The industry has just cleared a major hurdle in its effort to get back to work.
After months of negotiations, Hollywood’s top studios and unions finally came to an agreement on a handful of lingering issues related to COVID-19 filming protocols Monday (read the full return-to-work agreement here). The deal was reached by the AMPTP, the Directors Guild, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, Teamsters and the Basic Crafts, who’d been bargaining over details of the contract since June.
Guidelines were first laid out in a June 1 “white paper” crafted by the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force — members of which include AMPTP, SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE and the Teamsters — and then later in “The Safe Way Forward” report, a 36-page document released June 12 by the unions.
The AMPTP, which represents the major studios, and the industry’s top guilds had been struggling to agree on certain aspects of on-set safety protocols and other COVID-related contractual issues since June. The thorniest issues were said to revolve around the frequency and type of virus testing, whose responsibility it is to shoulder the cost of the protocols, crew size, workday caps, the role of COVID-19 managers on set and sick day compensation.
Concerning the issue of pay, sources say the guilds wanted to protect members who might become infected with the virus by ensuring they are still paid for the time they would have worked, while the studios wanted to minimize costs, as their production spend has already sky-rocketed in the age of COVID-19. Insiders add that another challenging issue to hammer out was testing: both determining the kind of tests and the frequency with which cast and crewmembers should be checked.
The newly agreed-upon guidelines outline testing regimes for productions, health and safety training requirements, paid sick leave, necessary PPE, among other much-discussed issues. The extensive contract also spells out some of what has been unofficially agreed to over the last few months. For instance, meals and snacks are now to be served in individually wrapped portions — something productions that have gotten up and running have already been doing.
“Though this process was not easy, unprecedented inter-union collaboration and unwavering solidarity enabled our unions to achieve strong COVID-19 protections that will translate into tangibly safer workplaces,” said Matthew D. Loeb, international president of IATSE.
Added SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris: “SAG-AFTRA members, along with their peers in other entertainment unions, are anxious to get back to work, but safety has to be the highest priority. This agreement establishes sensible, science-based protocols that allow members to return to doing the work they love while managing risk. I am grateful to our sister unions, who pulled together during this extended crisis, as well as to the studios for collaborating on this important issue.”
Said Thomas Schlamme, president of the DGA,“Getting everyone safely back to sets and back to telling stories in these difficult times has been critical for all of us. To overcome the challenges posed by our unique work, we collaborated with our friends at SAG- AFTRA, IATSE and the Teamsters, together with the Producers, to develop a comprehensive set of standards that will allow production to resume while minimizing the risk we, our families and our communities face during this pandemic. It has been a long and complicated journey, and none of it would have been possible without the collaboration and solidarity of our sister guilds and unions.”
Added Carol Lombardini, president of the AMPTP: “The health and safety of those who work in the motion picture and television industry is and remains our top priority. To ensure that employers are able to provide a safe and healthful workplace, the industry — including representatives from Amazon, Apple, CBS, Disney, HBO Max, NBC Universal, Netflix, Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros. — undertook four months of thoughtful dialogue and meaningful negotiations with the multi-union bargaining committee. We are pleased to announce that this process today culminated in a science-based agreement among the Employers and the multi-union committee on return-to-work protocols for use in the coronavirus era.”
Sources say the prolonged talks prompted some of the major studios, including Warner Bros. and Universal’s TV arms, to push back filming plans. Despite the holdup, several projects have been able to move forward with production by getting approval from the guilds on a case-by-case basis. Still, some insiders who’ve been on sets recently say that the inconsistencies across productions and studios are confusing and that the industry could benefit from a bit more consensus. Certainly, settling these negotiations is a step in the right direction.