New York – Actors' Equity Association, the national labor union representing professional actors and stage managers in live theatre, released the following statement regarding a new study showing that more than 5 million Americans have already lost their employer-sponsored health care during the pandemic.

Like other arts and entertainment unions, the Equity-League Benefits Fund is dependent on employer contributions to provide coverage. The longer the industry is suspended, the harder it will be for members to gain access to the plan and the harder it will be for members to maintain their union health care plan without action from Congress.

“For months, the theatre industry has been shut down, closing the door for too many workers looking to obtain and maintain their health care coverage,” said Mary McColl, Executive Director of Actors’ Equity Association. “The House has already taken action. The Senate should move quickly to pass a COBRA subsidy so that no one in the arts and entertainment industries worries about losing their health care in the middle of a pandemic. The nature of this pandemic and the need for social distancing means that many of us in live arts will also be among the last to return to work, making it critical that Congress acts now.”

According to the study, states that have suffered some of the highest losses in health care include California, New York, Florida and Georgia – states that are also key arts and entertainment industry hubs

In April, Equity called for a COBRA subsidy as unemployment began to skyrocket in the arts and entertainment sector. In May the House passed the HEROES Act, which includes a 100% COBRA subsidy for displaced workers. The language is modeled after similar efforts during the 2008 financial crisis, when the federal government offered COBRA subsidies to workers who were laid off through no fault of their own. In May, Equity called for the U.S. Senate to pass a COBRA subsidy without delay.

In addition to advocating for a COBRA subsidy, Equity has also made temporary COVID-19 remote work agreements available that include salaries and employer health contributions.  And more than 4,800 Equity members and supporters have signed a petition calling for a COBRA subsidy.

Equity members' health insurance is tied to how many weeks out of the year they work on contract. Members who work at least 11 weeks on an Equity contract can qualify for 6 months of coverage through Equity-League Benefit Funds, a separate nonprofit organization jointly managed by trustees of the union and employers. Members who work at least 19 weeks qualify for 1 year of health insurance coverage.  

Actors’ Equity first made the public case for emergency relief for arts and entertainment workers on March 11, when news reports emerged that Washington state and others would limit public gatherings. Equity quickly mobilized to partner with other arts and entertainment unions to make the case to key members of Congress for relief for arts and entertainment workers during this unprecedented crisis.

ACTORS' EQUITY ASSOCIATION, founded in 1913, is the U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 professional actors and stage managers. Equity endeavors to advance the careers of its members by negotiating wages, improving working conditions and providing a wide range of benefits (health and pension included). Member: AFL-CIO, FIA.  #EquityWorks  

July 14, 2020