SAG-AFTRA and Other Arts Unions Call on Lawmakers to Provide Emergency Relief Aid

Jazz Tangcay
·3 min read

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The unions representing arts, media and entertainment are calling on Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Congress to pass emergency relief legislation that both enhances and expands state unemployment benefits, and sends direct cash to the impacted workers they represent.

“Arts, entertainment, and media workers have been hit hard by this public health and economic crisis,” said Jennifer Dorning, president of the Department for Professional Employees. “Overnight, production and performances industry-wide shut down indefinitely, leaving most entertainment and media workers without a source of income to cover essential expenses. Workers who are left without a paycheck and may not qualify for unemployment have no recourse unless Congress acts now. Elected officials have a moral responsibility to ensure emergency relief packages address these workers’ unique circumstances. … DPE affiliate unions representing arts, entertainment, and media professionals are committed to working with the federal government to provide economic relief during this long-term national crisis.”

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“Creative professionals have unique work situations that prevent them from gaining much relief from state unemployment insurance programs,” she added.

Workers in the arts and entertainment industries who are classified as employees have minimal benefits.

DPE and its affiliated arts, entertainment and media unions are calling on the federal government to include the following in its future COVID-19-related emergency relief legislation:

Provide states with dedicated funds to increase unemployment benefits and extend the number of eligible weeks beyond 26 weeks, similar to what was done during the 2008 recession.

Access to unemployment benefits for the many creative professionals who rely on contract work, tipped jobs, or their own small business to supplement their income and earn a living.

Continue enhancing the Unemployment Compensation system, including for those who lose expected work because their productions are shut down.

Direct cash to affected workers and self-employed individuals that’s unrestricted, sent bi-weekly, and not tied to actual lost wages, work histories, or federal tax obligations.

Direct cash plans that consider the number of children a worker has to care for.

The benefit amount for direct cash plans should exceed $1,000 a month, due to the cost of living throughout the country. For example, in New York the estimated cost for a family of four is $6,976 and in Birmingham, Alabama the estimated monthly costs for a family of four is $3,434. Both figures are much higher than the existing unemployment benefits provide.

Enhancements to SNAP and WIC food programs.

Provide paid sick leave, mortgage and rent payment relief, student loan payment waivers, credit reporting moratoriums, and childcare assistance.

The unions committing to advocacy effort include:

Actors’ Equity Association
American Federation of Musicians
American Guild of Musical Artists
American Guild of Variety Artists
Directors Guild of America
Guild of Italian American Artists
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Office and Professional Employees International Union
Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
Stage Directors and Choreographers Society
Writers Guild of America, East

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