Show Cancellations Over Coronavirus Leave Stagehands Union Without Work

Spring is ordinarily one of the union's busiest seasons

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The convention and trade show industry is blaming a billion-dollar loss nationwide on coronavirus fears pushing organizers to cancel or postpone huge events across the country.

The cancellations are taking their toll on the members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 122 in San Diego, plus those wanting to join.

Show cancellations and postponements at the San Diego Convention Center and bayfront hotels have representatives for the IATSE sharing this warning with members: Spend money only on essentials and get unemployment insurance if you need it.

“The show must go on” is a popular phrase within the entertainment industry, but the spread of COVID-19 in the United States and Southern California has the IATSE wondering whether or not it will.  

"All of our union members right now are in shock,” IATSE shop steward Robert Morales said. “How are we going to survive the next step?”

Nearly a half dozen small to medium-size trade shows were cancelled a week ago. The largest of them, the Experimental Biology trade show at the convention center, was cancelled last Friday.

"Normally a convention like Experimental Biology would put 500 people to work,” IATSE business representative Richard Disbrow said.

Disbrow sent this warning to the membership Monday.

"I strongly suggest that every member saves their money and spends it on essential items."

Filing for unemployment is their next option, according to Disbrow.

"A lot of our members don't want to. It is a prideful thing, but we are going to encourage them to do that as the work continues to get cancelled,” he said.

Spring is ordinarily one of their busiest seasons. Union members are still hoping this year's poor start won't bring down the curtain.

"We don't know how long this is going to go on for, so I really want to make sure my membership is set up for success so they'll be able to weather the storm," he said.

The convention and trade show business is the economic engine that runs the hotels, restaurants and small business downtown, according to Disbrow. He said San Diego should expect a trickle down effect if the coronavirus goes unchecked through this summer.

Disbrow compared the current coronavirus outbreak to the September 2017 Hepatitis A outbreak that also caused cancelled and postponed events, and drove visitors from downtown.

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