One of the things that has been slowing down the possibility for productions to return to work safely is that many of the Hollywood unions hadn’t been happy with the condition previously set forth based on the bare minimum instituted by whatever state or county government regulars were in place. Previously, the unions adopted the “Safe Way Forward” protocols in June so that productions could resume, but that was at a time when nobody knew how long this pandemic would last and how bad it might get. Around the same time, SAG-AFTRA released a list of protocols for production to resume, and then the Producers Guild of America (PGA) followed suit last month, but many productions were content just filming in Canada or other countries where unions weren’t as involved in the process.
Today, the Directors Guild of America (DGA), the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE), SAG-AFTRA and the Basic Crafts Union, including the Teamsters Local #399, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a good dozen other unions came to a monumental settlement in terms of signing the COVID Return to Work Agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
Below the Line has seen a draft of the agreement, and it’s fairly lengthy and thorough in terms of every aspect of the production process and any concerns that might arise from various employees and what they need to do in order to do their jobs.
Here is a brief snippet from the intro of the agreement:
The parties agree that preventing the spread of COVID-19 and maintaining a safe and healthy working environment is of utmost importance. This shared goal can only be achieved through the participation, support and commitment of the Producers, Unions and every employee, at all levels of the production. The Producers will implement COVID-19 health and safety protocols and procedures carefully crafted to ensure a safe and healthy working environment. It is each individual’s responsibility and duty to comply with those protocols and procedures, not only for the individual’s own protection, but also for the protection of others in the workplace. All employees covered under this Agreement, as well as executives and producers who come into contact with such employees, must be prepared to engage in good safety practices, including practicing hand hygiene, self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, maintaining social distancing and wearing appropriate PPE, while at the workplace if the COVID-19 health and safety protocols are to be effective. Individuals should also recognize that when it comes to COVID- 19, their actions outside the workplace have an impact on the health and safety of those they encounter at the workplace, and so it is important to exercise good judgment and maintain safety practices when not at the workplace. It is only through the dedicated partnership of all involved that production will safely resume.
The agreement runs through April 30, 2021, and the agreement was negotiated and signed under the current conditions, which “include currently available scientific/medical information, current levels of infection, public health authorities’ current guidelines and recommendations and the current lack of a vaccine for COVID-19.”
The groups will meet in one month and every two months after that to discuss any modifications to the signed agreement.
The agreement includes clauses on proper PCR diagnostic testing 48 to 72 hours before the start of employment, although two rapid tests would be allowable.
As has been the case with some of the productions that have already resumed, such as Jurassic World, which we’ve been covering extensively in our “Back to Work” columns, productions will continue to use a zoning system i.e. “Zone A,” “Zone B,” “Zone C,” etc. to maintain proper distancing between those on camera who can’t wear masks while doing their jobs from those who don’t necessarily need to come in contact with them. The personnel from each of the Zones have different testing protocols in place so that “Zone A” employees who work five or more days a week must be tested three times a week. “Zone C” employees who are able to PPE at all times while working who don’t come in contact with anyone from those in “Zone A” or “Zone B” would only have to be tested every two weeks, and those in that zone would be staggered. Remote workers on a production i.e. “Zone D” will only need to be tested prior to first day of employment.
The agreement includes mandates for quarantine pay and ten days of paid sick leave that can be used for testing or self-quarantine for anyone exhibiting symptoms or if a member of their househeld tests positive for COVID. There are even provisions for employees to receive compensation for the time and travel expenses required to get the necessary testing.
The agreement includes protocols for how things like props need to be handled, who they should be handled by and the proper steps for sanitizing and sterilizing them between users , testing when it comes to air travel, and also how these protocols will change depending on filming in areas with high or low levels of infection.
The agreement goes onto say: “The new measures will be implemented by employers in order to minimize the risk of transmission. To ensure workers’ livelihoods are not burdened with added uncertainty during the pandemic, the agreement also includes COVID-19 sick leave and quarantine pay. The agreement is the outcome of unprecedented coordination and solidarity between the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the Teamsters and the Basic Crafts. This group worked with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for months to develop science-based protocols to minimize the risk of transmission, designed with the unique work environments of film and television production in mind. The new guidelines are based on ‘The Safe Way Forward’ report released by the unions in June, and developed in consultation with leading epidemiologists and experts; as well as the preceding industry white paper delivered to state governments and agencies to examine the resumption of production.”
Let’s just say that everyone is being extremely careful and thorough, and if all the unions have been able to reach an agreement with AMPTP on everything in this draft, then it will be a fairly landmark and monumental one, which might be necessary due to the current conditions and the uncertain times ahead.
Everyone is clearly wanting to be as safe as possible while returning to work, and this agreement is a huge step forward on making sure that more productions will be able to resume with everyone feeling safe and protected.
This story is developing, and we’ll have more updates as they are reported.