Tag Archives: covid-19

covid-19 relief fund

Recording Academy and MusiCares Establish COVID-19 Relief Fund

The Recording Academy and its affiliated charitable foundation MusiCares have established the COVID-19 Relief Fund to help people in the music industry affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak and subsequent cancellation of multiple music events. From hotel and bar gigs to major music festivals, COVID-19 is deeply impacting live music events and the creative community behind it all.

Administered through MusiCares, the COVID-19 Relief Fund will be used to directly support those in the music community with the greatest need.  

“Event cancellations are at unprecedented levels and the situation therefore requires an unprecedented response,” says Harvey Mason Jr., chair and interim CEO of the Recording Academy. “Many people in the industry are now in crisis, not knowing what the future holds or having to deal with dire commercial realities. We are asking the entire industry to stand with us to support the musicians, artists, and professionals who are the bedrock and the future of our music community.”

Steve Boom, MusiCares chair, says, “The music industry is built on the work of musicians, artists, and music professionals. It is in times like these, that the industry needs to come together to support those who are struggling, particularly those who rely on touring incomes to survive.”

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit: musicares.org.

To support our efforts to assist music people in need, visit: www.grammy.com/MusiCares/CoronavirusReliefFund.

The Coronavirus and Its Rapid Spread

The coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of March 23, has spread to 187 countries and tallied over 294,000 confirmed cases, with more than 13,000 deaths. In the US, all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands are affected, with over 15,000 confirmed cases and over 200 total deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In Canada, 11 provinces or territories are affected, with over 1,400 confirmed cases and at least 20 deaths, according to the Canadian government.

The virus was first confirmed on December 31, 2019 by officials in Wuhan, China. According to a timeline of the virus prepared by The New York Times, the first known COVID-19-related death occurred 11 days later in China. By January 20, the WHO declared the virus had spread to other Asian countries. The first US case was confirmed on January 21, where a man in his 30s in Washington state developed symptoms after returning from a trip to Wuhan.

On January 30, the WHO declared a global health emergency, and the Trump Administration restricted all travel from China to the US. On February 2, the first virus-related death outside China was confirmed in the Philippines, and less than two weeks later the first fatality occurred in Europe after an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died in Paris. By this time, about 1,500 people had died from the virus, mainly in China.

By February 20, the number of global cases had risen to nearly 76,000, according to the WHO, with cases in Iran and Italy seeing a major surge just days later, followed by confirmed cases in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa.

On February 24, the White House asked Congress to allocate $1.25 billion in new emergency funds to bolster its preparedness. Four days later, the first US death occurred in Seattle.

The CDC lifted all federal restrictions on testing for the coronavirus on March 3. By this point, the coronavirus had infected more than 90,000 around the globe and killed about 3,000, according to the WHO.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. That evening, in a prime-time address, President Trump issued a travel ban from all European countries other than Britain for 30 days. Three days later, he included all countries within the United Kingdom.

On March 12, Broadway theaters closed their doors through April 12.

On March 13, Trump officially declared a national emergency and said he was making $50 billion in federal funds available to states and territories to combat the coronavirus. The next day, the US House passed its first coronavirus response bill on a bipartisan vote to expand access to free testing, provide $1 billion in food aid, and extend sick leave benefits to vulnerable Americans. The Senate passed the bill five days later.

On March 16, Canada closed its borders to foreign travelers—with US citizens exempt—in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Multiple US states also announced that day they would reduce allowed crowd capacity at any location to 50 people maximum, and all gyms, casinos, and movie theaters would be closed, while restaurants and bars would offer takeout only.

On March 17, the European Union banned all travelers from outside the bloc. This applied to 26 EU states as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. UK citizens were unaffected.

