(Photo: Benjamin Kralj/Shutterstock)
Actors’ Equity Association (the national union for professional actors and stage managers in live theatre) announced that public health expert Dr. David Michaels will consult for the union, effective immediately to help develop new model health and safety standards for COVID-19.
The news comes one week after Equity issued a statement that it is “unclear under the current circumstances” how production can resume and asked members to call their regional Equity office if they are offered work.
“David’s expertise will be invaluable during this unprecedented time,” said Mary McColl, Executive Director Actors’ Equity Association. “Ultimately, while the employers are solely responsible for ensuring the health and safety of all actors and stage managers, Equity is committed to being an industry leader to help develop model health and safety standards that will eventually allow us to reopen and maintain a safe and healthy workplace.”
On April 21, Equity Council unanimously passed a new internal membership rule that members may only return to work when the union deems it safe to do so, and that they will not sign over their rights to a safe workplace. Dr. Michaels will be an essential part of implementing a plan where member safety is put first, and decisions are made with a clear safety and scientific basis.
Dr. Michaels is currently a Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health of the George Washington University. Notably, he served as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) during the Obama administration, from 2009-2017.
Equity made its first public statement on March 2 that staff were making plans to prepare for a possible pandemic. Equity then asked producers to put members’ health and safety first and postpone Equity EPAs and ECCs. The union also publicly called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to put worker safety first as the mayor considered whether to limit public gatherings to slow the spread of Coronavirus.
Equity first made the public case for emergency relief for arts and entertainment workers on March 11, when news reports emerged that Washington state and others would limit public gatherings. Equity mobilized to partner with other arts and entertainment unions to make the case to key members of Congress that arts and entertainment workers must be protected during this health crisis. That work led to the inclusion of arts workers in the CARES Act, meaning Equity members have improved access to unemployment.