More than 100 workers from one of the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic rallied Monday in downtown Indianapolis and called on federal lawmakers to pass legislation to provide another round of the pandemic unemployment benefits they have relied on for the past half year.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 30 represents about 600 stagehands and event workers who have mostly been out of work since March.
“No one can make money,” said Jay Higginson, 29, a lighting technician. “Nobody is doing well.”
Higginson attended the rally Monday at University Park, where union and political leaders, including Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, spoke about the importance of federal aid to a crowd of socially distanced workers dressed in black.
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Stage workers are largely unseen but foundational to putting on memorable concerts and shows. They set up stages, design lighting and sound, and move props.
“We want to continue to raise the awareness, let the Senate and congress all know we’re all still out here and unemployed,” Brian Mulry, a representative from the local stagehands union, told IndyStar. He added that they are just a portion of workers and business owners affected by the closure of live events and conventions.
Congress has yet to pass legislation to provide continued pandemic aid to millions of Americans out of work. With so many events canceled, entertainment workers say they need federal help until the the industry starts up again.
These closures have a ripple effect, shrinking tax revenue and tourism income for the city, Hogsett told IndyStar.
He told the crowd about the recent $11 million in city grants to help businesses pay rent and mortgage during the pandemic. Those grants can help entertainment venues stave off closure so employees can return to work once the industry is back on its feet, Hogsett said.
As some businesses, like restaurants and stores, reopened with new coronavirus guidelines and limited capacity, other businesses such as concert venues, theaters and large scale event hosts have largely stayed closed or opened to very thin crowds. About 95% of workers are still unemployed, Mulry said.
Higginson said he needs the $600 a week in pandemic relief to make rent, but the federal unemployment boost ended in July. The maximum weekly benefit under typical Indiana unemployment benefits is $390 weekly.
He said he would rather be working.
“I love working in this industry,” he said. “I chose this because when you put on an event, you can provide people with the best day of their lives.”
For many, the work is about more than just the money.
A.J. West, 29, a stagehand who has worked on events like Taylor Swift and U2 concerts, said he started working at live events when he was a teenager shadowing his dad.
Sometimes the job starts before the sun rises and ends deep into the night, but it’s easy to forget the long hours.
“Adrenaline just goes through you,” he said.
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