On March 18, the Canadian government unveiled an $82 billion aid package to provide direct support to Canadians forced from work—including freelancers—and for businesses facing hardship due to the shutdown of public life caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

On March 20, 44 unions, companies, and organizations representing the entertainment industry sent a united letter to Congress seeking emergency financial help and unemployment insurance to all workers in their industry as a response to the work lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As of March 23, The provinces of Ontario and Quebec had both declared a state of emergency and ordered all non-essential businesses to close.

We Need Each Other During This Time of Trial

by John Michael Smith, Regional Orchestra Players’ Association President and Member of Local 30-73 (St. Paul-Minneapolis, MN)

I began writing this article for the International Musician with the intention to write about my recent visits to Detroit and Miami, representing the AFM and the Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) at SphinxConnect 2020: Vision and our annual AFM presentation at the New World Symphony. However, over the past week or so my computer and iPhone have been dinging away with email and text messages coming in from our ROPA orchestra delegates, sending messages of cancellations and postponements of services as a result of the coronavirus pandemic we are experiencing worldwide. With 90 ROPA orchestra delegates, that’s a lot of dinging, and the situation for each orchestra changes frequently with the increase in COVID-19 cases in every community.

There is angst, shock, and fear for our immediate future, as our musicians are suddenly finding themselves with no work, no income. In some cases, orchestras are continuing to compensate musicians at varying amounts for the canceled services. Many are declaring a force majeuresituation, or the impossibility to continue to offer employment because of local government response, or invoking their cancellation clauses and are not going to compensate our musicians for canceled services. And that carries out into other work our musicians do as well, so that many musicians have little financial resources left to fall back on. It is indeed a tough time for us all.

But it is also a time to gain strength and support from our colleagues in our orchestras, our Player Conferences, and the AFM during this challenging time. I’m so impressed and proud of our Symphonic Services Division (SSD). Rochelle Skolnick, Debbie Newmark, and Laurence Hofmann have been in constant contact with me and the other leaders of the Player Conferences, helping us coordinate our activities around cancellations and compensation. A side letter agreement was created for the Integrated Media Agreement, a primary AFM media agreement for symphonic organizations, specific to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for additional possibilities for live and archival streaming performances from full orchestra to chamber groups. They worked with other AFM staff to create the COVID-19 Resources page on AFM.org, with an incredible amount of information for members to access. SSD has set up weekly online meetings to keep the lines of communications flowing—again, so much changes on a daily basis. And SSD, ROPA, the International Conference of Symphony and Orchestra Musicians (ICSOM), and the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM) are studying the responses of our various orchestras to the pandemic and creating a knowledge bank for our musicians to use in discussion with their orchestra managers regarding cancellations, rescheduling, and compensation.

The AFM Player Conference Council, consisting of the leaders of the five Player Conferences of the AFM are also holding weekly video conferences, discussing our common issues, problems, and occasionally a positive story, helping each other with our special concerns, and keeping in close communication. As in anything union, what affects one of us affects us all. I so appreciate all the support I receive from my fellow leaders of ICSOM, OCSM, Theater Musicians Association (TMA), and Recording Musicians Association (RMA)!

The ROPA Executive Board members are making personal contact with our delegates a priority during this time. Personal online contact and live phone or online conversation is so important at this time of social distancing. The ROPA board members are listening to our delegates as they share what is happening in their orchestras and their community, all unique and special stories to be shared. ROPA is a resource to the over 6,000 musicians who perform in our orchestras, with the special emphasis and knowledge of regional orchestras.

While we are dealing with a challenge that most of us have not experienced in our lifetimes, I feel that this is a unique opportunity for all of us to unite and pull together: musicians, orchestra administrators, and boards of directors. We all need each other, pulling in the same direction.

The 37th annual ROPA conference is scheduled for July 28-30 at the Hilton Costa Mesa Hotel in Orange County, CA, with our hosts Local 7 (Orange County Musicians’ Association) and the Pacific Symphony. We don’t know at this point where things will be with the coronavirus pandemic, and whether this conference will take place as scheduled. Strength, patience, good thoughts, and prayers for us all. Keep Calm and Carry On!

