EXCLUSIVE: As the industry begins to reopen, Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of Hollywood’s Teamsters Local 399, told his members today that “we are slowly starting to see some of our members return to work as we continue to engage in discussions with the other guilds and unions and the AMPTP to develop industry-wide safety standards. At this time, the Business Agents are dealing with returning productions on a case-by-case basis.”
Discussion with management’s Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, he said, “will be continuing … this coming week.”
The union’s “two biggest concerns,” Dayan said, are “protecting our members at work, and protecting the work of our members as we navigate this new reality.”
“The studios are starting to bring back people to work,” Dayan told Deadline. “We have drivers across country, as we speak, delivering equipment to locales. Right now, some of the productions that were shut down are trying to finish up. They shut down in the middle of episodes, turned off the lights and walked away. So some productions need a day or two to finish an episode, but we also have productions moving to different locations, and our members are starting to transport equipment where it’s needed.”
Detailed protocols for reopening were issued last month – in the “White Paper” developed by the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee – and in a multi-union report called “The Safe Way Forward,” a joint effort of the Teamsters, SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE and the Basic Crafts unions.
Fully implementing those plans, however, remains a work in progress.
“There are all kinds of discussions taking place with the studios about returning to work,” he said, and those talks “are ongoing. I know my partners at the other guilds and unions, and I know my partners at the studios, and we’re all pulling on the rope in the same direction. We have really worked collaboratively. I know that everybody is anxious to get back to work, but we need to get this right. I don’t want to see the industry reopen only to shut down again, like the restaurants here had to do today. Nobody wants that.”
He added: “We have the White Paper and we have the Safe Way Forward, but we also have collective bargaining agreements, and we have to bargain with the studios to understand what they expect from us, and what we expect from them.”
The protocols in place, and those still being developed, Dayan said, will be a “living document. We may have to add protocols or we may be able to relax some protocols. As productions start up, we have to see if what we’re thinking reflects the reality on set.”
“I equate it to a dance,” he said, “and now we have to learn new steps. So it’s going to take a little time, and it’s important to communicate precisely what the new dance looks like. We’re trying to figure that out with the companies. We will get back to work, but we have to figure out the dance first.”
“We have set up a uniform standard so that you can plug this protocol into a big production or a small production,” Dayan said. And that impacts the contracts the unions have with the companies. “These are the discussions. The unions are asking: ‘What are your concerns?’ And the companies are asking: ‘What are your concerns?’”
And there are a lot of concerns on both sides, among them: How much testing should be done, and how often? And what steps will be taken if and when a member of the cast or crew tests positive for the coronavirus? These are just a few of the myriad questions being raised by both sides, each supported by teams of medical and scientific experts.
“I give the industry, the unions and the City and State a lot of credit for getting us this far,” said Dayan, who was the past-chair of the California Film Commission. There isn’t a bottleneck holding things up, he said. “There is just a lot to unpack.”
Dayan said that when the shutdown hit Hollywood in mid-March, “I didn’t think we’d be back to work until August or September, and I think that’s what is going to happen, assuming we get this surge under control. I know that everybody is anxious to get back to work, but I tell them to relax. It will happen when it happens, and that will be the perfect time. We’re having to figure out how to make a movie all over again, and in a new way, and all of that takes time. I think we are doing this in a very wise manner. We are relying on experts. We’re not doctors, but the people who give us guidance are.”
“So we’re having substantive discussions with the companies so that there is a clear understanding. We don’t want to let the horses out of the stable until they’re ready. There are going to be people who test positive. It’s inevitable. But we need to be ready for all contingencies.”