Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and three dozen members of Congress are trying to build momentum to offer relief to entertainment industry workers sidelined by the coronavirus or impacted by the wave of cancellations and shutdowns across showbiz.
They sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy calling for provisions that specifically address the unique nature of industry employment.
In the letter, they write that benefits provided to the workers should be calculated based on verifiable anticipated earnings “for a current or future contract that has been cancelled, rather than prior wage history.”
“As Members representing many constituents who work in film, television, theater, and live music, we urge you to include protections for those who have lost work due to coronavirus-related cancellations and postponements in the entertainment industry,” the letter states.
The lawmakers write that many of the workers “can’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits or paid emergency leave, yet will now be unable to cover their basic expenses due to lost work.”
“Many of these workers have arranged, contracted for, and planned on work on a film, television show, streaming program, commercial, theatrical or other live production that has been cancelled or postponed as a result of the coronavirus emergency,” the lawmakers wrote.
Congressional leaders are in the midst of devising the next coronavirus relief package. President Donald Trump signed a bill on Wednesday to boost paid medical leave, expand testing and increase Medicaid funding. But the wave of layoffs makes it clear that the federal government response will have to be much, much more. The administration lately has been talking about a package that exceeds $1 trillion. Trump and other White House officials have specifically cited airlines, hospitality and the cruise industries as particularly distressed.
Industry unions have been pressing lawmakers for relief, as IATSE has been petitioning Congress for help.
Brandon Lorenz, spokesman for Actors Equity, said in a statement, “Countless actors, stage managers and everyone who work in arts and entertainment are out of work and wondering how they will make their next rent payment.” He said that the letter from Schiff and other lawmakers “made it clear they understand arts workers need to be protected during this unprecedented health emergency.”
On Wednesday, the National Association of Theatre Owners also requested a relief package as theaters nationwide have been shuttered, with a set of proposals that include loan guarantees and tax benefits, as well as ways to recover ongoing costs.
The complete letter to Pelosi and McCarthy is below, and the list of signers is here:
March 19, 2020
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Kevin McCarthy
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy:
Thank you for your work on behalf of our nation advancing swift and decisive legislative responses to the emerging coronavirus crisis. The bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act that overwhelmingly passed the House on Friday, as well as the previously approved $8.3 billion in emergency supplemental appropriations, will help protect the health and financial security of families across the country as we confront this unprecedented challenge.
Already, the sweeping disruptions to public life that are crucial to slowing the spread of the coronavirus have sent shockwaves through the economy, bringing many industries to a standstill as workers and employers heed the instructions of public health officials and scale back all but the most essential activity.
In the coming weeks, it is critical that Congress provide relief to impacted workers and their families. Particularly hard hit are freelancers, contractors, and other independent workers who in many cases lack the resources of a large employer as well as unemployment and paid leave protections provided to traditional employees. As events are called off, contracts postponed, performances canceled, and other opportunities for work reduced, we must ensure that relief is provided to all affected workers, regardless of the structure of their employment.
In particular, we urge you to include protections for freelance and contract workers in the entertainment industry who have lost work because of coronavirus-related cancellations or postponements. For every worker or performer on stage or in front of the camera, there are dozens more who make their living in this industry—an industry in crisis, with virtually every workplace in the country shut down over the past week.
The unique freelance nature of work in film, television, theater, and live music means that a large number of the professionals who make these productions possible work only sporadically—often with extended periods between paying jobs—and count on income from each project to make ends meet. As a result, many of them can’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits or paid emergency leave, yet will now be unable to cover their basic expenses due to lost work. Many of these workers have arranged, contracted for, and planned on work on a film, television show, streaming program, commercial, theatrical or other live production that has been cancelled or postponed as a result of the coronavirus emergency. However, these union workers are not adequately protected by rules designed for traditional single-employer relationships, or even consistent multi-employer work as in industries like construction.
As Members representing many constituents who work in film, television, theater, and live music, we urge you to include protections for those who have lost work due to coronavirus-related cancellations and postponements in the entertainment industry. Due to the unique, sporadic nature of work in this industry, we believe that benefits provided to these workers should be calculated based on verifiable anticipated earnings for a current or future contract that has been cancelled, rather than prior wage history.
Thank you for your attention to our constituents’ concerns in this unprecedented situation and your consideration of our request.
CC: The Honorable Richard Neal
Chairman, Committee on Ways and Means
The Honorable Kevin Brady
Ranking Member, Committee on Ways and Means