ICSOM Update: How Coronavirus is Affecting Our Orchestras

Meredith Snow

by Meredith Snow, ICSOM Chair and Member of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)

As of this writing, COVID-19 has just been declared a worldwide pandemic. More extreme measures to contain the spread—social distancing to “flatten the curve” of infection, the shutting down of all unnecessary gatherings, cancellation of the NBA season—are just beginning. We are watching our International Conference of Symphony and Orchestra Musicians (ICSOM) orchestras close down in rapid succession across the country—for two weeks to a month—to potentially aid in slowing the spread of the virus. This is the right and prudent action to take.

We have a small window of opportunity to contain the virus to whatever degree is still possible. An abundance of caution is wise. So far, the majority of our ICSOM orchestras have honored their obligation to pay their musicians and maintain benefits. However, depending on how long these closures need to remain in place, this will most certainly become an economic strain for all parties.

AFM Symphonic Services Division (SSD), ICSOM, Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians (OCSM), and Regional Orchestra Players’ Association (ROPA) immediately jumped into action. Rochelle Skolnick and Debbie Newmark led the charge to negotiate a side-letter to our Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) that would allow ticketholders, donors, and subscribers access to livestreamed concerts, in addition to archival material. Only a few orchestras, the Jacksonville Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Buffalo Philharmonic among them, have taken advantage of the livestream—without an audience—before also closing down. Other orchestras will take full advantage of the opportunity to stream archival product during the hiatus.

SSD has created a link in the SSD Resource Center on the AFM website, titled “Coronavirus Resources” (https://members.afm.org/member/page/id/10633). It includes a legal analysis by ICSOM Counsel, Kevin Case, of the force majeure or “Act of God” clause. Whether an outbreak of a disease like what we are seeing with COVID-19 could trigger a force majeure clause would require an individual analysis of each Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the language of which may differ significantly from contract to contract. Some of our CBAs will have no force majeure clauses at all. Depending on how long our doors will have to remain closed, and when managements may decide they can’t or won’t continue to pay musicians, we will need to have a detailed understanding of what is stated in our own CBA. As always, it will be crucial for each orchestra to work in close coordination with their local, and where possible, with their local’s attorney.

In contrast to our own federal government, the German government has already announced immediate financial support for the arts sector and for freelancers due to the COVID-19 crisis. The German government is in close touch and collaborates with the 16 federal culture ministers of the German states to find pragmatic solutions. Gerald Mertens, CEO of the German Orchestra Association (DOV) and Editor-in Chief of das Orchester, contacted ICSOM President Paul Austin with this good news. Within 48 hours of posting on our Twitter account, @ICSOM, this message had been liked by 20,000 people and shared 6,000 times.

Our orchestras are vital contributors to the non-profit sector and an important economic engine for the communities they serve. The League of American Orchestras (LAO) has launched an email campaign in support of legislation that would provide federal economic assistance to non-profits throughout the country (www.votervoice.net/mobile/LAO/campaigns/72338/respond). We must demand that our own government recognize and support the integral role that our artists and musicians play in the economy of the United States.

We ICSOM musicians must count ourselves fortunate in that we have probably the most comprehensive economic protections in our contracts that exist within the AFM. Many of our colleagues, not least of which our own substitute and extra musicians, do not have the same guarantees that we are afforded. Some of our ICSOM musicians in San Francisco and Cincinnati have assisted in setting up GoFundMe campaigns to help their local freelance players. The musicians of Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra negotiated a 10% reduction in their own compensation in order to keep their extra musicians on the payroll.

Not knowing how long this shutdown may last, nor how severe our economy will be impacted in its aftermath, it behooves us to remember their precarious position and to demand that our employers fulfill their obligation to our subs and extras as well as to us. Together, as a union, we will weather this storm. Stay safe out there.

OCSM Responds to COVID-19 Crisis

by Robert Fraser, OCSM President and Member of Local 247 (Victoria, BC)

Pour voir cet article en français, cliquez ici.

