89°F
weather icon Clear

Vegas gig worker says system ‘doesn’t make sense’

Updated May 24, 2020 - 11:21 am

The crisscrossing roads of COVID-19 keep leading back to Megan Belk.

You might not know Belk. You won’t find her image on a taxi top or Las Vegas Strip resort marquee. But for 25 years, she and her family have touched the Las Vegas entertainment community in myriad ways. Chiefly, her Music By Belk production and management company furnishes performers and performances for venues and conventions all over the city.

These are bands, such as The A List, you might hear at Toshiba Square as you enter T-Mobile Arena for a Vegas Golden Knights game or George Strait show. Or, you might hear a Belk-booked performance inside Moneyline at Park MGM, The Lounge at ExCal, and several Station Casinos hotel-casinos.

Before she arrived in town, Belk was a singer and backup dancer in “Legends In Concert” on Premier Cruise Line. She met the man she would marry, Jim Belk, during those tours. Jim was the drummer and music director for the band that played for all the Premier shows.

The two moved to Las Vegas in 1995, as the city was the “Legends” hub.

Jim was a force on the Vegas entertainment scene, performing in “Mamma Mia!” at Mandalay Bay, “The Producers” at Paris Las Vegas, “Avenue Q” at Wynn Las Vegas and “We Will Rock You,” also at Paris. In that show, Jim shared MD duties with none other than The Composers Showcase co-founder Keith Thompson. The pairing of rocker and musical-theater buff worked magic on the Strip.

Jim’s final show was “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s in the spring of 2013. Shortly after the show opened, the man fondly known as “Belky” developed a rare form of cancer. His passing in September 2013 at age 47 shook our city’s entertainment community. “MDQ” paid homage to the master musician by hanging a photo of him in the sound booth inside the show’s Sun Records set.

Megan Belk has continued to work across the city. Recently she showed off her singing chops in her brother Todd Hart’s Voices Las Vegas singing ensemble (the troupe’s clips are on Hart’s website). When the Vegas engine is running, I often catch Belk while she’s wearing a headset near a stage. I occasionally receive random texts, “Hey, The A List is playing outside tonight at The Park!”

Megan can recognize and even produce a Cool Hang. She can also spot a show that isn’t ready for prime time.

Which brings us to the DETR Lounge, a production of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. Because of her skills in dealing with showbiz bureaucracy, Belk has been at the wheel for many contracted, or “gig” performers and entertainment workers in the city who are trying to navigate that site.

The gig workers, or “1099s” in another moniker, have been waiting since late March to apply for unemployment assistance.

These folks have no full-time employer. They are classic showbiz mercenaries, chasing the next paycheck.

Belk is in that group. Gig workers were given the go-ahead to apply for assistance last week. She has spent much of that time chiseling her way into the website. She concurrently posts updates on her Facebook page, offering advice to those going through the same stressful process.

After the site was stalled Saturday for two hours, Belk finally cracked the code and entered her information.

“I’m not an expert, that’s my qualifier,” she says. “I’m working through this and just sharing what I have learned.”

It’s easy to point out the website’s inadequacies in the face of such a volume of suddenly jobless entertainment professionals. However, by opting to work as contracted professionals, gig workers don’t pay unemployment insurance taxes. The system isn’t built for them. It’s a nuanced issue, and Belk knows it.

“The self-employed don’t get unemployment insurance, and in fact it is not called ‘unemployment insurance,’ it’s ‘unemployment assistance,’” she says. “So, when you get upset and start demanding this and that, you need to feel lucky that they are including us at all — and they should, because of the situation.”

Largely through trial and error, Belk has found the right process to enter a gig worker’s hours and pay. They can make between $181 and $469 a week through the state, along with the flat rate of $600 from the federal government’s CARES Act.

Fair money, except contracted workers have been on deck for two months, waiting to be let into the website. The system is geared toward full-time workers, not the sort of entertainer who plays Rocks Lounge at Red Rock on Thursday, Hank’s at Green Valley Ranch on Friday and the Italian American Club Showroom on Saturday.

