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In a remark that previewed how industry labor leaders are hoping to get Hollywood back to work safely, IATSE international president Matthew Loeb said that an industry safety commission plans to “negotiate for a set of uniform terms and conditions” with entertainment employers before business shut down by the coronavirus restarts once more.
Loeb made the remark about the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee’s plans so far during a press call on Wednesday convened by the union coalition group AFL-CIO, which includes 12 arts, media and entertainment groups under its umbrella. The Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee is comprised of members of guilds, unions and management members focused on health and safety in the entertainment industry.
According to Loeb, the committee has drawn up a calendar for meetings that will touch on specifics of returning to work in the industry. No timetable was shared for when the recommendations will be made or for a potential phased reopening of film and TV production.
The committee is also preparing a white paper requested by the state of New York to plan a safe reopening to the industry. “We plan to, on behalf of all of our locals throughout the U.S. and Canada, deal with the AMPTP and [form] an agreement for a uniform policy that will, of course, be guided by the medical and scientific data that we get from professionals,” Loeb added later in the call.
Also on the call were heads of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the Writers Guild of America East, the Directors Guild of America, the American Federation of Musicians, the Actors Equity Association, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 174 and the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, who all discussed their individual coronavirus relief efforts and current plans on how to return workers to business safely.
The DGA has its own national board committee dedicated to plotting a restart of the industry. “We’ll be sharing our work with our sister unions and broader industry very soon,” DGA president Thomas Schlammle said on the call. “There’s still some work to be done but there’s a lot riding on this and it’s too important not to get right.”
While some of the issues leaders brought up pertained only to specific entertainment workers — Loeb, for instance, plugged the union’s fight against Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s coronavirus loan program, which he called “frankly despicable” — several were universal. Stressing the financial distress their members are feeling amid a near-total production shutdown, leaders including Loeb, Equity president Kate Schindel and SDC executive director Laura Penn said they are advocating for extended coverage and subsidies for COBRA, the U.S.’ Continuation of Health Coverage program.
AGMA president Raymond Menard and IBEW director of broadcasting and telecommunications Robert Prunn mentioned that their members are having trouble getting in touch with unemployment offices, particularly in states like Ohio and Florida, Prunn said, which “are not properly set up for freelancers and this is causing extreme frustration for our freelancers when they’re not getting paid right now.”
OSHA’s perceived lack of workplace regulations regarding infectious diseases was a target of several leaders on the call. (OSHA does have guidance for “preparing” workplaces for COVID-19 on its website. The AFL-CIO petitioned U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia to issue an OSHA temporary standard for infectious diseases in March.) WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson argued that in newsrooms that are deemed “essential businesses” during COVID-19, “the lack of OSHA standards is a problem.” Loeb called current OSHA standards “in my opinion, skeletal,” while SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said “OSHA is just one element” of the industry’s plan to return to work.
When asked if campaigning during the 2020 election would figure into their coronavirus relief efforts, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Schuler said that the umbrella organization itself would “absolutely” endorse a candidate, and make their decision public “probably soon.” Carteris and AFM’s international president Ray Hair noted their organizations are nonpartisan, while Loeb said IATSE has “been actively participating in the political process” already and added, “We will participate fully with our political resources [for] the election of Joe Biden,” though IATSE has yet to announce an endorsement.
While the entertainment unions helped to secure unemployment relief for gig workers and self-employed workers in the first CARES Act, some of these workers have been left out of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program funds because they made over $1,300 on a W-2 payroll in the past 18 months. SAG-AFTRA’s Carteris mentioned in the call that “mixed-income loopholes” are on the union’s agenda for the next coronavirus response package. “It’s something we’re focused on on a daily basis,” she said.
The WGA’s Peterson, meanwhile, stressed that his union, which represents over 1,000 news writers, is trying to bring Congress’ attention to tanking advertising revenues amid the coronavirus crisis at publications. “It’s really important that Congress pay attention to the downward nosedive of the [news industry],” he said.
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