Each day there are more reports of agency layoffs in the face of reduced client spending.
What about everyone else involved in the making of advertising? What’s the situation on the ground for people outside the agency walls—the freelance writers, musicians, directors, editors, actors et al? How are they holding things together?
“Freelancers are experiencing the greatest financial crisis in modern history. With over 80% of our members reporting a loss of income and work opportunities because of the pandemic, they are depending on government relief in record numbers,” says Rafael Espinal, President of Freelancers Union.
Given the unique nature of the arts and entertainment industry, many creators work project to project and gig to gig, not only in multiple jobs but in various capacities. As a result, creators often find themselves working as employees – such as under a union contract – receiving W-2 wages and as independent contractors (or otherwise self-employed) in the same year.
If a mixed-earner such as an entrepreneur, seasonal worker, gig worker, or local musician, singer, actor, writer, photographer, or other creator makes enough income as a W-2-employee to qualify for any amount of traditional state unemployment benefits, only their W-2 income is considered in determining a weekly base benefit amount. As a result, these taxpayers are losing thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars in vital benefits that could cover the cost of rent or food during a global pandemic.
“The pandemic has exposed that our nation’s unemployment system is not designed for all workers, like music creators, leaving so many vulnerable and without assistance,” says Harvey Mason Jr., Chair and Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy.
Legal Remedies Proposed
A broad coalition of arts and entertainment unions and organizations are supporting the Mixed Earner Unemployment Assistance Act of 2020, which was introduced by U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA) to remedy some of the unintended flaws in previous COVID-19 relief bills.
Rep. Chu says, “There is no reason these workers should be penalized now for having a mixed-income. I’m proud to work with my colleague Rep. Adam Schiff to make this commonsense change to recognize the various ways our constituents earn a living and ensure they are rightly compensated for that during this crisis.”
This new legislation grants the states the option to transition eligible Mixed Earners from their state unemployment program into the federal PUA program, which will ensure equitable benefits for the recipient going forward. Under this legislation, a mixed earner who earned at least $7,250 from self-employment in 2019 could amend their application to qualify for the PUA program where all income will be aggregated to calculate a new weekly base benefit amount based on actual income.
Actively Seeking Solutions
The organizations in support of the Mixed Earner Unemployment Assistance Act of 2020 include:
- The Authors Guild
- Department for Professional Employees AFL-CIO
- Freelancers Union
- Future of Music Coalition
- Lawyers for the Creative Arts in Chicago
- Music Artists Coalition
- The Recording Academy
- The Recording Industry Association of America
- Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
- Songwriters of North America
Gabrielle Carteris, President of SAG-AFTR says, “The Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Act, championed by Adam Schiff and Judy Chu, corrects an unintended flaw in the CARES Act that resulted in affected performers receiving a fraction of the weekly benefits they are owed as taxpayers.”
Here is a short video from Carteris, recorded in early April.
I like how (near the end of the video) she compliments the creative people who make the communications industry work. “Your work, your incredible heart, and commitment are comforting millions of people and their families during an incredible time of uncertainty. Never has the work that we do been more important in providing solace and information to our world. You uplift a nation and for that I thank you.”
Why Aren’t You A Member of A Union?
Ad agency workers, the ones with jobs, are not part of the organized labor movement. Basically, unions do not exist at this time in the agency business. Given how many labor problems agencies and their parent companies have today—depressed wages, long hours, lack of diversity, sexual harassment, ageism, and so on—it doesn’t make sense.
The AFL-CIO knows it doesn’t make sense. Here’s how one might start working with them to form a union.
Will clients and their customers ultimately get better work from agencies that are union shops?
It’s been proven time and again that you can’t overwork people and expect them to perform at the top of their game. A union at a famous creative sweatshop will send chills down the spines of the abusers in the c-suite. Meanwhile, everyone else benefits.