“It’s a very confusing process, and it doesn’t have anything to do with anyone’s intelligence,” Belk says. “We truly are per-project gig workers. We have many employers, as far as who are paying us. So it doesn’t make sense or fit what we do.”

An example is the DETR entry asking for an individual’s employer. Gig workers have been errantly entering, say, their most frequent gig. Don’t do that. Enter N/A, or “self,” because that entry is for W-2 filers, Belk says.

“What is really frustrating is how long it’s taken to release these funds to the gig workers,” Belk says. “They’ve known since the CARES Act was signed at the end of March that we were going to have these issues.”

Belk has socked enough away through a strong fourth quarter of 2019 and first quarter this year. She has been staying at home with her daughters, who have inherited their parents’ zeal for the arts. Andress, at 18, has graduated from Las Vegas Academy almost a year to the day and is enrolled at the private arts university Pratt Institute in New York City. Seventeen-year-old Eliza just finished 11th grade at LVA.

Living a show-business life most of her life has given Belk perspective on how to cope with upheaval.

“I just say to be patient, stay calm,” Belk says. “A lot of this is out of our control. That’s what is most frustrating. People are fearful and understandably so, but we are all in the same situation. We have each other. We always have.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Las Vegas bar workers frustrated, angry as restrictions return - VIDEO
In Southern Highlands, the Italian restaurant Spaghetty Western, while remaining open, had to shut down its bar. Bartender Scarlett Brock, who is still waiting to receive unemployment payments from the initial shutdown, calls the financial impact of being out of work again “a knock in the face.” (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'In the Dark' at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum - Video
Laurie Thomas, controller for the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, discusses the new exhibit, "In the Dark," in Las Vegas on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (Elizabeth Page Brumley/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Summertime Dole Whip Cocktails
Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer at The Venetian has two new Dole Whip cocktails. The Golden Tiki, which offers a line of Dole Whip cocktails, is reopening Wednesday.
Lin-Manuel Miranda says 'Hamilton' criticism is 'fair game'
Lin-Manuel Miranda has responded to people claiming he presented an idealized version of the Founding Fathers. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Charlie Daniels, 'Devil Went Down to Georgia' singer, dead at 83 - Video
Charlie Daniels, the country music star, was struck by a hemorrhagic stroke in Hermitage, Tennessee. His death was confirmed on Monday. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jennifer Romas takes her 'Sexxy The Show' to Dreamland Drive-In - Video
Jennifer Romas, producer, director, choreographer and star “Sexxy The Show" at Westgate took her show to Dreamland Drive-In at FreshWata Studios in Las Vegas. The show, which is currently dark at the Westgate, is a benefit for charities Golden Rainbow of Southern Nevada, The Actors Fund and Pawtastic Friends. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Wynn Las Vegas’ ‘re-imagined’ buffet - VIDEO
On June 18, The Buffet at Wynn reopened to customers with what the resort called “a re-imagined all-you-can-eat concept that combines the abundance of the traditional buffet with the benefits of a full-service restaurant.” (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jimmy Kimmel issues public apology for past blackface sketches - Video
On Tuesday, late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel took to Twitter to apologize for his blackface impression of NBA star Karl Malone. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kurt Cobain's MTV Unplugged guitar sold for record-breaking $6M - Video
The 1959 Martin D-18E, which was often out of tune, was expected to fetch between $1million and $2 million. The iconic guitar was sold during the online 'Music Icons' sale hosted by Julien's Auctions over the weekend. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joel Schumacher, director of 'Lost Boys' and Batman films, dead at 80 - Video
Schumacher died in New York City after battling cancer for a year. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'We are not a monolith' - Video
Lance Smith, a multidisciplinary artist, talks about how black artists should be acknowledged for their work and not tokenized or only have their work connected to trauma. "Blackness, we are not a monolith, we deserve to live and create in a world that respects us as we are." (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Amid protests and pandemic, black artists view works as means to empathy, healing - Video
Erica Vital-Lazare is an artist, writer, sometimes activist and professor at the College of Southern Nevada. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
