Updated: Dec 21, 2020
An XPUA Statement From
Co-Founder, Stephanie Freed:
Today the Senate committee on commerce held a hearing on COVID19's Impact on the Live Events and Entertainment Industry. ExtendPUA.org advocates for all workers, but this hearing was of particular interest to us for three reasons.
It was a hearing the week of relief legislation negotiations so it was positioned to greatly further our general cause for more relief especially for workers.
The summary of the hearing said they would be discussing legislation priorities including unemployment support and healthcare.
Grant, ExtendPUA.org's Co-founder, myself, and most of our volunteer team are unemployed individuals from the live events and entertainment industry.
We were disappointed to see that not a single worker was invited to speak at this hearing.
Our industry is unique and that is part of the reason it is particularly hard hit by this crisis. First, we need people to be able to be shoulder to shoulder having experiences together for our jobs to exist. That was acknowledged in this hearing. Second, a vast swath of our workforce is freelance. We are not like many other industries, where the workforce is largely employed by companies - we are freelancers and self employed individuals. We are not employees. Small business legislation does not help many of us.
That issue seemed entirely lost in this hearing. Our witnesses spoke as if bailing out our businesses would save our industry. In other industries, that may be true - if you save the businesses and they bring back all of their employees, the industry may be saved. That IS NOT the case with the live events and entertainment industry. This hearing could have created understanding around our industry and the diverse and varied workforce that these businesses rely on to survive, but instead it served as a platform for pushing small business legislation that already has wide bipartisan support.
The hearing also, and this is extremely problematic, advocated for liability protections for businesses, which workers and ExtendPUA.org do not advocate for. The liability protections currently proposed in Congress would hurt workers' ability to protect themselves and hold employers accountable for protecting workers from COVID19 for the next 5 years. Liability and work place safety should be structured around OSHA requirements and our unions' voices - relief should not be contingent on this work getting done.
The live events and entertainment industry's workforce is largely unemployed. One witness in the testimony said we are all taking jobs at Home Depot and Amazon, but while it may be true for a few, it is not true for most. Many of us have tried to find work, but it does not exist. We are relying entirely on emaciated and expiring unemployment programs.
So while we are very grateful to the committee members for holding a hearing on this important legislation and while we are grateful to the five industry representatives for their important impassioned plea for Congress to save our small businesses, we are incredibly disappointed that workers' voices were not brought to the table, either directly themselves or through any of the witness' testimonies. As we continue to say, in this industry, it must be both. We must save our businesses and our venues, but we also need relief for our workers. Our industry doesn't exist without both parts.
We would like to thank the members of the live events and entertainment industry who joined us in the push to get a worker at the table for this hearing. Constituents reached out to their Senators offices and we heard back from several. We spoke on the phone with a member of Senator Rosen's staff about strategy and she offered to submit our questions (which asked the witnesses specifically about the needs for the freelance workforce in the industry) into the record. We also spoke with Senator Cantwell's office who asked us to submit written testimony, read it ahead of time, and attempted to incorporate it into her time in the hearing. This is all due to the effort of many incredible people to get workers into the room.
We have submitted that written testimony for the record through Senator Cantwell's office. We are grateful for that opportunity and grateful to all of the members of our community who have been sharing their stories with us. We have included a few in our testimony. Our testimony is below. It was written prior to the hearing.