As the wave of film and TV production shutdowns over the coronavirus pandemic is starting to subside, their staggering impact on below-the-line workers is starting to emerge. IATSE reported Tuesday that the COVID-19-related production suspensions snd event cancellations have resulted in the loss of 120,000 jobs held by its 150,000 members. A large number of those affected work in Hollywood production but IATSE also covers live events, conventions and all people-facing businesses that have been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
Also on Tuesday, the IATSE General Executive Board approved $2.5 million in donations to three entertainment charities, the Actors Fund, the Motion Picture and Television Fund, and the Actors Fund of Canada, which IATSE president Matt Loeb said “are perfectly situated to act as our partners to help those experiencing hardship caused by the current health crisis.”
The studios are still formulating their response to the sudden loss of employment for so many of their crew members. Some of them have already promised two-week severance pay to the full-time production staffers, others so far have been offering little more than encouraging words and promises that their jobs will be there if and when production resumes. For many below-the-line workers, their only income for the foreseeable future will be expedited unemployment benefits from the state.
“It’s all over the place,” said a union source. “It depends on the employer. There’s no consistent pattern to it, and they’re all trying to figure it out.”
“It’s haphazard,” said another. “Some shows are paying two week’s severance at full salary, and some are paying two weeks at eight hours a day – which is reduced pay for those who normally work 60 hours a week. And some, as of now, are not paying anything, which is disappointing. There is no safety net from up above.”
While above-the-line talent’s pay is protected by their contracts, their below-the-line counterparts do not have built-n safeguards when production is suspended.
Additionally, union leaders are concerned about the long-term impact from the shutdowns.
“Although some of our members are being paid for up to two weeks after their shows shut down, based upon the reality of the health care crisis we now face, it is highly unlikely that productions will resume after so short a period of time,” leaders of the International Cinematographers Guild, IATSE Local 600, told their members today. “This problem is likely to continue for months, not weeks, and our concerns about health, benefits and economic stability are shared by the entire membership. Your health and safety and the well-being of your families are paramount to us. You have many questions about your benefit hours and the ability of the plans, both active and retiree, to withstand a period of diminished contributions and an uncertain investment environment. It is important to note that both plans currently have months of reserves and are not threatened at this moment.”
IATSE’s Loeb has joined other union leaders in calling on the federal government to enact “emergency relief” for the thousands of entertainment industry workers who have found themselves without jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Specifically, he called for new measures that would ensure the continuity of health benefits; enhance and extend unemployment, disability, and workers compensation benefits, and provide emergency paid leave for industry workers whose jobs have disappeared virtually overnight as film, TV, and theater productions have shuttered all across the country.
“As social distancing measures are enacted and events and projects across all sectors of the entertainment industry are cancelled, it’s become clear that the COVID-19 crisis requires decisive action from our federal government to support displaced entertainment workers,” he said in a statement.