PodKats! with Ross Mollison
On this edition of PodKats! Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes is joined by the founder of Spiegelworld and producer of Las Vegas Strip shows such as "Absinthe," and "Opium," Ross Mollison.
Paramount pulls 'Cops' series in wake of protests - Video
Paramount Network recently confirmed their decision to cancel the long-running reality show, "Cops." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Restaurants add COVID-19 surcharge - Video
Some Las Vegas Strip restaurants are adding a COVID-19 surcharge to their bills to help offset the additional costs of reopening. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kats hangs at Mayfair Supper Club as Bellagio reopens
Las Vegas Review-Journal man-about-town columnist John Katsilometes visits The Mayfair Supper Club at the Bellagio on the Strip in Las Vegas on the first night after reopening Thursday, June 4, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas performers adapt to pandemic restrictions - Video
The coronavirus pandemic has forced creative people in Las Vegas, a city that thrives on live performance, to adapt to new or changed ways to entertain. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas woman brings Blue Angel to life - Video
When Las Vegas shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, Victoria Hogan created the Blue Angel costume and performance, emulating the statue locals know and love in order to connect with others in a time when connection isn’t as possible. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
‘Hamilton’ postponed as Smith Center remains dark indefinitely - VIDEO
The hit musical 'Hamilton' was supposed to run from September through October at The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Strip with Kats
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife Gilligan Stillwater GIbbons and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides a bicycle on the Las Vegas Strip with Kats - Video
Las Vegas resident and ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons rides down the Strip with his wife, Gilligan Stillwater Gibbons, and Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John Katsilometes on Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Ex-WWE star Shad Gaspard found dead on beach - Video
Shad Gaspard, 39, the former WWE wrestler, was found dead Wednesday morning on the shoreline of Venice Beach in California. Gaspard went missing over the weekend. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Buffets won’t reopen soon, but they may return eventually - VIDEO
In a Tuesday earnings call, Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Station Casinos parent company Red Rock Resorts, said buffets won’t be among the amenities included in the early stages of the resorts’ reopenings. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Hamilton' to debut on Disney+ in July - Video
The film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s popular musical was originally set for theatrical release in October. The musical’s director, Tommy Kail, shot three live performances featuring the original Broadway cast. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Little Richard dead at 87 - VIDEO
Little Richard, the pioneer and rock 'n' roll originator, died on Saturday, May 9. His son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the news but the cause of death is unknown. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jerry Stiller, actor and comedian, dies at 92 - VIDEO
Jerry Stiller's son, actor and director Ben Stiller, announced his father's death via Twitter. Jerry Stiller became widely known with a recurring role on "Seinfeld" as Frank Costanza, George's hot-headed father. He also starred on "King of Queens." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wolfgang Puck's Players Locker opens in Downtown Summerlin along with others - VIDEO
Under the governor's orders a few restaurants were able to open their dining rooms in Downtown Summerlin Saturday, May 9. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nicolas Cage to portray Joe Exotic in ‘Tiger King’ TV adaption - VIDEO
Nicolas Cage is headed to television to take on the role of Joe Exotic, the iconic character from the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Quarantined! 'The Ghost Adventures' miniseries by Zak Bagans - VIDEO
The four-part miniseries “Ghost Adventures: Quarantine” by Zak Bagans will debut in June on the Travel Channel. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 facts about Cinco de Mayo - VIDEO
The holiday celebrates the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Mexico began the holiday in 1862, but does not recognize it nationally anymore. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Cirque lenders fighting company’s restart plan

According to reports, if Cirque lenders’ effort is turned back, the group would ask to replace Lamarre as Cirque’s CEO and as a board member, along with the rest of the board.