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April 20, 2020
I’m writing you to give you our second update on DGC National’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 crisis. At our last update, DGC National waived second quarter member dues and got to work on an urgent set of initiatives designed to generate assistance for all our members who are suddenly at home doing their extraordinary part to mitigate the spread of this pandemic.
This month, in tight coordination with your District Council, DGC National has pursued some major initiatives on our own, others in concert with our sister Guilds and the Canadian Labour Congress, others with our health insurers and retirement fund managers, yet others with the COVID-19 Industry Task Force which now includes labour organisations. We are aiming our messages at the senior officials, MPs and ministers in the federal government who we specialize in reaching on behalf of our members across the country. Here are the major initiatives:
1) Include Contract Workers
Our earliest effort, which started as soon as we were clobbered by the March 13 shutdown, was a joint effort with six other labour organizations who came together to insist that the federal government emergency response cover contract workers and the self-employed just as well as it would salaried workers on a long-term payroll. The DGC was among the first organisations in Canada to raise the issue of the contract worker. Our letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage on the subject is said to have made the rounds extensively in Ottawa in the run-up to the Prime Minister’s earliest announcements of benefits – and contract workers were on the Prime Minister’s list of emergency funding recipients when he announced his plan.
2) Improving CERB
The Prime Minister’s emergency funding announcement was great news, but by the government’s own admission it was a first stab at doing the right thing and came with many questions. We knew immediately that under the initial guidelines, too many of our members would fall through the cracks. We joined forces with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and pressed to ensure that financial assistance for workers be simplified and increased. This resulted in the government merging the two programs they first announced into a larger and more streamlined Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).
Still there remained major concerns: Too many members risked not qualifying for CERB: Initially the rules stated that only employees or contractors who were working as of March 15th and “stopped working because COVID-19” were eligible for benefits. Members who were simply between contracts at the time of the outbreak would be excluded. Also, anyone with any form of continuing work income, including teaching fees or royalties from past contracts – no matter how small – were set to lose their eligibility for benefits. Arguing that our unpredictable employment and project development patterns make setting any sort of benchmark completely arbitrary, the Guild fought to have these rules relaxed or abandoned.
On Wednesday, success: The government announced that seasonal workers who can demonstrate they would have been working after March 15th will be eligible for benefits. Further, individuals can earn up to $1,000 per month in income from other sources and still receive emergency benefits. At our urging, the definition of “seasonal workers” was expanded to include cultural sector workers, and royalty payments for past work were excluded entirely – over and above the $1,000 ‘other income’ limit mentioned above.
While we are optimistic that this will benefit most of our members, we are now seeking clarification on how contract workers can demonstrate that they would have been working after March 15th of this year. We are told by officials that a past pattern of work at this time of year should be sufficient. We are pressing for even more flexible criteria.
3) RRSP Proposal
Another major DGC initiative relates to the RRSP – and it is a work in progress. Under the leadership of National Executive Director Dave Forget, the DGC has devised a proposal allowing Canadians to borrow from their RRSPs. Modelled on the existing Home Buyer’s Program, this initiative would allow members to take out loans on our RRSPs without triggering taxes or incurring penalties, on condition that the money be repaid over a period of years. This proposal was embraced by IATSE, our major partner in the RRSP, and by CEIRP, the Trust that manages the RRSP on behalf of both unions. The proposal now requires federal government approval. The DGC, IATSE and CEIRP have pushed hard for the last two weeks and we have received support from other labour organizations, including from the CLC, and from multiple MPs. We’ve been encouraged by how quickly the government has responded to our proposals and will keep you posted.
4) Safe return to work
We will go back to work when all levels of government give the green light, when engagers decide to resume production, and once workers decide it is safe to do so. We don’t know when this will happen, but we do know that circumstances will be different and safety will be critical. The safer the environment the sooner we can become productive again. The District Councils and DGC National are modeling how that might look like in concert with our partners on the recently formed Industry Task Force. In the last weeks labour groups now sitting on the Task Force have been leaders in articulating the key safety components of a protocol that could return us safely to work once the crisis has settled. Coordinating this with the federal government will be critical. This is a core DGC National responsibility.
5) Money for our sector
We asked for it and Friday we received it. The federal government has allotted $500,000,000 in emergency cash to the Department of Heritage. We’ll press to ensure that creators and arts workers benefit directly from this funding.
6) Credit Card Interest
The DGC is signatory to an industry wide petition demanding that banks reduce interest rates on credit cards.
7) Where to find updates from DGC National
Guild staff are now finalizing a FAQ on pan-Canadian programs for our website at DGC.ca. Look for it in on the website, in your District Council newsletter and on social media starting Wednesday. While we’d urge you to consult official sources, and also urge you to obtain professional financial advice where necessary, we hope this FAQ will be a useful resource for information about the assistance available through government, DGC Benefits, your District Council and other programs.
