Live events industry workers marched while pushing empty road cases along Mill Avenue from Tempe’s Marquee Theatre to an “empty event” at Tempe Beach Park Tuesday afternoon.
The purpose was to illustrate the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown that’s kept people in their industry from working for the past six months.
Arriving at the park, several speakers addressed a crowd of several dozen people and a field of empty chairs, each one bearing the name of a type of worker displaced by the social distancing constraints of the global pandemic.
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The event was organized by the Arizona Live Events Coalition in conjunction with the Arizona Chapter of the International Live Events Association.
The International Live Events Coalition has hosted empty events across America, from New York City to Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Diego, Nashville and Boston.
David J. Cruse of the Arizona Events Coalition says as soon as the group started talking about the idea of doing an empty event, a lot of the production teams in town said they wanted to do a case push like they’d seen in other cities.
“So we did it,” he says.
“We had 100 out-of-work technicians pushing cases from the Marquee down Mill Avenue into Tempe Beach Park to arrive at an empty event. It was pretty impactful stuff and a little eerie doing an event to no one. But that’s the point. It got people talking. It got people understanding.”
In an email sent to the Republic, John Garberson of Creative Backstage talked about the impact on those workers.
“The Event industry is DEAD and has been since March,” he wrote. “But the state and federal government have forgotten about us. Events will bring in more tax dollars to cities then any another industry. The AZ senators do not care, congress does not care. This is a story that news is not picking up on and we are getting kicked to the back page. Venues like the Marquee only have a limited life. Without venues, there are no concerts and events.”
In addition to drawing attention to the impact of COVID-19 on the live events industry, Tuesday’s activation was designed to advocate for federal support and aid for the millions of Americans in the industry now out of work.
What Congress can do for live event workers
“We look at this as a bipartisan failure of the state and federal government for the American workers,” Cruse says. “And so what we’re looking for, and what we’re calling for, is a bipartisan solution. At this point, it’s just a dire situation.”
Specifically, the coalition hopes to urge government officials to pass the RESTART Act (HR7481) and to extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). That’s one of the federal CARES Act provisions that helps event employees including unemployed business owners, independent contractors and self-employed workers who are not usually eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.
“The President’s executive order has expired in Arizona,” Cruse says.
“And that’s leaving people after taxes with, like, $215 a week. You’re talking about people who are lifers, people who have been doing this for 25, 30 years. They have families, they have homes, they have mortgages they have to pay. And $215 isn’t enough to live on. So there needs to be some kind of extension of PUA.”
Members are also calling for an extension of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) which provides an additional $600 per week to individuals collecting unemployment benefits during one of the worst economic crises the United States has experienced in almost a century.
The live events industry was among the first to be shut down and will most likely be among the last to return to something close to normal in the wake of COVID-19.
It’s an industry that employs approximately 12 million Americans and contributes nearly $1 trillion to the U.S. economy according to the Arizona Live Events Coalition.
A lot of the attention in the media has come to focus on the concert industry, Cruse says.
“But it’s so much more than that, when you get into weddings and corporate meetings and press conferences. You’re talking about staffs that man these events all being out of work.”
Cruse’s favorite example is florists.
“You have florists that exist purely on providing flowers for weddings,” he says.
“And those florists buy their flowers from farmers who exist because they grow flowers for weddings. Never mind all of the event workers, planners, technicians, the audio guys, lighting guys, the photographers, videographers. It just keeps going and going and going.”
Cruse says he hears stories every day of people being forced to sell their homes and close their business.
“So this is about going after our senators and asking them to please help save this industry,” he said.
Even if the state or federal government lifted restrictions tomorrow, he says, “If it’s a concert, you still have to book a tour. People plan their dream wedding years in advance. None of that’s happening now.”
The coalition was formed in response to the pandemic’s impact on that industry, aimed at providing advocacy and resources along with creating a network that supports the many voices that make up the industry.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Live events workers marched with empty road cases to a rally in Tempe to save jobs