Economic hardships settle in for laid off New Yorkers

The show simply couldn’t go on.  Those words from general manager Peter Gelb, in a letter announcing the Metropolitan Opera will cancel the rest of its season, laying off its union staff, including musicians and chorus.

Full-timers will be paid through March, and healthcare coverage will continue “throughout the crisis,” according to the letter. 

But the union that represents many of the artists affected most say that’s “simply not enough during this pandemic.” 

The American Guild of Musical Artists say many members don’t qualify for unemployment. The union says they’re actively lobbying “for federal, state, and local emergency relief.”

Greg David is a columnist with Crains New York Business and says there will be a lot of people in several industries facing particular difficulties.

“It’s really a case where it’s not your fault”— that’s the message he wants to convey to affected employees.

Food, tourism, entertainment and hospitality are industries that are being especially hit hard.

“This is the first time we’ve ever had an economic downturn that began in the tourism industry,” David says.

Jairus Abts was a contract employee at the Met Opera and also worked in the reservations department at the Standard High Line Hotel. 

“We canceled and refunded 100s and 100s of reservations. and i literally was watching my job disappear before my eyes,” Abts says.

He’s now out both jobs.

“I knew I wouldn’t have a job last week. So processing that was hard enough as it is and then—“ as he pauses to wipe a tear— “so processing not having a job is hard enough. And then you have this global issue that is so much bigger than anything about unemployment.”

Abts was finally able to file for unemployment Thursday, after days of trying but finding out the website was overloaded.  

One thing helping him cope: knowing he's not alone.

“It sucks. But that sort of collective thing is at least comforting that nobody knows what is going on.”

“We are in unprecedented territory,” David added. “The key issues are: how long is it going to last? Will permanent damage be done? Will we bounce back quickly? Will federal government fill the economic gap? Will there be a financial panic? I have no answers to that.”