SAG-AFTRA Answers Questions About Returning To Work, Lays Out Unresolved Issues With Management’s AMPTP


As negotiations between labor and management enter the home stretch for a final return-to-work agreement, SAG-AFTRA has issued a set of questions and answers about the “Safe Way Forward” protocols established by the industry’s unions and guilds on June 12 – including four of the issues that are still outstanding in their ongoing talks with management’s Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

“As the industry makes slow progress to reopening, SAG-AFTRA members will be entering into a very different filming environment due to COVID-19,’ the guild says in its FAQs. “Our goal is to keep cast and crew healthy by setting up protocols that create the environment for the lowest risk possible to safety and health. The world we live in changes daily, as new medical and scientific information about the virus emerges—and, so, we must move forward but in a way that is careful and wise. We must also recognize that we are in a fluid situation and so protocols are currently evolving as we learn each day the best way forward. We will continuously update our position as necessary for the benefit and protection of our members.”

Here are four issues that SAG-AFTRA says are still under discussion with the AMPTP:

Q. What is the policy for quarantine payment if a show shuts down because of a positive test?
A. This is part of the ongoing discussions to clarify SAG-AFTRA’s position on this matter which will be communicated as it progresses.

Q. What is the policy if I test positive at the studio prior to the job?
A. This is part of the ongoing discussions to clarify SAG-AFTRA’s position on this matter which will be communicated as it progresses.

Q. What is the payment for travel and quarantine?
A. The existing travel rules of the contract remain in place for travel days. If travel and quarantine is required by the Producer, the union’s current position is that the performer should be compensated for it; however, this is part of the ongoing discussions to clarify SAG-AFTRA’s position on this matter which will be communicated as it progresses.

Q. How will meals times take place? Many productions are reporting they will not break but rather deliver meals to be eaten when possible? What is the payment for French Hours? (So called “French Hours” eliminate lunch breaks in favor of offering meals throughout the day.)
A. This is part of the ongoing discussions to clarify SAG-AFTRA’s position on this matter which will be communicated as it progresses. However, there will no longer be open catering. All food provided by production will come in pre-packaged, take-away containers. Lunch times will be lengthened and staggered to ensure that social distancing – either when standing in line or finding an open space to consume food – is consistently enforced by making it doable.

See all of SAG-AFTRA’s FAQs here.

Many companies returning to production, meanwhile, are asking cast and crew members to sign waivers that release employers from liability in case workers contract COVID-19 during production. Hollywood’s unions, however, have steadfastly told their members not to sign such waivers. “Performers should not sign any waiver of liability or assumption of risk related to COVID-19,” SAG-AFTRA said. “When the union becomes aware of these, we notify production that they cannot require these types of documents as a condition of employment without first bargaining such form with the union. It is the union’s position that unless negotiated with us, these forms are ineffective anyway. We have had this discussion with many productions resulting in elimination or substantial modification of such documents. If you are aware of any projects that are requiring these forms of performers, please let us know right away.”

Hollywood’s Unions Release Protocols For Restarting Film & TV Production: Joint Effort By DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE & Teamsters

Here are some other questions the union is answering about key provisions of the Safe Way Forward protocols that were drafted and agreed-to by SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE and the Teamsters:

Q. Should performers be put on contract starting on the test date?
A. The performer would only be obligated to the producer on days between testing and commencement of services if the producer is paying for a hold/quarantine day. However, you are correct that there is a possibility of infection between the time of testing and the shoot day, which is why repeat testing is required. Our experts have advised that the virus generally becomes contagious within 72 hours after infection. This timeline is what guides the repeat testing protocols.

Q. What happens if I test positive during the production?
A. You will be directed to immediately self-quarantine for two weeks – while, at the same time, a second test will be run to confirm the diagnosis of the first positive result. If the tests contradict each other, a third test will be performed. These procedures may be modified to comply with government or health authority requirements.

Q. What is the policy for testing locations and who covers the cost?
A. The producer is obligated to cover the cost of testing. As such, the union cannot dictate the location of testing. We are hopeful that the production companies will work with performers with respect to scheduling testing subject to the performer’s professional availability. However, there are realities of the safety protocols that may make this difficult, such as the requirement that testing occur 24 hours prior to work.

Q. Will we have rehearsals?
A. If needed, rehearsals will be done if possible, so performers can wear PPE, and practice robust social distancing of 6 feet if possible. If possible, a rehearsal will take place the night before, after the day’s regular schedule, to run through scenes with the fewest people on set.

Q. Are we sharing trailers?
A. No, neither trailers nor dressing rooms should be shared at this time, until further notice.

