We at Yale School of Drama and Yale Repertory Theatre have watched in horror as the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively shuttered the arts and entertainment industry. While we acknowledge the creativity around how the School of Drama and the Yale Rep have kept its staff working during these unprecedented times, we look ahead to tumultuous and uncertain reopening of theater and live events.
As we all deal with the anxiety of an uncertain future, Yale is taking legal action to try make our seasonal staff repay unemployment benefits they were encouraged by Yale School of Drama to apply for in the Spring of 2020. In March 2020, the head of the School of Drama's production department wrote in an email that unemployment benefits might be available to seasonal staff due to the unavailability of theater work during a worldwide pandemic. The Associate Dean and arts advocates were mentioned to also be looking into this matter, giving staff a sense that it was a real possibility. Many seasonal staff applied and received unemployment benefits until returning to Yale in August of 2020.
Unfortunately, as early as October 2020, some of these staff members received notices from the Connecticut Department of Labor that Yale University was challenging their unemployment claims. The Yale protests have put the claimants at risk to have to pay back a portion, if not all of the collected unemployment benefits. It has been made clear that Yale University has no legal obligation to follow through with these appeals, but by continuing, the University is causing unnecessary anxiety, stress and economic hardship to employees who are already worried about their futures in their chosen field.
We are calling on the YSD administration to advocate for its workers by contacting changemakers at the University to put a halt to ongoing and future unemployment hearings regarding the Summer of 2020 claims. All Yale needs to do is to simply withdraw the appeals it has filed and to cease opposing such claims.
Yale University, with its vast resources, should not be choosing to sue its workers during a pandemic and economic downturn.