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Broadway unions band together to ask for city and state relief

The Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds, which encompasses 13 theatrical unions, has joined the call for government relief for workers across all facets of the industry.

Broadway theaters are closed due to coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Coalition of Broadway Unions and Guilds, which encompasses 13 theatrical unions, has joined the call for government relief for workers across all facets of the industry.

The group, which includes unions representing press agents, actors, stagehands, musicians, playwrights, ushers and more, is calling upon the city and state to include its members in any relief packages that are created. This joins individual campaigns launched by the respective unions this week asking for inclusion in federal relief packages after Broadway theaters went dark on March 12.

“There are no “work remotely” options for our members, many of whom are freelance or paid per performance. They face the stark reality of not being able to work and earn a living, perhaps for months…,” the letter reads. These workers are also in danger of losing health coverage, COBUG says.

Collectively, the unions are asking for financial aid so that members can buy food and medication and pay rent, as well as health protections, including access to mental health services. Their request also includes access to grants so that employers can make payroll.

“We’re working individually and collectively with the mayor’s office and other city officials to embed some more specific things in this legislation,” Laura Penn, co-chair of COBUG and president of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, said in an interview Wednesday.

Their aim is to make sure that entertainment workers are not overlooked in any relief package, particularly as relief bills for workers can be qualified by a specific length of employment, said Patricia White, president of Theatrical Wardrobe Union Local 764, which is part of IATSE.

New York has already passed some legislation aimed at helping workers affected by coronavirus, including requiring large employers to provide 14 days of sick leave and waiving the seven-day waiting period for filing for unemployment.

Outside of calls for government relief, union members await word from the Broadway League as to whether any current Broadway worker will receive payment during the theater shutdown.

As they work toward a solution, Penn said all of the Broadway unions have been communicating with each other and working with city and state officials.

“The unions are in very close contact with one another,” Penn said. “The support and the community and the solidarity is really kind of powerful.

In the interim, Broadway nonprofit organizations and individuals have been fundraising for theater workers. Broadway/Cares Equity Fights AIDS launched a $1 million campaign Monday and had raised more than $450,000 as of Wednesday.

Still, one of the biggest issues among all the unions at the moment is the uncertain timeline of COVID-19 and how long it will impact the theater industry.

White said she has been hearing from members concerned about the financial and physical impact of the virus. But she is hopeful that a solution will arrive for them soon.

“Of course they’re worried. They have economic worries and they have physical worries, and everyone’s just worried about our whole way of life,” White said. “But I will also say that my members in wardrobe are extremely resilient.”