Q. Will the protocols change the casting process?
A. Yes. Our framework recommends: (a) All first auditions should be virtual unless there is a specific reason why a virtual audition would not suffice. (b) Second “live” auditions be scheduled at spaced intervals to accommodate physical distancing, with a waiting place for actors to congregate where physical distancing can apply and, if appropriate, an option to wait in cars and be called. (c) Actors receive scripts/rundowns/schedules digitally, with provisions made for confidentiality, i.e., digitally signed confidentiality agreements. (d) Actors check in via an app from outside the casting area and are called via a text when it’s their time. (e) If an in-person group audition is required, actors should have a partition placed in between them, or at a minimum wear clear face shields, all of which to be provided by the producer.

Q. If I get the job, what am I going to need to think about in terms of travel to the production location?
A. If you must travel by plane or other inter-city transport, you should take all precautions of social distancing and sanitization – for example, wear a mask at all times while in public, wipe down surfaces as much as feasible (such as plane seats and tray tables) and maintain six feet separation with other travelers. Before traveling by plane, you must be tested and cleared 24 hours before the flight—this ensures that any person who is carrying the virus but might be asymptomatic does not board a flight, and, then, introduce the virus to the production area once on the ground.

Q. Is check in time at the studio (for medical clearance, document signing etc.) considered work time?
A. Yes, your work day starts at the time you are directed to report.

Q. Where will performers congregate during shooting?
A. Performers wait their turn in an area that is sanitized and separated from the crew. Background performers have their own holding areas, which, for small scenes, will be as close as possible to the set – and provide adequate bathrooms, and hand sanitizing stations. You will notice much less foot traffic around a set – production crew, especially the 1st assistant director, will set up scenes and do in-between adjustments – such as moving walls or furniture – by staggering on-set presence of department personnel to minimize the number of people and, thus, maintain social distancing.

Q. How will stunt performers be protected?
A. It is the producer’s responsibility to provide a safe work environment; however, this does not prohibit a producer from seeking the stunt coordinator’s input in creating the protocols for a production. Production is required to provide SAG-AFTRA with written protocols that comply with “The Safe Way Forward.” These protocols are specific to the production – especially as it relates to the types of scenes, locations, hazardous conditions and mitigation stunt performers are likely to encounter.

Q. How will the safety standards be reinforced to everyone?
A. There will be a health safety meeting. At the meeting, the 1st Assistant Director and Health Safety Supervisor will brief cast and crew, emphasizing the protocols and making sure each individual completes a declaration about any symptoms they might be experiencing and/or any possible exposure to symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

Q. Who will make sure the protocols in “The Safe Way Forward” are adhered to?
A. The Health Safety Team, led by a Health Safety Supervisor. Their broad assignments include: (a) Make sure all the testing procedures are followed rigorously; (b) Make sure the set is fully stocked with PPE, all areas are sanitized and safe (including assessing ventilation, air filtration and circulation, and the disinfecting of surfaces, property, equipment and tools); (c) Make sure hand washing, sanitizing and disinfecting stations are set up and fully functional, as well as ensure hand sanitizer is broadly available—all of which will be carried out by a dedicated Hygiene Crew. (d) Make sure all checkpoints are in force; (e) The Health Safety Supervisor is the final authority on any COVID-19 matters and has the power to halt production in the case of a breach in procedures or testing results that raise concerns about virus infections or spread. Stunt coordinators should immediately report any concerns directly to the Health Safety Supervisor.

The FAQs also address a wide range of other return-to-work concerns, including those dealing with hair and make-up, costume fittings, and the handling of props.

“There is no such thing as ‘no risk’ in the absence of an effective vaccine which reaches a large percentage of the population and eventually creates broad immunity and ‘starves’ the virus for lack of vulnerable people to infect,” SAG-AFTRA says. “But, we feel we can create a ‘low risk’ environment based on three important principles:
1. Testing, Testing, Testing;
2. Restructuring sets with a ‘Zone system’ to achieve the maximum physical distancing and safe working environments;
3. Broad use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

“Testing is the key to a safe environment. The modeling data is clear: regular and frequent testing of cast and crew effectively and substantially reduces the risk of infections and transmission. Testing gives strong confidence that if someone is infected, s/he can be isolated and quarantined and any further transmission can be avoided.

“A Zone system. By creating ‘bubbles,’ or circles of interaction, fewer people will be in close proximity to each other. This will mirror the best medical advice we are used to hearing in our daily lives: we create a safer environment by limiting the size of crowds in confined spaces.

“PPE at all times. Within the production environment, the use of PPE (especially masks and face shields) will be constant, widespread and broadly available, fortifying a relentless program of sanitization of every nook and cranny.”

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