At the time of my writing this column, it has been exactly one week since my own orchestra, the Victoria Symphony, cancelled a concert with slightly less than four hours’ notice. This was on the evening of Thursday, March 12. By the time the following weekend was upon us, all 21 of the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians’ (OCSM) orchestras had followed suit and issued concert cancellation notices. Even though it’s only been a week, it feels like both the blink of an eye and a month all at the same time.

It’s difficult for me to write this column for two reasons. One is obvious: a scenario where not just every orchestra in the country stops, but all live music ceases in mere hours is so unthinkable I cannot begin to collect thoughts and articulate them. Second, this article will not reach your screens for at least another two weeks, and if you still wait for the hard copy, a considerable time after that. I have no idea what will unfold between now and then, so I’m dreading that this column will be either outdated news or false speculation.

What I can tell you so far is this: I’m very proud of the immediate response of the OCSM delegates and executive officers. As the whole rather unbelievable scenario unfolded, they were all on our secured email list, sharing details about their own orchestra’s situation. One delegate quickly started compiling the necessary information: how many weeks cancelled, whether promises had been made to pay musicians for cancelled services, whether live streaming of concerts would take place, and how extra musicians and subs were being dealt with.

The AFM Symphonic Services Division immediately set up periodic conference calls with the Symphonic Player Conference chairs, and all five of the Player Conference chairs followed suit to start our own regular conferencing. We have kept lines of communication open with Orchestras Canada and are compiling as many resources as possible. The morning before I submitted this column, the Canadian government announced an emergency response program that would address the issue of workers’ loss of wages, and hopefully by the time you read this, some of these programs will be falling into place.

It would not be speculation on my part to predict that by the time you read this, the negative ramifications of a worldwide pandemic will leave you feeling more than anxious—indeed, you might be overwhelmed to the point of being numb, even if in a few weeks’ time we are able to guess when the end of this will all be. In the early days of this, two things are keeping me sane right now, and I will offer these to you.

The first is to focus on the positive: the cleansing of the environment through our austerity measures, the fact that we are choosing to make a worldwide effort to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, and the fact that at times like this people turn to the arts to not only bring them comfort, but to affirm their resolve that all of this is worth it. The second thing that is keeping me grounded right now is the fact that we are a community of unionized musicians. As I scan my social media feed and see how people are responding, it keeps me going. Performing concerts at home with spouses and children, volunteering in the community, sharing information on resources, and, most important, just simply communicating friendly words to each other.

I hope that soon we will look back on this pandemic as a time when the musicians of the world refused to be silenced—that we resolved to come out of this stronger than ever before. In the meantime, stay safe, and keep those lines of communication open and active.

electronic media

Symphonic Electronic Media During the COVID-19 Crisis

by Deborah Newmark, AFM Symphonic Electronic Media Director

As we all know by now, it has become impossible for orchestras to continue to perform concerts for their beloved audiences during the COVID-19 crisis. Music provides great comfort during challenging times, so it is extremely painful to our musicians not to be able to provide some solace as we move through this crisis. While this has been and will continue to be a rapidly evolving situation, the Symphonic Services Division (SSD) of the AFM jumped in early to negotiate a side letter to the Integrated Media Agreement (IMA) with the Employer’s Electronic Media Association (EMA) to cover electronic media that could be distributed to our audiences in place of live performances.

I, together with Rochelle Skolnick, SSD Director, had phone conferences with the EMA leadership and arrived at agreement on a side letter to cover streaming of either live performance taping without an audience present or use of archival material in case it was no longer possible for musicians to gather in their concert halls. When we first reached agreement, a few orchestras were still able to come into their workplaces and present a concert to an empty hall, but as days passed that option became impossible. As a result, orchestras who are EMA members or those signed to the IMA as an Individual Employer signatory, will be looking to their archives to stream performances to their ticket buying audience, their donors, and subscribers as well as those who provide contact information that will be useful for future ticket sales. Individual musicians or small ensembles from the orchestra’s roster will also be able to post material under the volunteer promotional language of the IMA (Article VIII.D) of material (expanded in this extreme case from a limit of 15 to up to 45 minutes in length) via their employers on the institution’s website or its social media pages.

