EXCLUSIVE: A chorus of calls for mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations – and the possibility that the industry soon might make them a requirement – prompted SAG-AFTRA to adopt new guidelines for employers who want to require proof of vaccination as a condition of employment. To date, vaccinations of casts and crews are not mandatory on film and TV productions under the industry’s return-to-work protocols. But those protocols expire on Wednesday and are being renegotiated by the major companies and Hollywood’s unions.
On Thursday, SAG-AFTRA’s national board of directors approved a motion that authorizes the union’s staff “to approve requests for mandatory vaccination policies in strict compliance with SAG-AFTRA’s standard parameters for mandatory vaccination policies.”
During the board meeting, SAG-AFTRA leaders presented letters from producers and members that urged the union to adopt policies that would allow producers to mandate vaccinations. SAG-AFTRA leaders noted that that they’d received such requests from producers on shows airing on HBO, Starz and MRC and from the Producers Guild of America, as well.
The reasons for the requests, SAG-AFTRA leaders told the board, include:
- Accommodating cast and crew requests
- Simplifying response to potential Covid exposures
- Future modifications to Covid protocols
- And for independent producers, access to insurance coverage
“I am writing to you in support of HBO’s request to mandate vaccinations for all cast and crew on season 3″ of the show, the creator and star of an HBO series said in a letter addressed to SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, to the SAG-AFTRA President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety and cc’d to an HBO labor relations executive. “Mandating that the cast and crew are vaccinated is the only way for us to minimize risk on this production. All of our series regulars have been vaccinated. In addition, all of our department heads and crew members working with us as of today have been vaccinated. I am 100% in favor of HBO’s request for union support of mandating vaccinations on (the show). This is the safest way to move our production forward.”
SAG-AFTRA removed the names and other identifiers of those whose letters were presented to the board.
In an email to SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris, an 18-year member of the union wrote “to express my support for vaccine protocols being implemented by our union and to state that I agree that vaccination status should absolutely play a role in hiring. It’s not fair to anyone/everyone who has weathered this pandemic storm and avoided Covid-19 infection to be unknowingly sharing space and doing scene work with individuals who, for whatever reason, have not been vaccinated. I have an 8-year-old son who is unable to be vaccinated and I would be devastated and extremely upset to discover I brought the virus home to my child because of an interaction at work with another actor or crew member who wasn’t vaccinated. I understand everyone has their right to privacy with regards to their vaccination status, but in my opinion, those rights should not infringe upon my rights to work in a safe and healthy environment. I would hope my union would agree.”
Another actor wrote: “I wanted to add my name to the list of members advocating a vaccine requirement for performers reentering productions. The choice to opt out of vaccines is a personal one, but it shouldn’t trump the safety of those who have made the choice to follow protocols that both the CDC and the medical community as a whole have said are safe and effective in reducing the risks of this deadly virus. I hope the Guild will advocate strict guidelines regarding protections for our members, most of whom have to perform their duties minus any protections mandated for all other departments.”
Another actor told Carteris: “I am in full agreement that every actor and crew member should have the vaccination for Covid-19 when they are on the set, I come to you on bended knee with this plea. We’ve lost so many, and we want our sets to be as safe as possible.”
Yet another actor told the SAG-AFTRA president: “I’ve been very concerned with the safety of our work environments during Covid. Now that the vaccine is available to anyone who wants it, I find it hard to understand why people who refuse the vaccine – other than those rare cases of a legitimate medical reason – are entitled to work on crowded stages or locations with the rest of us, including playing scenes in which we are screaming in each other’s faces, as I recently did with an actor who, it turns out, is not vaccinated. Personal freedom is one thing. I don’t understand the argument by a small minority that their ‘personal freedom’ includes the right to endanger everyone around them by working while unmasked – by necessity – AND unvaccinated – by choice. I strongly believe vaccination status should be a factor in hiring actors, and producers should make the vaccine available when necessary. Virtually every actor I’ve discussed this with in the past few months has agreed wholeheartedly. I’ve heard one exception.”
Even so, 25% of the SAG-AFTRA board voted against adopting the new guidelines. Contacted by Deadline, a dissident board member said that “everyone should have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies” and that the new guidelines leave SAG-AFTRA vulnerable to potential lawsuits. “If a producer says the entire cast needs to be vaccinated, that discriminates against any actor who either has a medical or religious exemption, or just chooses not to take it. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) says that no one is allowed to ask you about your medical information. How would you like it if someone asked you if you had AIDS when you went on an audition, and the union said that that was okay?”
The dissident also argues that mandating the taking of “experimental medicines that have not been approved by the FDA is a violation of the U.S. Constitution, the 14th Amendment and the Nuremberg Codes.”
SAG-AFTRA’s new guidelines on employers’ mandatory vaccination policies stipulate that:
1. Production must announce such policies as soon as possible, preferably in initial breakdowns or earliest casting discussions.
2. Such policies must apply equally to all cast and crew working in the relevant zone(s) or work location(s).
3. Production must have procedures in place to engage in interactive process with those requesting ADA (Americans with Disability Act) or religious accommodations, and must include the procedure for initiating a request in notices of the vaccination policy.
4. Such policies can only be enforced when vaccines have been readily available to performers for a sufficient period of time to confer immunity in time for start of work.
5. If being vaccinated as a condition of employment for the production, any vaccination costs are absorbed by employer and vaccination time is work time.
6. Vaccination records are maintained securely by employers and available only to those with need to know.