I’m sure I am not alone when I report that the relentless bluster and bumbling incompetence – plus a healthy dose of malevolence – emanating daily, even hourly at times, from Washington, D.C. leaves me frequently exhausted and a bit discouraged. That doesn’t mean I lose sight of the important fights to fight. The steady erosion of workers’ rights through the destabilizing of the National Labor Relations Board, the quick repeal of many Obama-era worker-friendly decisions, the evisceration of the State Department and the constant threats to the rule of law are just a few of the battles ahead that we will all have to wage in some form or other in order to return to some sense of normalcy in our political environment.
One useful antidote to this sense of disruption is to take note of a few of the institutions and programs here in the New York arts environment that are working really well and provide useful assistance and empowerment to artists and show business professionals. Each of the following has considerable positive impact on the arts and arts workers and is actively supported and influenced by Local 802.
Everyone is aware to at least some degree of the Actors Fund. If your familiarity is only peripheral, I urge you to take a closer look. It is well over a century old and performs myriad duties and services. The fund operates Local 802’s Musicians’ Assistance Program, the most important arm of our Emergency Relief Fund. It sponsors wellness programs and houses a medical clinic. It offers career counseling to help you identify secondary work that complements your music and discover new careers outside the industry. It helps artists navigate finance, housing and mental health issues. It can refer clients to social workers or therapists and offers legal referral if necessary. The Actors Fund was at the forefront of assisting the New York entertainment unions understand and implement the Affordable Care Act when it was in its infancy. It is also playing a key role in helping unions deal appropriately with sexual harassment and other issues arising most recently from the #MeToo movement. Harassment allegations present a complicated thicket of privacy, mental health and legal issues, among others. The fund is currently assisting Local 802 officers and staff with training in appropriate and humane means of addressing member complaints when they arise. They are providing this invaluable and timely information to other unions as well. The fund is an invaluable resource to all members of our community. Most of the programs that the Actors Fund offers are free to Local 802 members. To set up a counseling appointment, start at (212) 221-7300, ext. 119 or IntakeNY@ActorsFund.org or see www.ActorsFund.org for a calendar of all programs and services.
A second institution, perhaps not quite so well known, is the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. It has a branch in New York City that offers a countless array of seminars and panel discussions, certification courses and legal and legislative updates, all geared to the labor professional, but also to any interested party. It operates the Union Leadership Institute, a year-long program which offers historical and practical insights into the operation of labor unions and the labor movement to an annual class of 30 or so working union officers, shop stewards and others. Over the years, Local 802 has sent at least ten officers or staff members to this series of workshops.
A number of us at Local 802 have been involved with another Cornell project as well. Over the past three or four years, the Cornell faculty has examined the entertainment industry, with particular focus on technological changes to the industry, the growing younger portion of the workforce, the precarious and uncertain nature of incomes, and how local unions can use these insights to provide better protection for all their workers, whether seasoned professionals or those starting their careers. In partnership with many of the entertainment unions and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Cornell has developed the notion of an Arts and Entertainment Workers’ Resource Center. The center is not intended to replace traditional unions, but rather to serve as a sort of clearinghouse for basic information for the new worker in the field. The center hopes to help arts workers answer questions like the following: How do I get paid? What union should I join? How can that union help me? What resources can the city, state, or other entity (like the Actors Fund!) provide that will help launch or maintain a career? Cornell has already presented three very well attended panel discussions/seminars at the Department of Cultural Affairs on a variety of the topics mentioned above. The program will continue.
On a final note, I’d also like to draw your attention to a new project developed by Local 802. Executive Board member Sara Cutler, who was instrumental in getting this exciting new enterprise off the ground, describes the Emerging Artists Project in this issue. Please take a look.
Above all, let’s not lose sight of the continuing efforts by the many other individuals and institutions to create interesting solutions to real problems. While Washington blows smoke and obfuscates critical issues and drives us all crazy, others do actual work that benefits real people.