Building Quarantine Solidarity

“Because one person raised their hand and said ‘I want to help’ and another person said ‘I need some help’, we’re able to connect them.” Thats what is all about.
IATSE Facebook post dated 01 May 2020



Building Quarantine Solidarity

How IATSE is using Action Builder

to support mutual aid efforts

Jeff Dugas
01 May 2020

IATSE Local 28 member Janet Cadmus makes masks at home to donate to those in need. Image source


The COVID-19 crisis has been devastating for North American workers. As ‘nonessential’ industries shut down, millions are left without the income they rely on to feed their families, pay their mortgage or rent, and keep up with utility bills. Entertainment — live and recorded — was one of the first industries to be shut down by COVID-19, hitting industry workers and members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) particularly hard. As this crisis continues, they’re finding strength turning to each other.

“Workers in live entertainment and film and TV were some of the first to lose their jobs during this crisis,” Dan Little, an International Representative for IATSE, told us in an interview last week. “We’ll also probably be one of the last groups of workers to be regularly re-employed as life starts to return to normal.”



There are more than 375 IATSE local unions among 13 geographical districts in the U.S. and Canada. Image source

IATSE represents over 150,000 technicians, artisans, and craftspersons in the entertainment industry in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada. As of late April, 95 to 98 percent of the union’s members are unemployed.

“Our members are having a terrible time navigating the unemployment systems,” explained Joe Hartnett, Assistant Department Director for Stagecraft at IATSE. “There’s tons of confusion around the new and emerging laws meant to help workers.”

On top of those serious financial concerns, Dan and Joe note that social distancing has taken a toll on members’ mental health. Members are finding the isolation of the COVID era particularly jarring compared to their usual, bustling workplaces.

“Although behind-the-scenes people like stagehands aren’t comfortable being in front of the camera, they can be an entertaining group,” Dan explained. “Making movies or putting on a play takes hundreds of people, and all of a sudden those social gatherings are gone. We’ve been focused on helping our members maintain their relationships with each other, so we developed a mutual aid campaign to get members talking to other members to build that sense of community and solidarity in a time when that can be really difficult to find.”

Image source

Thinking through ways to facilitate a union-wide mutual aid program, Dan and Joe decided to double down on the tool they were just starting to use before the COVID crisis hit: Action Builder.

‘Make One Call’

IATSE is using Action Builder both to build local solidarity and connect people nationally.

First, they encouraged locals to customize Action Builder to meet the needs of local members. One stage local in the Pacific Northwest has used the tool to distribute food grown in members’ home gardens. Others have focused on helping members navigate the unemployment process specific to their state or territory. Some locals have even used the tool to coordinate vote-by-mail efforts and responses to the 2020 census. All of these efforts started from one simple ask.

“We’re asking members to pick up the phone and call just one person once a week,” explained Dan. “It doesn’t matter if they live in the same neighborhood anymore — frankly, they could be anywhere. Then, in turn, we ask, ‘Could you ask them to call some of their friends?’ If in the course of that check-in conversation we get a sense of a member’s needs, the caller adds an assessment in Action Builder. We’re using a 5-point scale, so if a member is assessed as a 4 or a 5, we can flag them as someone in need of assistance. Then, we can match them up with the right person to help.”

“By starting with an easy ask, ‘Make one call’, locals are mobilizing members to participate and are able to quickly identify how they can be most helpful,” added Joe.


Second, on the international level, IATSE created, where all members, including retirees, are encouraged to add their name and either offer or request help. Using Action Builder’s map feature, administrators can see who lives near who and easily connect helpers with those in need of help.



It’s led to some serendipitous pairings. Through Action Builder, IATSE matched a stage carpenter in his mid-thirties with a retired ticket taker who lives just down the street from him in Voorhees, New Jersey. Starting with a simple phone call, they’ve developed a friendship, checking in regularly. And the carpenter has been able to help his ticket taker neighbor with tasks like grocery pick ups.


“Because one person raised their hand and said ‘I want to help’ and another person said ‘I need some help’, we’re able to use Action Builder to connect them.”


“There had been no relationship before, and now there’s a new relationship between two people who probably would not have crossed paths otherwise,” explained Dan. “They’re in two different age demographics from two different career paths, but now, because one person raised their hand and said ‘I want to help’ and another person said ‘I need some help’, we’re able to use Action Builder to connect them.”

Protecting healthcare workers

In addition to supporting each other, IATSE members are finding ways to use their skill sets to aid their larger communities’ responses to the crisis.

“Entertainment workers have always been taking stuff from the fringes, repurposing it, putting a coat of paint on it, and focusing our cameras differently to take a new and different look at it,” explained Dan.

Coordinating with hospitals in Florida, New York City, and Los Angeles, IATSE members have been repurposing the packaging for medical devices into masks and PPE to meet the demand.

IATSE Local 893 fashioned masks from recycled material that typically holds medical instruments. Image source


“Wardrobe locals are at home, they have sewing machines, so we’ve coordinated with hospitals and found out that the medical equipment comes in protective fabric bags that keeps the medical instruments clean and sanitary,” explained Joe. “Normally, the hospitals would just throw it out, but we’ve been able to get the packaging to our members, who are making masks and PPE out of the leftover fabric. We’re told it’s just as safe as an N95 mask.”

A pattern from the IATSE Cares ‘Mask Crafting Portal


‘Quarantine Solidarity’


Thanks to IATSE’s mutual aid program, stories like that of the carpenter and the ticket taker are playing out in communities across North America, forging new bonds between members. Dan and Joe believe it will have lasting effects long after this crisis.

“In a time of need, when everyone is sharing in ‘quarantine solidarity’, all it does is strengthen the bonds of the union and the purpose of what it inherently is,” Joe told us.

It’s also giving members across the union a chance to use Action Builder in depth, many for the first time.

“This is an opportunity to train a bunch of activists on a toolset that they’re going to use in the future for external organizing,” Dan explained. “It lets them train in an internal campaign with a relatively simple ask ‘Can you make a phone call?’ and also gives us the opportunity to train our administrative staff, our communications departments, our disaster relief committees, and the whole swath of the international organization.”

“Action Builder is intuitive to use,” said Joe. “It’s been a great tool and a great resource, and for our members who are just starting to learn it to see it’s still growing and developing, they feel like they’re a part of it.”

Thank you to Dan and Joe for taking the time to tell their story and for all of the amazing work they’re doing to build a robust and much-needed mutual aid program for the IATSE community. You can learn more about IATSE’s COVID response and mutual aid efforts at

Jeff Dugas
Jeff Dugas
Communications Director at @TheActionNet
01 May 2020

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