On Friday, October 27, staff members at Outfest, a 41-year-old LGBTQ film festival in Los Angeles, were laid off via email.
Outfest staff members, who have recently formed a union called Queer Filmworkers United (QFU) with CWA Local 9003, expected to return to work on Monday, October 30 after a two-week unpaid leave enforced by the Outfest Board of Directors. The mass layoff email was sent at 4:14pm, less than two hours after the end of the business day on Friday.
In the email, staff members were also informed that their health insurance coverage will expire on October 31, just four days after layoffs were announced.
“[T]heir layoff email was addressed namelessly to ‘Dear Outfest Staff Member,’” said QFU in a statement released via Instagram, “by CC, with no individual recognition of their service.”
The layoff comes after a difficult month of organizing for QFU members
On September 26, staff members announced their intent to unionize, giving the Outfest Board of Directors a 24-hour deadline to voluntarily recognize their union. Serendipitously, on the same day, the Writers' Guild (WGA) just won their contract and ended their strike one day later.
The following day, instead of recognizing QFU, the Outfest Board of Directors laid off five staff members. The first round of layoffs included four QFU members and the Director of Artist Development, Martine McDonald, who is also the organization's only Black employee. Onlookers shamed Outfest for retaliating against staff who wish to unionize.
In response to the backlash Outfest received from LGBTQ+ filmmakers who are also union supporters, Outfest Board co-president told Deadline, "Our board and our organization are pro-union and we are excited to be supporting our staff's right to unionize."
The Outfest Board of Directors sought $750,000 from their top donors after discovering "huge amounts of undisclosed debt"
A statement from the Board of Directors given to Variety Magazine reads, “To ensure that Outfest endures and thrives for the next 40 years in its core mission to champion LGBTQIA+ storytellers and create opportunities, the Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to scale back our operations for the next several months.”
The Board of Directors told The Hollywood Reporter that their financial distress stems from the historic side-by-side SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes. According to Outfest’s website, Netflix and Warner Brothers, both struck studios that writers and actors are striking against, are their major donors.
However, former co-president and top donor Alan Koenigsberg revealed through a now-deleted screenshot of an email captured by LGBTQ Nation that Outfest was seeking $750,000 in donations after discovering “huge amounts of undisclosed debt that had been hidden from the Board.”
Outfest did not respond to our request for comment.
Laid-off staff members start a crowdfunding campaign
“Please, at this distressing juncture, consider making a donation to the QFU Relief fund in order to help us stay afloat as we pick up the pieces,” said staff members in a statement.
They initially created the crowdfunding campaign to raise money to pay workers for the 2-week period of unpaid leave. The GoFundMe campaign reads, “Many of us who have been living paycheck-to-paycheck on non-profit pay are struggling to afford rent and other necessary expenses.”
Finally, from the GoFundMe page, “Every dollar you donate will go directly to QFU members to help them get back on their feet.”
[UPDATE 11/6/2023 5:49 pm CST] In a statement released earlier today on Instagram, QFU is now calling for the resignation of Outfest Board co-presidents Bil Bertini and Nii-Quartelai Quartey “due to rampant mismanagement and abysmal treatment of workers over the last year which has resulted in the layoff of all Outfest staff.” We will continue to update this story as more statements are released by both QFU and Outfest.