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Stagehands push for $600 unemployment benefit

By Tom Burke |
August 9, 2020
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Stagehands pushing music road cases with signs reading Push for 600.
Michigan protest demands extension of 600 dollar unemployment benefit.

Grand Rapids, MI - Fifty union stagehands chanted, “$600 now!” while pushing music road cases thru downtown Grand Rapids. They began their push at the U.S. Federal Building to demand Senator Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans pass the $600 workers need.

Outdoor diners gawked, homeless workers shouted approval and cars honked in solidarity as the stagehands rolled past on their way to a lively rally under the Rosa Parks statue.

“We paid into unemployment our entire working lives. It is our money and we need the Republican politicians in the Senate to pass $600 now to pay our bills, pay for housing and pay for healthcare,” said Joshua Roskamp, the business agent for IATSE Local 26.

“30 million unemployed nationwide. If we all want to compete for jobs; the value of jobs is going to bottom out. It will be a race to the bottom felt all the way up and down the working class spectrum. If the working class isn’t going to stick together, we are going to drown in a sea of sharks,” Roskamp added.

Roskamp, who is the lead rigger at Van Andel Arena and often works at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids and Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo continued, “We need some of the big names we work directly for to understand our dire situation. Many of us have risked life and sanity to bring you your favorite shows. Making us try and start new careers in an already flooded job market doesn’t seem practical for us, or for your favorite shows, when they return in spring 2021.”

One woman’s life, millions’ experience

Lindsey Katerberg, a West Michigan stagehand for ten years, gives a detailed explanation, “As a single mom I pay for a two-bedroom apartment and buy groceries for a teenager who eats everything within a few days; without the $600 FPUC I will have to apply for food stamps.

“There is too much uncertainty regarding the future. My student loans didn't qualify for relief under the CARES Act and my healthcare requires a quarterly payment that is soon due or I lose my benefits.

“Here in Michigan I am at the maximum $362 per week payment for unemployment which doesn’t come close to covering my rent, health insurance and student loans totaling $1,720 every month.

“The $600 FPUC has been a lifeline I cannot survive without. Now that it is expiring, I don't know how I am going to get by because our industry is shut down. I am just one of 140,000 union stagehands and there are over 5 million workers in live events and entertainment not working.

“My life revolves around working gigs. I love my job and find my work fulfilling. It's very difficult having everything canceled or postponed until further notice. It's horrible not knowing what lies ahead and having little faith left in our leadership to do the right thing when all they seem to care about is us returning to work when it's not possible, and it's not safe! I look to the rest of the world and can't help but feel I would be better off with new leaders in our country. It’s not just financial ruin for me. It's millions of workers. It's the whole damn country!”