Closed theaters in the theater district on Oct. 12, 2020 in New York City. (Photo: Angela Weiss / AFP)

Local 802 is sounding the alarm for relief for musicians in New York City. 

Launched Tuesday under the banner #SaveNYCMusicians, the campaign asks for donations to the union’s emergency relief fund and seeks to bring greater awareness to the need for longer term relief measures, such as an extension of unemployment benefits and healthcare subsidies. While there may be hope for federal aid with a new administration, Local 802 President Adam Krauthamer said many of his members cannot afford to wait. 

“In terms of economic aid, there seems to be nothing coming,” Krauthamer said. “So we’re fundraising for the survival of our own musicians here in New York City.”

Most Local 802 musicians have been unemployed since March, and will likely remain unemployed until September at the earliest, or whenever theaters and venues can safely reopen, Krauthamer said. In a video released Tuesday as part of the campaign, musicians from venues including the New York Philharmonic, the American Ballet Theatre and several Broadway shows shared their concerns about supporting themselves and their families without a steady income. 

“I have so many colleagues in the Metropolitan Opera, at the ballet, on Broadway, who are not only worried about the future of our industry, but they’re not sure how they’re going to pay their next rent,” Rebecca Young, associate principal viola with the New York Philharmonic, said in a press release for the campaign. 

In the early months of the pandemic, many musicians relied on government relief measures such as unemployment insurance, including an additional $600 in weekly benefits, to help pay the bills. But after the additional unemployment benefits expired on July 31, many arts workers have been forced to operate on lower incomes, while still facing a lengthy timeline for a return to employment.

Musicians are also dealing with a potential loss of health insurance. The Local 802 Musicians health fund, like others in the theater community, is funded by employer contributions, which have largely dried up. These challenges have caused an “existential crisis” for the union and its members, Krauthamer said, and has caused some to consider leaving their musical careers for good. 

“We’re in the midst of the most serious crisis we’ve ever faced,” he said. “There are members that have left New York already to find affordable places to live. The majority of our members are not being paid, and a lot of them are not receiving health care.” 

The Local 802 health fund, which is administered by a board of trustees, provides coverage in six-month cycles, based on employer contributions made on behalf of the member. During the pandemic, Krauthamer, who sits on the health fund board, said the fund is continuing to analyze data and make changes as necessary. 

“It’s a question of coming up with the strategy to tread water and making sure that we keep our eye on the ball for long-term funding, which we’ve been doing,” he said. 

Donations to the campaign will both help provide emergency relief to Local 802 members and provide contributions to the health fund, according to the campaign site.

Facing a similar lack of employer contributions, the Equity-League Health Fund, which covers actors and stage managers, announced in October that it would have to alter its health plan and will require actors and stage managers to work more weeks to earn coverage. 

While awaiting live entertainment’s reopening, Local 802 and other theatrical unions continue to advocate for federal relief to sustain their members. This joins the push for other industrywide relief bills, such as the Save Our Stages and Restart Acts, which would help cover the costs of restarting productions. The hope, among many Broadway leaders including Krauthamer, is that these relief measures will be passed once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, if not sooner. 

The #SaveNYCMusicians campaign has also gained the public support of legislators, including U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and other local leaders, who all called for donations to the group. 

“Our legions of talented musicians and performing artists make New York the greatest city in the world and are rocket fuel for our economic engine. But Covid has darkened the stages and put them out of work – so we must do all we can to get them relief, and put them back to work making beautiful music again,” Schumer said in the press release.