The goal of the IMA side letter is to ensure musicians will be paid during this painful time. The agreement guarantees 30 days of wages from the date of the first posting. There are orchestras that would prefer to use some of the promotional opportunities available to them under the IMA or to release material for a media payment. Those options will always be available to IMA signatories.

If you have any questions about the COVID-19 side letter or use of any of the provisions of the IMA, please do not hesitate to contact me via email at dnewmark@afm.org or via cell phone at 646-269-1823.

MPTF Announces New and Increased Grant Budgets, Urges Grant Use Discretion During COVID-19 Outbreak

The recording industry’s Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) is preparing to launch its 2020-21 grant initiative with the largest increase in local allocations in recent history, nearly doubling the 2019-20 allocation budget of $700,000. However, even as it announces new and increased budgets, the MPTF is urging current grant recipients to use caution and discretion in implementation of their current grant commitments for free, live music performances.

While we will continue to honor our current grant commitments, we also want to assure our many community co-sponsors, as well as the members of the AFM who so ably and artistically implement our free live music initiatives, that we will make every effort to support any events postponed, re-scheduled, or in replacement of events, once the coronavirus outbreak has passed. We urge all of our participants to follow the leadership of their local health and governmental officials in providing the safest environment for the people in their communities.

The COVID-19 health event is happening just as the MPTF is preparing to announce new grant budgets for the fiscal 2020-21 year beginning May 1. The Trust Fund expects to support over 3,000 free live music events in communities throughout North America. The grant budget will feature the largest increase in decades, expanding from $1.2 million to $1.7 million in the year ahead. This substantial expansion of the trust fund’s grant allocations presents a positive challenge for union locals to engage community partners in the development of free live music events for their locality. In anticipation of this growth, the MPTF previously changed its policy from 30% matching funds to 50% matching funds for community grants.

The MPTF-sponsored events include free performances at senior centers and assisted living facilities, music education programs in hundreds of school districts, as well as in parks and other gathering places across the U.S. and Canada.

As we prepare for even greater community impact with our initiatives, we also recognize that this momentum coincides with a current widespread health concern and we urge patience and discretion in scheduling these live events. Live music will be a source of celebration if we act intelligently in the short term. We will be here for the musicians who receive supplemental income from our grants, once the virus subsides, and to proactively re-engage as local health officials deem public events safe.

Crises Show Why We Organize


by Michael Manley, AFM Organizing and Education Division Director

Times of crisis are a stark reminder of why our union matters, and the ever-changing impact of COVID-19 on our lives brings challenges none of us expected. Alone we beg for what we need, but together we achieve it.

Here are some examples of how our collective power can make a difference for musicians:

  • Strong contracts mean services cannot be arbitrarily canceled with no pay, or benefits cut. A union agreement means we have a say in what happens, even in extraordinary circumstances.
  • Because we’ve fought for—and secured—employee status in many workplaces, unemployment benefits are available to many musicians.
  • Freelance musicians throughout the US and Canada have been achieving better working conditions by joining together in Fair Trade Music chapters.
  • Several AFM locals are building relief funds to aid freelance musicians whose gigs are being canceled.
  • Musicians in the symphony/opera/ballet fields are being paid for virtual performances and streamed concerts, through the strong media agreements we have bargained.
  • AFM members are joining our other union brothers and sisters in advocating for aid to all workers affected by COVID-19.
  • Having strong contracts in media work means that many musicians are being paid for the airing of reruns and can count on residual checks arriving on schedule.

Take Action

Below is a list of current AFM advocacy efforts related to COVID-19. Take action now to ensure all musicians get what they need as we weather this
unique crisis:


Petrillo Memorial Fund

Save Live Arts in Canada initiative

Please consult your local union’s website for available local resources.