Finally, at the invitation of every District Council across the country, your weekly e-bulletin will now carry a dedicated section updating you on DGC National’s initiatives and offering links to key documents and resources. Please look for it. This will cut down on the number of emails you receive from the Guild and concentrate all relevant information in two places – your e-bulletin and the DGC.ca website.
This is one of the most unique and challenging moments any of us have experienced. The pressures on members are extraordinary as we double down on slowing the spread of this disease. I want to know that your Guild is here to support you and that we are pressing day-in and day-out for our country’s most powerful institutions to provide the support we all need to get the job done.
Yours sincerely and in solidarity,
DGC National President
March 17, 2020
As I write to you, many of us have been sent home from sets, production offices and post suites. Others among us are emerging from a customarily fallow winter period into what might have been a robust months-long run of work. Virtually all of us are now at home, either in voluntary quarantine as I am (having stepped off an airplane) or simply limiting our contact with other people as we do our part to protect vulnerable fellow citizens from this infection, and to collectively protect our health services from a too sudden spike in the rate of infection.
No matter our personal circumstances, we all have our shoulder to the wheel now to take on this challenge.
Our first concern, as always, is the health of our members, but the biggest challenge for most of us moving forward is that the income we may have been expecting for months to come when we woke up last Wednesday disappeared on Monday. This is a sudden challenge. An acute challenge for some of us.
The DGC wants to do everything we can to assist members now and in the weeks to come. Like many members I prefer to have things laid out clearly so I can plan, so I’m going to be as clear as I can about what DGC National can and can’t do to mitigate this blow:
1) On a conference call late last night, the DGC National Executive Board approved waiving all 2nd Quarter dues for Guild members. This decision comes at a cost of $875,000 to the Guild’s reserves, but this is what reserves are for and the time is now. Members who have prepaid will receive a full credit for 2020 Q2 when they pay 2021 dues.
2) DGC National is in a full court press with the Federal government and appropriate Federal Ministers to establish direct financial assistance for contract workers like us.
3) DGC National is working diligently to protect your health plan and make it available as always to members in need. The plan is robust and much of the COVID-19 health care shock was anticipated. So we are vigilant but confident that services will be maintained. If you have questions regarding DGC Benefits, please email DGCBenefits@dgc.ca.
4) In addition to the DGC’s health plan, Guild members often apply to the AFC in times of need. Last night, DGC National increased its 2020 donation to the AFC to $75,000.00 and will make the full balance of those moneys available immediately. Together with the Ontario and British Columbia District Councils’ substantial contributions, this donation makes your Guild a major supporter of this most essential assistance fund. If you need short-term financial assistance, go to www.afchelps.ca.
5) DGC National is monitoring the RRSP plan with our partners at IATSE – with whom we sit on the fund’s CEIRP Board. Though it is a big one, this is not our first market shock, so we are absorbing it with considerable diversification and the ability to wait out the harshest part of the downturn. Some members have asked whether they can draw down their RRSPs during this crisis. The answer from the CEIRP Board is that because a major portion of the RRSP contribution comes from the producer with the stipulation in our collective agreements that this contribution be reserved for retirement only, drawing down the mandatory portion of the plan is not currently possible. Members may draw down on voluntarily contributions they have made. The only exception to this policy is in cases of “extreme hardship” (for example, pending eviction/foreclosure, extraordinary medical expenses). Details can be found here. If you have any questions regarding CEIRP, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
6) DGC National staff is coordinating closely with every District Council. As it has indicated in recent e-bulletins, your DGC District Council is hard at work enforcing pay and safety clauses in your contract, using every lever at its disposal: provincial labour laws, calls to the provincial government, direct contact with every producer and studio. Please consult these e-bulletins for updates on COVID-19 and on resources available to you through your Guild.
The above is the clearest picture I can give you at present of how we can help.
Anything we can do for you and for each other, we will. I won’t hide that in a challenge of this magnitude a professional association like ours will turn vigorously for support to players with deep pockets, namely our governments, and through them major businesses that have a clear role to play in this crisis such as utilities and banks.
As an organisation with one of the sharpest administrative and advocacy teams in the world, DGC National is taking every action in its power to protect you. That includes work already underway upholding our collective agreements, helping you access available benefits, protecting your plans in an exceptionally volatile environment, and converting our day-to-day programs into emergency assistance resources for all our members.
This is a moment when we all have to come together and you should know that your Guild is doing everything in its power to help.
Yours in solidarity,
DGC National President