Performers survived the pandemic and a decimated industry thanks to union help

No other demographic in America was affected by the pandemic quite like the live performance industry.

Within a week after March 12, 2020, the entire industry shutdown. Musicians, performers and stagehands suddenly found themselves with no income and their health insurance threatened, with no sign of when the world would re-open.

Adam Krauthamer, President of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) Local 802, joined America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss the challenges performers faced during the pandemic and how the AFM fought to secure pay, healthcare and pension benefits for its members.

He also discussed vaccination mandates and COVID-19 testing requirements for the performance industry.

Through political advocacy, the AFM helped musicians survive

AFM Local 802 serves greater New York and is the largest Local Union of professional musicians in the world.

At the beginning of the pandemic the AFM had to figure out how to financially survive because musicians could not pay their union dues. Tough decisions had to be made as the union devised a plan to remain fiscally solvent.

As the pandemic raged on, the main struggle was to figure out how to help musicians, artists and stagehands survive long-term. AFM members contacted politicians to let them know the predicament facing live performers, including the importance of unemployment benefits and the need to extend healthcare plans.

Fortunately, the American Rescue Plan helped alleviate some concerns, as it extended unemployment and funded pension plans.

Throughout the summer of 2021, the AFM worked with New York City to hold live performances at vaccination sites, which provided some of the first paid gigs for its members in over a year.

Performance industry institutes mandatory vaccinations and regular COVID-19 testing

In New York, vaccinations for performers have been mandatory across the board, which the AFM supports, providing exemptions for religious and health considerations, Krauthamer said.

Due to the severity of the delta variant and the fact vaccinated people can become infected and spread the virus, New York has also implemented regular COVID-19 testing of performers within the last two months. Some performers are tested at least twice a week, sometimes as often as five to seven times per week.


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