The AFM and its Members Respond to COVID-19 Effects on Musicians


While our union officials have been monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak and potential impacts on musicians since it first became a global health emergency in late January, once music events began being canceled and restrictions on large gatherings were announced by both US and Canadian officials in early March, that is when the impact on musicians and their livelihoods became stark.

On March 3-4, President Hair was in Washington visiting legislators on union-related legislation. Although the coronavirus was still in its infancy as far as its North American presence, Hair says the people in the nation’s capital were beginning to panic, and it immediately got him thinking about the AFM’s response.

On March 5 and 9, respectively, the AFM’s two largest locals—Local 47 (Los Angeles) and Local 802 (New York City), which cover Hollywood and Broadway musicians—began posting updates and information on their websites to offer their members guidance on health and emergency relief resources. The Local 802 Executive Board began working in conjunction with the 802 Emergency Relief Fund and Musicians Assistance Program to get musicians help as quickly as possible, while the Local 47 Executive Board established an Emergency Relief Fund for members who have lost revenue due to work stoppages, as has the Music Fund of Los Angeles.

Also on March 9, all employees at the AFM headquarters in Times Square who could do their work remotely were allowed to work from home, and any essential employees who needed to work at the office were given limited schedules to avoid being in rush-hour crowds. The office was also supplied with hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes, and gloves to help prevent contagion. (The New York office closed, with all employees working from home, starting March 19, as did the West Coast Office on March 20.)

On March 12, the day Broadway theaters closed their doors, President Hair issued a statement in response to limits being placed on public gatherings: “Union musicians in the United States and Canada are committed to doing everything possible to limit the spread of COVID-19, but this will have a disastrous impact on musicians and so many others who live gig to gig. It is critical that both national and local governments take immediate action to provide economic relief including expanding unemployment benefits and an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs.”

Actors’ Equity Executive Director Mary McColl also released a statement, in which she said the decision to limit public gatherings, “means tremendous uncertainty for thousands who work in the arts, including the prospect of lost income, health insurance, and retirement savings.” International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees (IATSE) International President Matthew D. Loeb also called on the federal government to take decisive action and issue a relief package to entertainment industry workers. “Entertainment workers shouldn’t be collateral damage in the fight against the COVID-19 virus,” he stated. “Film and television production alone injects $49 billion into local businesses per year, and the overall entertainment industry supports 1.2 million jobs in municipal and state economies.”

Helping Traveling Musicians

The cancellation of Broadway shows includes all the travelling shows, and many union members were left out on the road with employers offering only partial payment for their final week of work, says AFM Touring/Theatre/Booking Division Director Tino Gagliardi. Gagliardi has been in constant contact with all the AFM touring musicians to keep them informed of the situation.


He also has been meeting with other entertainment industry union officials and the Broadway League to sort out the issue of worker benefits and compensation. “Some companies have given notice to musicians they will only be paid a partial week for their last week. The union’s position is full payment of course,” he says. “The League’s got to do the right thing here. What we’re looking for is full compensation through the rest of the week that was canceled plus additional financial relief for the musicians through additional wages based on the type of production and health care benefit contributions until April 12, with a commitment to resume discussions on the possibility of additional health contributions the week of April 6.”

An agreement was reached on March 21.

Side Letter to Integrated Media Agreement

On March 13, the day President Trump officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency, the AFM announced it had signed an agreement with the Employers’ Electronic Media Association (EMA) to enable livestreaming of concert performances by a signatory employer that has been adversely affected by the spread of COVID-19. This side letter to the 2019-2022 Integrated Media Agreement guarantees no disruption in compensation or benefits for any musician for a 30-day period following the date of posting of the first streaming content.

