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Event restrictions amid COVID-19 have 'devastating' impact on gig economy, workers say

Outside Bill Graham Civic Center auditorium, which is currently closed amid COVID-19 concerns. (Photo: Rick P./Yelp)
By Saul Sugarman - Published on March 13, 2020.

The City of San Francisco announced tighter restrictions on events Friday afternoon, banning events of more than 100 people through April 30th. The new restrictions, along with a series of measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, have shuttered venues and halted a large number of events in San Francisco.

Hoodline spoke Friday to performers, bar owners, photographers, and stagehands about the cancellations, which they say have severely affected their work and income streams.

“We’re all out of work,” said Rocky Mullin, an electrician and rigger with the stagehand's union, IATSE Local 16. Based in San Francisco, the union chapter represents more than 2,000 people, Mullin said.

The cancellation earlier this month of Google I/O, the company’s biggest annual tech conference hosted in Mountain View, was just the latest in a string of other large-scale events, including Facebook F8 in San Jose and the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Members of IATSE Local 16 and other chapters derive much of their income from these and other events, Mullin said, as well as BroadwaySF shows and those put on by Another Planet Entertainment at Bill Graham Civic Center, the Chase Center, the Fox Theater, and New Parish.

Mullin predicts more large event cancellation in the spring and summer, because the months of planning they take.

“This is devastating,” said San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. “But we will make it through, and the point of these regulations is to make sure that as many of us are alive on the other end as possible.”

The previous ban on events of more than 250 people left some venues untouched, but the 100-person cap will affect some bars and restaurant dining rooms. As Mandelman understands the mandate, “Bars with more than 100-person capacity should be shut down, yes.”

Some bars are still carrying on as usual, but taking precautions.

“We are probably down close to 10 percent [in business], possibly 15 percent. I do worry that this is only the beginning though,” said Lisa Merrall, owner of Fireside Bar in the Inner Sunset.

“If we are truly at the beginning of this, we have much more to worry about beyond our health,” Merrall said.

At The Stud in the South of Market neighborhood, some events have been postponed, but the bar remains open while taking precautions and “closely following the city’s guidelines,” said co-owner Mark Bieschke.

“It’s really a place of finding a balance because our bar acts as a safe space for so many marginalized people,” Bieschke said. “Shutting that down means depriving them of a place to gather and share their resources.”

Freelancers tell Hoodline they’re out thousands of dollars in income.

“I'm all for public safety, but I'm projected to lose about $1,250 to $1,500 or more though various events being canceled or postponed through halfway through May,” said Darryl Pelletier, a Martinez-based photographer who shoots for San Francisco events and others in California.

He said his gigs with the annual Hunky Jesus event in Dolores Park, gatherings at Strut, and a “handful of drag shows” have all been canceled.

For local DJ Trever Pearson, “It’s definitely impacted my entire reality, and I’m sinking fast unless I either leave the Bay or find another job immediately,” he told Hoodline Friday.

He said a weekly gig at Steamworks bathhouse in Berkeley has been cut, meaning he is out up to $1600 in monthly income.

“$1200 a month alone without gig revenue, and either the phone or food is going to have to go,” he said.

Dustin Hart, a San Francisco-based pianist and organ player, said he lost a $500 gig performing at an Easter event for a local church.

He noted though, "I'm lucky that I have a husband with an income and think we can get through it together, but it'll be rough and I worry about all the single performers and performer couples out there."

Likewise, Mullin said he felt lucky as a union worker because he was on payroll for many of his jobs, making it easier to file for unemployment.

"I feel protected compared to most other wage earners who freelance and are impacted by this," he said.

If you are affected financially in the current situation, here are some resources:

The San Francisco Office of Workforce and Economic Development also launched a website today with resources for employees and business owners affected by COVID-19 prevention measures.

SFDPH recommends the following to protect yourself and others:

  • Wash hands with liquid soap and water, and rub for at least 20 seconds;
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow;
  • Stay home if you are sick;
  • Get your flu shot to protect against flu or symptoms similar to novel coronavirus;
  • Instead of shaking hands, try other ways of greeting like elbow bumps or waves;

Get more information if you are traveling.

Stay up to date with the most recent information by visiting the SFDPH and SF emergency preparedness websites.

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