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Coronavirus unemployment: UTA furloughs workers as talent agencies manage fallout

UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer.
(United Talent Agency)

United Talent Agency on Monday said it will furlough a “significant number” of its 1,200 employees, in the latest sign of economic duress in Hollywood caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Beverly Hills-based company declined to say how exactly many people were affected by the furloughs but said those impacted will largely be assistants. The furloughs will begin on May 15.

The cost reductions are in addition to salary cuts that UTA announced in March.

“We had hoped the salary reductions we all took would be sufficient, but at this point we must take this additional step to ensure the ongoing financial stability of UTA,” wrote UTA’s CEO Jeremy Zimmer in a note to employees on Monday. Zimmer in March said he would give his salary up for the rest of the year, as did co-presidents Jay Sures and David Kramer.

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Zimmer said in his note that the company will pay the health benefits of furloughed workers, including covering their premiums.

“Our hope is that we will be back to a new normal soon, and that it will include opportunities for all of you to return,” Zimmer said.

UTA, along with many Hollywood talent agencies and entertainment businesses, have been hurt by COVID-19. Concerns about the disease have shelved many productions and live events, causing companies to lay off, furlough or reduce the pay of workers.

Agencies have been hard hit. Century City-based Creative Artists Agency has implemented salary cuts, while Beverly Hills-based entertainment business Endeavor announced one-third of its staff will have their positions eliminated, be furloughed or see their hours reduced.

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Talent agencies are under growing pressure to raise capital to finance growth at time of rapid changes in the media industry. The rise of streaming and expected decline of TV packaging, combined with the effects of a longstanding boycott by Writers Guild of America, have put the squeeze on talent agencies, some of which have laid off workers.

Talent agencies were already adapting to changes in the entertainment industry before the pandemic. The popularity of streaming and the expected decline of TV packaging, combined with a drawn out battle with the Writers Guild of America, has put pressure on the agencies.

Large agencies UTA, Creative Artists Agency, William Morris Endeavor and ICM Partners remain in a dispute with the WGA and have yet to reach an agreement with the union over long-standing practices. UTA, CAA and WME are also engaged in a legal battle with WGA.


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