“What the side letter does is to allow the employer to maintain an online presence when maintaining an in-person presence (for either audience or musicians) is either impossible or imprudent in the limited context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” explains SSD Director Rochelle Skolnick. “An employer must elect to use the side letter and the musicians of the orchestra must vote to approve its use. It is not automatically applied to any orchestra.” She says the use of the side letter also does not interfere with the ability of a local, orchestra committee, or musicians to make their own decisions about gathering together to rehearse or perform. “In short: agreeing to use the side letter does not create any new obligation for you to show up to work,” she explains.

Online Resources

This COVID-19 side letter was the first document to be placed in a newly created folder in the SSD section of the AFM.org website called “Corona Virus Resources.” The folder also contains legal guidance on force majeure (“Act of God”) aspects of collective bargaining agreements and a Q&A document regarding musician attendance and COVID-19 concerns; it will also be continuously updated and augmented as conditions change.

In addition to the new SSD digital resource, there is now a COVID-19 resource page with information and helpful links at www.afm.org/covid-19/.

Lester Petrillo Fund

Union officials also have announced reminders that any members who contract COVID-19 and lose work because of it can apply for limited emergency financial aid through the Lester Petrillo Memorial Fund. The Fund was established to assist members in good standing who become ill or disabled and are unable to accept work. A member would qualify for assistance if he/she is diagnosed with coronavirus and/or he/she tests positive for coronavirus and is quarantined.


Members and local officers may download Petrillo Fund applications from the AFM website. Go to www.afm.org and type “Petrillo Memorial Fund” into the search bar. Completed applications together with supportive medical documentation should be submitted by members to their local unions, which will then submit them to the Federation.

Across the northern border—which the Canadian government closed to foreign travelers on March 16—the Canadian office of the AFM, located in Toronto, started putting emergency office measures into place on March 13. These measures included allowing staff to work from home if possible, having reduced office hours to avoid peak travel times in transit, having a maximum of three staff members in the office at one time, offering hand sanitizer around the office, and practicing increased cleaning of common surfaces in the office, says Alan Willaert, Vice President from Canada. The Canadian office closed until further notice on March 24 after the Premier of Ontario and the Mayor of Toronto both declared a state of emergency and ordered all non-essential businesses to close for two weeks.

The Canadian Office of the AFM, in coordination with the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association and the Toronto Musicians’ Association, also started the Save Live Arts in Canada initiative (www.savelivearts.ca) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative encourages all who work in the live arts to sign a petition addressed to all elected officials in Canada, which urges certain health and financial actions be taken to help members of the entertainment sector in the face of unemployment.

Urging Federal Response

Also on March 13, Willaert sent an open letter to the Government of Canada, urging support for musicians due to an unprecedented loss of work caused by reaction to the Coronavirus. “The CFM is requesting that government adopt emergency measures in this exceptional situation, to provide security to counteract this critical loss of revenue, through whatever means necessary,” Willaert wrote. “These steps may include a waiver of the one-week waiting period for Employment Insurance (EI) benefits (in the case where the musicians are entitled), to expanding the benefit to include freelance workers who provide their services as self-employed contractors, to ensuring that compensation is made available for musicians who have had gigs or tours canceled for both lost revenue and other expenses, such as the hundreds of dollars, or thousands paid to USCIS as petition fees for P2 visas for US entry. Consideration must be made as well for proper funding to help musicians and symphony/theatre organizations recover, as well as assistance to stimulate and revitalize the industry once the virus has been contained and/or eradicated.”

Willaert also signed on to a letter from the seven Canadian entertainment unions to the Canadian minister of heritage and multiculturalism urging him to extend income support to workers not eligible for EI sickness benefits. Many workers in the Canadian entertainment industry are not classified as employees under Canadian laws, and therefore are not eligible for EI benefits for any loss of work due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We are concerned the government may forget the importance of our industry and the need to also protect the workers who rely on it for their income,” the letter states. “We are already seeing cancellations of screen-based productions and live performances with more anticipated. Workers who are signed to productions rely on those contracts, which can range from several days to several months. The loss of that expected income will be devastating to these precarious workers. Production insurance is not covering cancelltions related to COVID-19.”

