February 6, 2021 - Financial Update: Equity remains operating on only 15-20% of normal earned revenues plus Federal Government supports like the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), the Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) and more recently the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS). These subsidies have together represented $1.2 million or 55% of our operating budget for 2020-2021. It is important to note that even with the government subsidies we are anticipating a significant deficit for the fiscal year and will have to draw from our operating stabilization fund to cover a 30-35% revenue shortfall.
The COVID-19 pandemic second wave has hit many provinces and members hard. More productions have been cancelled and contracts terminated. Work week numbers remain low and all of Equity's savings and revenues found have not replaced our income lost from working dues. Just as our members have been badly affected, so has the Association. Our members' generous response to the November 2020 basic dues billing certainly helped but has not generated enough revenue to stave off making more difficult decisions.
The Government wage subsidy support is scheduled to end in June and we must plan accordingly. The Association has already laid off staff and reduced the hours and wages of those that remain. At this point, with no existing places from which to save, the Association is now forced to look for new ways to reduce costs. It remains our intention to have Equity emerge at the end of the pandemic, when live performance returns to the stage, ready to serve the needs of working members. We are on track to do that but some difficult choices lie ahead.
Western Office to Close
With regret, Equity has made the difficult decision to not renew the lease for the physical Western Office in Vancouver. By June 1, 2021, we will switch to providing virtual service to the western region. The nature of our work had radically changed in the last 10 years. Email, scanning to PDF, digital contracts and forms and electronic conferencing, have reduced member foot traffic in the office to almost nil. The past 10 months have taught us that it is possible to effectively do the business of Equity remotely and our current western region staff will remain in place. This decision will amount to an annual cost savings of over $40,000 a year.
"This pandemic has forced us to make many difficult and unpleasant decisions, and the decision not to renew the lease on the Vancouver office when it expires at the end of May is one of them." acknowledged Executive Director Arden R. Ryshpan. "The members in the western region are attached to their office and worked hard many years ago to get Equity to open one so that they could be serviced in their own time zone and by staff who they knew and who had developed relationships with members and engagers alike. Our two dedicated staff people, Senior Business Representative Jennifer Riedle and Office Manager Jessica Tan are valued members of the Equity staff and they will continue to provide excellent service, just as they have already offered remotely since March of 2020."
A Zoom meeting was held in early December with Equity members, elected representatives and staff to hear member input on the future of the Western Office and to answer questions.
"I was deeply appreciative of our conversation with my fellow Western members and the perspectives shared. Some of those present had pushed for the opening of an office in the West back in the 80s, and to hear them speak with pride about their efforts was special." shared Council President Scott Bellis. "Our discussion was thorough, informative and respectful. I believe the members understood the challenges Equity is currently facing and felt that the decision would be, with some regret, accepted and respected by the members. Clearly, closing the physical Western Office is not an outcome anyone wants. The pandemic has forced Equity into some hard corners, and this is one of them. Equity's national Council has been consulted on this matter, as they are with all issues that could affect member services. We acknowledge and support this decision with the hope of better times to come."
The Western Office will officially close in the last week of May, COVID-19 restrictions permitting. More information about the practicalities of the new remote western workspace, will be released as soon as it becomes available.
This decision does not preclude Equity from re-opening an office in Vancouver in the future. It is impossible to predict how long it will take for production levels to return to pre-COVID-19 levels or when Equity's revenues will sufficiently recover making it financially prudent to consider a new lease. Reinstatement of full time hours and the restoration of complete services to members will be Equity's most immediate future priority. A new Vancouver office will be on a list of items to consider in the next phase of our rebuilding efforts.