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IATSE is sewing solidarity for frontline workers

With almost all members out of work, IATSE has mobilized to make needed PPE


SEATTLE (April 10, 2020) — Few unions have been hit harder by the job loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic than the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. These are the entertainment industry technicians, artisans and craftspersons who work in live theater and other venues, as well as film and television production, all of which have been shut down by the restrictions needed to keep the coronavirus from spreading. By one estimate, as many as 95 percent of IATSE members are currently out of work nationwide.

So how has IATSE responded? By immediately mobilizing to help other workers.

Weeks ago, the international union launched the Union Solidarity PPE Help Campaign/IATSE and directed all locals to do what we they could to help with the construction of personal protective equipment (PPE) amid a desperate national shortage of masks, gowns and other gear.

At that point, many of the union’s Puget Sound-area members in its Stagecraft (IATSE 15), Theatrical Wardrobe (IATSE 887), and Studio Mechanics (IATSE 488) locals were already sewing masks on their own. Since then, these locals have reached out to all members and brought in additional volunteers to sew masks from their work studios and homes, to source fabric donations, and to do pick ups and deliveries to workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

IATSE 887 member Kate Hartman working at Seattle Opera.

Approximately 1,800 of these masks are going to hospitals like Harborview and UW Medical Center, where they will likely be used over their existing PPEs. Many are also going to workers in grocery stores, nursing homes, and others.

“Our project coordinator, Brianna Murphy, reached out to UFCW 21 to see if they wanted masks for their grocery workers, which has led us into a collaboration with them,” said Melissa Purcell, Northern Business Agent for IATSE 488. “They quickly connected us with an organization called Stop The Bug and Open Source Medical Supplies. We are currently helping source technical materials for possible gown construction for hospitals, while also working on an order of 1,500 masks for DESC, an organization that works with and shelters homeless people.”

IATSE is also forming some unusual partnerships.

“We are working with our venues as they turn over their workrooms to Providence Hospital,” said Delia Mulholland, Business Representative for IATSE 887. “Our members working for Providence at the Seattle Opera have made more than 3,000 medical grade masks since starting last week. Other venues such as Seattle Children’s Theater and The Seattle Repertory Theater are seeing if they, too, can provide a safe work environment.”

In addition to Murphy, multiple IATSE members have stepped up to lead and coordinate this important work, including Emily McLaughlin of Local 887 and Victoria Simmons of Local 488.

Many members from IATSE 15, 887 and 488 also are volunteering to make masks through Crafters Against COVID-19 Seattle, which was started by Costume Designer Candace Frank and has made more than 14,000 masks to date. Plus, many individual IATSE members throughout the state continue to sew from their homes for friends, family, vulnerable community members and medical personnel that they know throughout the country.

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