Rep. Adam Schiff has expressed strong support for the safety of entertainment industry workers amid ongoing efforts to reopen Hollywood production as soon as possible.
“Worker safety has to be paramount,” he said during Tuesday’s hour-long virtual town hall meeting with SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris and IATSE International president Matt Loeb. More than 5,000 viewed the event, which was live-streamed.
Schiff, a 10-term Democratic congressman whose district includes Hollywood and Burbank, expressed alarm that many states have relaxed stay-at-home orders without the capabilities to handle an increase in cases. He cited testimony earlier in the day by Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, who warned senators that states and cities face serious consequences if they open too quickly.
“We need to listen to the experts like Dr. Fauci,” Schiff said.
Schiff also cited the success of highly measured re-openings in South Korea and Singapore as examples that the U.S. should follow.
Carteris, whose union reps 160,000 performers, noted that her members face the challenge of often being required to work in close proximity with each other. Loeb, who heads a union with 150,000 below-the-line workers, stressed that the same conditions apply to many crew members on sets such as makeup artists, food service workers and medics. Both unions are working with employers on the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee to hammer out those guidelines.
“We need to make sure that we can come up with uniform safety standards,” Loeb said,
“We are ready to go back to work,” Carteris said. “We were among the first to be hit by the virus and may be among the last to come back – simply because we work in high numbers and in very close proximty where PPE can not always be utilized.”
Both presidents praised Schiff for this effort to include freelancers as part of the CARES Act legislation passed in March to provide unemployment insurance benefits for workers with multiple employers.
Schiff said he will strongly oppose efforts by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to include legal immunity to employers in federal aid packages — which would mean that employees could not sue if they become infected after being required to return to work amid the pandemic. “I don’t want to see worker being put into that position,” he added.
Schiff asserted that he’s pushing for a paycheck protection provision that will enable employees to retain their health coverage, saying, “It’s much more cost-effective to keep people employed.”
Schiff also said that the crisis has underscored the lack of support among most Americans for Republican proposals such as cutting Social Security benefits. “The hard right positions are deeply unpopular,” he added.
Schiff is a lightning rod for criticism among conservatives. He chairs the House Intelligence Committee and led the drive to impeach President Donald Trump.
The town hall event took place as House Democrats released their latest bill Tuesday aimed at blunting the pandemic’s effects on the economy and health-care system. Party leaders expect to vote on the package on Friday.
Carteris posted a “Call to Action” notice on the SAG-AFTRA web site following the event, asking members to contact members of Congress to include provisions that the legislation includes workers who earn “mixed income” — which means W2 plus 1099 income — being able to access maximum benefits during this crisis.