Amid an industry-wide shutdown amid a pandemic that has put millions out of work, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees has criticized Sinclair Broadcast Group’s plan to loan money to certain freelancers, calling it an inadequate response to these unprecedented times.
Last week, in response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Sinclair unveiled a multi-million-dollar emergency fund to offer an interest-free advance of $2,500, as of this Friday, to the 1,000 or so sports network freelancers who work at its Fox regional sports networks and Marquee Sports Network. The company says that the advance “can be made up in small deductions once the games return.”
“We refuse to believe this is the best it can do,” said Leslie Fitzsimmons, IATSE Local 414 vice president, in a statement. “Sinclair reported an 80-plus percent year-over-year increase (fourth quarter 2018 to 2019), Sinclair’s CEO made $7.5 million last year. We’ve lost all our income. We need help. Not only that, we are losing out on our health contributions, which puts our ability to maintain coverage at risk. It’s a double whammy.”
IATSE says that Fox, ESPN, Turner, CBS, NBC and other networks are continuing to pay production crews who were hired to cover sporting events that have since been canceled, such as the NCAA tournament and PGA events.
Representatives for Sinclair Broadcast Group did not respond to immediate requests for comment.
Added IATSE’s co-director of broadcast Fran O’Hern: represents workers in a dozen markets: “Sinclair is the largest operator of Regional Sports Networks, yet they seem to be doing the least for their employees. I’m reminded of the times when companies would pay their employees in scrip, which could only be used at the company store.”
Having to pay back Sinclair after the work starts to return presents an additional challenge, says IATSE, given that workers who take the advance will then lose income just as they are trying to rebuild income and savings.
“The offer comes up a bit short,” says IATSE Local 796 president Eric Norberg. “It is a bad deal unless you need to feed your family. It is a last resort.”