New York, NY – It’s estimated throughout the United States there are over two million Americans that work in the entertainment industry from sound stages in Hollywood to Broadway in New York City to the neighborhood cinema in main street USA. An industry that is glamorous, lucrative, well paid and mostly unionized is now silent for the first time anyone can remember. COVID-19 has devastated a great American industry.
Entertainment was considered a recession proof business – but that’s no longer the case. The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the government’s unprecedented needed response has caused the biggest disruption to this industry in the history of show business. Sound stages are empty and studio backlots are silent. Industry conglomerates are taking hits across the board as productions go dark. Theme parks are ghost towns. Hollywood studios have shut down all film and television productions. Everything from theaters to professional sports, festivals, and conventions have closed in order to prevent the spread of the virus and the coronavirus continues pushing people indoors.
On March 12, the Broadway League announced the closure of all Broadway theaters in compliance with New York State regulations on crowd-size limits. Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League said in a statement that “Our top priority continues to be the health and well-being of Broadway theatregoers and the thousands of people who work in the theatre industry every day, including actors, musicians, stagehands, ushers, and many other dedicated professionals.”
Even Walt Disney World Resorts are furloughing all its employees around the world including 43,000 union workers in Florida. In a statement Disney confirmed the layoff of almost all its employees at the Walt Disney Resorts around the world. To its credit, Disney will pay 100% of health insurance costs for American workers currently covered for the duration of the furlough up to 12 months, according to the Services Trade Council Union.
So what now for those unemployed in the industry – union and non-union. While this is a mainly unionized industry the Gig Economy is growing within the business. However, unions still make a difference for workers. When a crisis occurs, unions become a critical advocate for businesses within an industry.
The Directors Guild of America has established a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to aid members facing financial crisis. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents crew workers and stagehands has cut its member dues and is working on options to support members. SAG/AFTRA, which represents actors and radio performers has 100,000 of its members, nearly two-thirds of the entire union unemployed and their Foundation has created the COVID-19 Relief Fund to assist eligible SAG-AFTRA members. Other unions in the industry are developing programs to assist members during this crisis.
“As social distancing measures are enacted and events and projects across all sectors of the entertainment industry are canceled, it’s become clear that the COVID-19 crisis requires decisive action from our Federal Government to support displaced entertainment workers. Film and Television Production alone injects $49 Billion into local businesses per year, and the overall entertainment industry supports 2.1 Million jobs in municipal and state economies. Along with the other entertainment unions and the labor movement at large, we call on the Federal government to pass a relief package that prioritizes workers whose incomes have been lost as a result of this crisis,” said IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb.