much higher than existing unemployment benefits provide.
• Enhancements to SNAP and WIC food programs.
• Provide paid sick leave, mortgage and rent payment relief, student loan payment waivers, credit reporting moratoriums, and childcare assistance.
The unions committing to the advocacy effort include:
• Actors’ Equity Association
• American Federation of Musicians
• American Guild of Musical Artists
• American Guild of Variety Artists
• Directors Guild of America
• Guild of Italian American Artists
• International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts
• International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
• Office and Professional Employees International Union
• Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
• Stage Directors and Choreographers Society
• Writers Guild of America, East
The DPE is a coalition of 24 unions representing over four million professional and technical union members. DPE affiliate unions represent professionals in over 300 occupations in education and healthcare; science, engineering, and technology; legal, business, and management; media, entertainment, and the arts; and public administration.
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*Headline photo featured in Mr. Robb’s article