On March 14, President Hair issued a statement on the pandemic’s impact on musicians and other gig economy workers:

The SKYXE Juno welcome stage was shut down by Canadian government order at 10:30 a.m. on March 12, with only two of the 19 scheduled Local 553 (Saskatoon, SK) musical groups over the March 12-16 event having performed. The Starry Night Quartet kicked things off at 8 a.m. Thursday morning. The quartet features four members of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. Pictured from left: Joan Savage (violin), James Legge facing away from the camera (viola), Nova Wong (violin), and Scott McKnight (cello).

“As events related to the fast-moving coronavirus pandemic evolve, emergency declarations in many locations have banned all but small-sized public gatherings in an effort to protect families, save lives, and prevent the spread of the disease. These actions have led to the shuttering of large, medium, and small venues, sporting facilities, and the preemption of live media production involving studio audiences. This has prompted the widespread cancellation of concerts, shows, theatrical productions, festivals, and musical performances of every kind—all of which have inflicted disastrous economic effects upon performers who often live gig to gig and who bring joy to the world wherever groups are gathered.

“Tens of thousands of musicians and others have suddenly found themselves without income, without the means to feed and protect their families, and who may lose healthcare coverage during these shutdowns. Today, a state of national emergency has been declared which frees up $50 billion in federal funds for use in response to the accelerating surge of infections. When considering funding assistance and relief for working people, Congress and state and local lawmakers should pay particular attention to those who work and perform in the entertainment industry, whose gigs have gone dark, and who are bearing the financial brunt of these shutdowns the most.”

Like their Canadian counterparts, the major US entertainment industry union leaders are also coordinating to protect their members from the effects of the coronavirus and the governmental response to it. These leaders—part of the coalition comprising the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees—had a teleconference on March 16 during which they discussed all aspects of the situation, particularly how to ensure that our elected officials in Washington DC stand up for creative professionals.

They drafted a letter to government officials in which they advocated for emergency economic support for entertainment industry professionals. Specifically, they urged legislators to create a special Emergency Coronavirus Economic Support Benefit geared toward entertainment workers who have a bona fide, good faith work offer that gets canceled due to the coronavirus, as well as the creation of a benefit similar to the Emergency Paid Leave benefit included in the first Coronavirus Response Act legislation (signed into law on March 18) but available to those who cannot work due to production shutdown rather than due to illness, quarantine, or family caregiving needs.

“We are working closely with the Arts, Entertainment, and Media Industry (AEMI) unions through the AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees (DPE) to speak with one voice urging Congress to include musicians and other arts and entertainment workers in any subsequent bill to help our members,” says AFM International Secretary-Treasurer Jay Blumenthal.

While President Hair and the rest of the AFM leadership and staff are working around the clock with other national entertainment unions to protect their members, they are encouraging members to stand up and speak out as well. “Musicians need to directly contact their congressperson and senators to urge them to protect entertainment workers during this unprecedented crisis,” President Hair says.

All AFM members are encouraged to visit www.afm.org/covid-19, scroll to the bottom, and fill out the “Emergency Action – Contact Congress” form to let Congress know that they need to protect entertainment workers, thousands of whom are unable to pay for rent or food and are finding their healthcare coverage in jeopardy.

United States Travel Ban Extended to Europe

Travel bans have further affected orchestras’ performance schedules, both in terms of planned international tours and the ability of international guest artists and conductors to enter the US.

Beginning March 14, the US banned all travel from Europe for 30 days. The United Kingdom was at first excluded from the order, but the ban was then extended to Great Britain and Ireland effective March 16. Already, bans had been ordered to restrict any foreigners who have visited China or Iran within 14 days prior.

At the time of this writing, the US government advised reconsidering travel abroad and the Canadian government advised avoiding all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice and closed its border.