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Broadway benefit for pandemic assistance sunk by labor dispute
The Helen Hayes Theater closed during the coronavirus pandemic on April 08, 2020 in New York City. The Broadway League announced today that theaters will remain closed until June 7, effectively ending the 2019-2020 season. Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images/AFP.

by Michael Paulson



NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- An effort to raise money for entertainment workers hurt by the coronavirus pandemic has collapsed because of a dispute between a major charity and a labor union representing musicians.

The charity, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, had planned an online fundraiser Monday at which it would stream a concert, recorded in November, that celebrated the 25th anniversary of Disney on Broadway. The concert, backed by 15 musicians, was also a fundraiser, which brought in $570,426 for Broadway Cares.

Two major labor unions, Actors’ Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA, agreed to allow the streaming of the concert without fees, but the American Federation of Musicians, which has been focused on winning greater compensation for streamed content, did not.

“Members of the American Federation of Musicians are suffering from the sudden cancellation of all work as a result of the coronavirus outbreak,” the union’s international president, Ray Hair, said by email. “During the height of this crisis, Disney Theatrical has come to us asking to stream media content without payment to the musicians involved in the production. Especially now, with zero employment in the entertainment sector, the content producers should care enough about the welfare of those who originally performed the show to see to it that they are fairly compensated when their work is recorded and streamed throughout the world.”

Broadway Cares, which has been raising money for a COVID-19 emergency assistance fund, was frustrated. Disney was similarly unhappy.

Disney spent around $200,000 to produce the concert in the fall and paid the musicians who performed. The company said the upcoming streaming fundraiser was not a Disney event but a Broadway Cares event and that it was the charity seeking a waiver.

Broadway Cares argued that it could not afford to pay the musicians for an already-recorded concert without also paying the other unions. It noted that it had already given $50,000 this year to musicians’ assistance programs and offered to give another $25,000 to a musicians’ emergency fund.

Broadway Cares decided it had no choice but to cancel the fundraiser, which had been scheduled to stream on Monday evening.

© 2020 The New York Times Company










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