Leaders of SAG-AFTRA and IATSE hosted a virtual town hall meeting today Tuesday with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) to discuss the impact of coronavirus on the entertainment industry and their efforts to get the industry back to work. The main thrust of the meeting was to explain the need for new legislation to close the “mixed-income” loophole in the $2 trillion CARES Act, in which many of those who work as both employees and independent contractors were left out of the act’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, noting that “production is virtually at a standstill,” praised Schiff, whose congressional district includes Hollywood and Burbank, for leading the charge to make sure the initial CARES Act included unemployment benefits for the industry’s freelance workforce.
“But more has to be done to aid our members,” she said. “Expanding and extending critical components of the CARES Act to close the mixed-income loophole and protecting the defined benefit plans — these are top priorities for all of us in the industry, as well as the congressman.”
Carteris said that “We were one of the first to be hit by the virus, and unfortunately, we may actually be among the last to come back, simply because we work in high numbers and in close proximity where PPE cannot always be utilized. And that’s the painful reality for us.”
“As we focus on reopening and returning to work,” she said, “we’re also going to continue to advocate on behalf of our members to encourage congressional action to protect and do everything in our power to ensure that SAG-AFTRA and its members emerge from this massive disruption intact and ready to go. That’s what we all want and need.”
David White, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director, who had to leave the meeting to return to the bargaining table with management’s AMPTP to negotiate a new film and TV contract, said “the past few months have been hard – really hard – and the next few months will also be challenging.”
On developing protocols for the safe return to work, he said that “We are engaged in a process that is collaborative throughout the industry. We are working directly with our colleagues at IATSE, the DGA and all other unions throughout the industry.”
IATSE international president Matt Loeb said that “the pandemic has essentially devastated our work opportunities, un-employing nearly 150,000 of our members. We have been working closely with government, and internally, to provide education and relief to our members, wherever possible. But no one knows how long it will go on and we’re going to need more help.”
“We are working together with the other unions and guilds to make sure we can come up with uniform safety standards that are the gold standard,” he said. “But what we really need now is strong leadership, and I can tell you that there’s no stronger leadership than Congressman Schiff.”
Schiff said that “the challenges facing this workforce are probably as acute or more acute than any other except those that are immediately on the frontlines in our hospitals, health clinics and in our nursing homes.”
He noted that the CARES Act “included a provision that would protect freelance workers and those who go from contract to contract so they wouldn’t be shut out of the unemployment compensation system. And we covered hundreds of thousands of people who are so situated.” Even so, he said, new legislation is needed to provide unemployment and health benefits for those with mixed incomes – both staff and freelance – many of whom have fallen between the cracks in the CARES Act’s coverage.