In About-Face, Musicians’ Union Agrees to Pandemic Fund-Raiser

In About-Face, Musicians’ Union Agrees to Pandemic Fund-Raiser

A Broadway fund-raiser to benefit entertainment workers whose livelihoods have been imperiled by the coronavirus will be rescheduled after a labor union retreated from a demand that musicians be paid for the streaming of the previously recorded event.

“We believe all musicians should be fairly compensated for their work all of the time, but we also believe that we must do everything possible to support entertainment workers hurt by the coronavirus pandemic,” Ray Hair, international president of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, said in a statement Monday. “We fully support the union musicians who have graciously offered to forgo all required payments to allow this charity event to move forward.”

The fund-raiser, which had been scheduled for Monday night, is to raise money for the theater nonprofit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It will feature the streaming of a benefit concert, recorded in November, in which 79 singers and dancers performed songs from Disney musicals, backed by 15 musicians.

The fund-raiser ran aground over whether those musicians — who were paid last fall for performing — should receive additional compensation for the streaming.

The union, which has made a priority of winning compensation for streaming media, insisted that the musicians should be paid. But the charity said it could not afford to do so, and pointed out that other unions, including Actors’ Equity and SAG-AFTRA, had agreed to waive any fees given that the event was to benefit suffering performers. The charity also agreed to make a donation to an emergency assistance fund for musicians.

After an unpleasant email exchange last week, the charity canceled the event on Saturday.

On Sunday, the 15 musicians issued a public statement expressing their desire for the event to proceed without any additional payment to them. Also on Sunday, the president of the union’s Local 802, which represents musicians in Greater New York, issued a statement criticizing Hair’s action.

On Monday, Hair issued the statement changing his position. Broadway Cares was scrambling to figure out how to put the event back together — a spokesman said it would not take place Monday night, but that “It will be rescheduled — we’re just trying to figure out logistics on when.” The event was to be hosted by the actor Ryan McCartan, with live interviews woven into the streamed concert.

The musicians welcomed the change. “We are delighted to see that President Ray Hair has endorsed our wish to donate our rights to the streaming of this performance,” they said in a statement. “Thanks to all the AFM leadership for hearing our voice in this matter.”

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