The film and television industry’s return-to-work protocols, which were adopted in June following the initial Covid-19 shutdown, have been “a remarkable success,” according to SAG-AFTRA leaders, who are telling their members that “the data indicates that our production sets remain safe environments despite the surge in community infection rates in various North American cities.”
“As I reflect on these past months and look forward to the new year, three things come to mind that have sustained us in 2020 and which will help move us forward in 2021: resilience, solidarity and concern for each other,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris told her members in the union’s latest quarterly magazine. “This helped us create a detailed framework of safety protocols, allowing our members to return to safer workplaces.”
The detailed and complex protocols, which include routine screening and testing for the coronavirus, environmental sanitation, and zone-based set-access control, were reached in June through a collaboration with management’s AMPTP, the DGA, IATSE, and the Teamsters and Basic Crafts unions, with input from nationally recognized medical and scientific experts.
“The goal was to make sure every member of every union could go back to work as safely as possible,” Carteris wrote. “It has been a remarkable success, and it is imperative that we do not waiver if we are to continue to work and keep the industry open.”
David White, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director, wrote: “The safety protocols negotiated by the unions and studios are rightly praised by observers across the country as a unique triumph of industrywide collaboration. At the time of this writing, the data indicates that our production sets remain safe environments despite the surge in community infection rates in various North American cities. This trend will help to ensure the jobs that are thankfully returning for members will continue to expand in number, providing critical wages for our members and their families, opportunities for small businesses that play such a vital role in production, and revenue for the stressed institutions throughout the industry.”
Rebecca Damon, SAG-AFTRA’s executive vice president, told members that the protocols are an “example of a demonstrably successful resolution of a complex problem,” and that by “working with our sister unions and employers, we were able to put into place science-based protocols that help protect members while allowing them to continue working.”
Camryn Manheim, SAG-AFTRA’s secretary-treasurer, told members that “the union is on plan and tracking to budget. Revenue and expenses are as anticipated, and we are navigating the pandemic and the dramatic drop in production and revenue. We are also beginning to see a return to work across contracts and expect to see this improve even further over the next two quarters. That is why we worked so hard to negotiate return-to-work protocols so production could restart and members could get back to work. Through unprecedented inter-union collaboration, our leaders got members safely back to work on sets, earning wages and doing the work you love.”
White also told members:
“Although the year has been full of heartache for families across the globe, it is important to see as well the positive work that has emerged in response to this grave ordeal, and the foundation it lays for the future. We have just closed the chapter on this uniquely difficult year for our union and for the country as a whole. To be sure, significant challenges for our members and staff await as we begin the long journey toward a ‘post-pandemic’ life, now that vaccines have been approved. Yet, thankfully, when the pandemic is finally behind us, we will be well positioned as an organization to support and protect our members in 2021 and beyond.
“There is good reason to have a sense of relief with last year behind us. We began 2020 on a high note on so many fronts: record-breaking earnings for members and revenue for the union, a string of broadcast organizing victories, and continued progress in key areas such as legislative advocacy and member engagement in locals across the nation.
“Then, when Covid-19 arrived and the industry abruptly shut down in March, the world shifted dramatically. With a few notable exceptions (broadcast journalism, voiceover recording), the virus brought work, travel and community routines to a virtual standstill. We immediately focused our attention on the critical task of protecting our members and staff, safeguarding our institutions and working in partnership with others to ensure the industry could recover as quickly as possible.”
Despite the industry’s best efforts, the virus’ latest surge recently led the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to urge productions in Southern California to “strongly consider pausing work for a few weeks during this catastrophic surge in Covid cases,” and to “identify and delay higher risk activities, and focus on lower-risk work for now, if at all possible.”
Last week, SAG-AFTRA and the Producers Guild joined with advertisers in recommending that on-set commercial production be temporarily halted in Southern California because of surging coronavirus outbreaks in the region, as the major studios and streamers remain largely on a post-holiday production hiatus in Southern California until at least mid-January.
Earlier this week, the Directors Guild told its members that the industry’s Covid-19 protocols “have been largely effective in catching infected individuals before they are contagious, and limiting the potential spread on set.” Even so, the DGA said it is working with employers who wish to extend their year-end holiday hiatus while the pandemic peaks in Southern California and across the country.
“As the situation around us changes, we continue our diligent work to keep members protected,” the DGA said. “We’ve long anticipated that there would be this post-holiday spike in community Covid-19 infections, which is why, prior to Thanksgiving, we negotiated an agreement providing employers with flexibility and economic incentive to increase testing and take additional time to get results before resuming production.
“Together with our sister unions,” the Directors Guild added, “we have communicated to employers that we are prepared to work with any of their productions seeking to further extend their hiatus. Since that time, the major studios have announced hiatus extensions for many of their projects. The situation remains fluid and we will continue to monitor new developments and work across the industry to ensure that worker safety remains a top priority.”