Dear Members of Local 764,
Since the pandemic began Local 764’s Executive Board has been sending regular email updates to you. It is important that you receive timely information about your jobs, unemployment benefits and health insurance, ways to receive financial and mental health assistance, and specific details about cancellations, postponements, and how to volunteer or ask for help.
Today, however, with the shut-down of virtually the entire entertainment business well into its second month, and with the President of the Broadway League recently stating that there was really no telling when shows might reopen, I wanted to take a moment to write directly to all of you, to give a snapshot of the union’s activities as this crisis has unfolded.
Even before workplace shutdowns began, we were working with your individual employers to insure that, at the very least, all our contractual provisions regarding work stoppages and closures would be upheld. In many cases we were able to negotiate beyond required payments to secure additional weeks of pay and benefits. Some employers paid what they were required to pay, some were not required but stepped up and did the right thing regardless, and some we needed to bargain with assertively. Of course, a few are not contractually required to pay and will not or cannot. Please rest assured that your Business Agents, Frank Gallagher and Leah Okin and I kept all of you, at every job, at the forefront of these negotiations.
In a time when all of us are afraid that we will be sick, or that someone in our family will be sick, health insurance is of paramount importance. Some of my own time was spent working with the IATSE National Benefit Fund and employers to be sure that your health insurance coverage would continue, even though you are not working. As of today, every single one of you has health insurance coverage at the same level (C1, C2, C3, C4, single or family) that you had on March 1, 2020. This will continue until at least September 30, 2020. We are constantly monitoring and revisiting the situation with the employers and the benefit fund trustees in case additional relief will be needed and have already had conversation in this regard with the Broadway League. Importantly, the IATSE National Health and Welfare Fund has waived all fees for COVID-19 testing for all participants in Plan C, and if you receive treatment for the coronavirus (including doctor visits, lab tests and hospitalization) and you receive that care by an in-network provider, the Fund has waived all cost sharing.
To ensure that no member would suffer loss of good standing during the crisis, the 764 Executive Board approved a $62 credit on your account to cover the second quarter’s dues. The Union’s Wally Hall Fund is available to give emergency loans of up to $3000 to any member in good standing in need, and we are working with the Actors Fund to help facilitate applications for more extensive relief, where necessary.
With the IATSE International and the National AFL-CIO, we were part of tireless lobbying to get the CARES Act passed in Washington. Many of you were among the 107,000 who petitioned our representatives to keep the entertainment business and freelance workers in mind when any relief bills were passed, including unemployment benefits. Going forward as the next round of legislation is debated and in Washington, we will be lobbying hard for legislation to safeguard union pensions and to provide COBRA subsidies, in the event such help is ever needed.
At a local level we have good friends at the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) particularly Commissioner Anne del Castillo. We have good contacts with both Governor Cuomo’s office through NY Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon and with The New York City Central Labor Council and its President Vincent Alvarez. I serve on the Executive Council of the CLC and in that role I have been able to be in conversation with Senator Chuck Schumer directly about the effects of this terrible virus on our workers. All our activism in politics over the years is paying off now when we need it. We will be able to draw on all these relationships for assistance and a safe and sensible return to work.
And you! The members of Local 764 touch me constantly with your bravery, generosity, and perseverance. So many of you have made beautiful masks to contribute to all sorts of local medical teams, grocery workers, police stations and other front-line folks. Our official partners—the URI network of domestic violence shelters which serves over 2000 domestic violence victims in New York City and Encore Community Services which provides Meals on Wheels up and down the West Side have received more than 1200 masks from us. Local 764 members are also making gowns, giving blood, and volunteering and assisting in many other ways. Perhaps most importantly, you’re keeping tabs on each other, calling members and retirees who may have health conditions or are lonely and all of this is great. But I am not surprised. You are the heart of Local 764.
Our entire, wonderful office staff, led by Secretary-Treasurer Martha Smith, continue to serve you and answer your questions while working from their homes. They shine during this crisis. Vice President Vangeli Kaseluris and Trustee Kim Butler Gilkeson have done a wonderful job with social media and are able to amplify your good deeds and broadcast important information, and keep us abreast of the current news. All the Executive Board members have been meeting regularly via telephone calls, and board members have been especially vigilant when it comes to keeping in touch with members who are sick or need help.
Local 764 was first formed in 1919, the year after the Spanish Flu Pandemic. As a group, over all these years we have weathered many storms…the beginning of the AIDS crisis, the Writer’s Strike, the 2003 and 2007 Broadway Strikes and the threatened Met Opera Lockout; 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis—not to mention wars and weather and national events that impact production and live events. While it all changes us, and changes our business, and even changes the way people behave (a little bit) Local 764 perseveres, and we will now. There will be a day when production will resume and shows open and we go back to work—when we will be communicating about payroll issues and publicity events and complaining about early calls and the crowded sidewalks in Times Square again. No doubt there will be new ways to do things, with many more safe and sanitary protocols in place.
Until then, please stay safe. Do not hesitate to contact me, the union office or the members of the Executive Board with your questions and concerns. We will continue to keep you informed with regular email blasts of any timely developments and information.
Often, I talk to you about 764 solidarity, which seems like a contradiction in terms, now that social distancing requirements keep us apart. But I think in this time of physical isolation we are still very much united. Solidarity goes beyond what we can see. Even in this unprecedentedly difficult time, we are united with the bond of our union membership, common interests, and desire to reach out and help each other and the broader community. We are still #764 strong.
In warm solidarity to all of you,
Patricia A White
Theatrical Wardrobe Union, Local 764, IATSE