12:45pm PT by Carolyn Giardina
Hollywood Unions Applaud Congressional Coronavirus Relief Package
The Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, AFL-CIO (DPE) and affiliated arts, entertainment and media unions all applauded Congress for passing its coronavirus relief bill, which includes benefits for workers in the arts, entertainment and media industries, many of whom are out of work due to coronavirus-related cancellations and postponements.
Some of these groups outlined Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provisions that could assist members include the creation of a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program; an additional $600 per week payment to each recipient of unemployment insurance or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for up to four months; an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to help those who remain unemployed after weeks of state unemployment are no longer available; and a one-time direct payment of $1,200 for individuals making up to $75,000, or $112,500 for head of household. (Married couples making up to $150,000 who file a joint return are also eligible.)
Also cited is a waiver of a 10-percent early withdrawal penalty for distributions up to $100,000 from qualified retirement accounts for coronavirus-related purposes, as well as an increase in federal arts funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment of the Humanities and Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which supports PBS and NPR).
“This emergency stimulus package contains some key elements that will apply to our members, including higher weekly unemployment benefits, extended weeks of unemployment benefits, a one-time check for every American and their children under a certain annual income, and a special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for those who are not eligible for unemployment currently, such as independent contractors," SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said Friday in a statement.
Carteris thanked members, as well as sister unions and industry companies and individuals for reaching out to elected officials, adding, "Together, we sent the clear message that the arts and media sector is a vital part of the economy that cannot be left behind when considering relief for workers affected by COVID-19."
Numerous unions also pointed out that there's much more to be done. "The fight to protect arts and entertainment workers has only begun. We still have tremendous uncertainty before us," wrote Actors' Equity Association executive director Mary McColl.
Portions of additional statements follow.
Directors Guild president Thomas Schlamme:
“We applaud our allies in the House and the Senate for including provisions that provide access to vital lifelines, including unemployment benefits and direct cash payments, for our members and hundreds of thousands of creative workers whose unique working situations were a barrier to such critical relief. Lawmakers have heeded our urgent calls to address the needs of our members and others, everyday working men and women, who were so hard hit by the coronavirus crisis as film and television production shut down, including aid for those whose future projects were canceled.
“We thank Congressional leadership and the lawmakers championing the critical work of our members whose films and television programs entertain billions of people around the world. This support will keep them protected and will allow them to come out strong on the other end when they’re able to continue work again. We urge the President to approve these protections, which will soon put much needed money in the hands of our members and their families.”
The Writers Guild of America West:
“As the entertainment industry grapples with the devastating impact of COVID-19 and shutdown of production worldwide, the working professionals at its heart have found champions in Congress. The Writers Guild of America West applauds our federal representatives for answering our collective pleas to allow our members access to federal emergency benefits. The CARES Act provides both direct funds and unemployment benefits for entertainment workers who, without this bill, were ineligible for most forms of relief because of the intermittent nature of our work.
"The content our members write, and that our industry brings to life, is keeping the nation informed and entertained as we stay home to curb the spread of COVID-19. We urge our federal leaders to continue to support us and provide needed economic stimulus, including relief for our pension plan and additional economic support for those most in need.”
"IATSE members and allies sent over 107,000 letters to Congress urging lawmakers to include displaced entertainment workers in the next legislative relief package, and our voices were heard. IATSE commends Congress for expanding access to economic support for loss of work related to COVID-19. ... Entertainment workers will now receive economic support to help make up for the income lost due to cancelled or postponed work, and that money will soon be in the hands of working families. ..."
"However, our work is not done — the crisis continues and so does the fight. The IATSE remains focused on ensuring that subsequent COVID-19 relief legislation includes pension relief, access to affordable healthcare, and economic support for the entertainment industry to put people back to work. We also stand in solidarity with our brothers, sisters, and kin on the front lines of this coronavirus pandemic and call for increased safety and protections as they seek to help others.
"We look forward to the day when entertainment workers can start helping the country heal, but we must first mitigate this public health crisis and ensure we sustain working people until they can safely return to work."
Actors' Equity Association executive director Mary McColl:
"We are grateful to all of the members of Congress who strove to include provisions to protect arts and entertainment workers. Thousands of our members will now qualify for unemployment insurance. ... Furthermore, additional funding for the National Endowment for the Arts can be used to strengthen the institutions that give our members work, benefit local economies and enrich the lives of everyone who enjoys the arts.
"The fight to protect arts and entertainment workers has only begun. We still have tremendous uncertainty before us. But for now, many of our members will have a little more security about being able to pay their rent and feed their families in the meantime."
American Federation of Musicians:
"While gig economy workers were largely left out of earlier COVID-19 packages, this legislation would extend benefits to those who rely on contract work or freelance jobs. ... Earlier versions of this legislation lacked economic assistance for gig economy workers, but musicians called, emailed and put pressure on our elected representatives and we improved this relief package. By standing together, musicians made a difference and this is how we will get through these uncharted waters — by standing together in solidarity."
AFL-CIO (DPE) president Jennifer Dorning:
“We are thankful that this coronavirus aid bill ensures COVID-19 related economic relief applies to professionals in the arts, entertainment, and media industries. By coming together and mobilizing their members, DPE affiliated arts and entertainment unions made sure lawmakers took into account the unique working situations of creative professionals and expanded access to economic support.
“Many creative professionals who work gig to gig had begun or expected to begin their next job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. These individuals will now be eligible to receive economic support to help make up for the income lost due to cancelled or postponed work. The important takeaway is that money will soon be in the hands of creative professionals and their families.”