IATSE Stagecraft Safety Plan Calls for COVID-19 Compliance Officers, Daily Symptom Screening

Walter Kerr Theater Broadway March 22 2020

The union is calling for measures similar to those taken by the film and television industry, such as employer-provided PPE, ventilation and staggered break times.

As U.S. theaters are beginning to make plans and seek union approval to resume production, the IATSE Stagecraft Recovery Committee has released a safety plan that closely mirrors guidelines set by the film and television industry, with some key differences.

The safety plan, released Monday, notably calls for one or more COVID-19 Compliance Officers with a special authority to enforce and implement safety precautions related to the coronavirus; calls for daily symptom screening of all workers; ventilation of workspaces; widespread use of masks; staggered break times; social distancing; and employer-provided PPE, just like the recommendations provided by the film and television industry's Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force, which includes IATSE as a member.

A key difference between the Stagecraft recommendations and June 1 film and television recommendations is the approach to testing: While the Industry-Wide committee called for "regular, periodic testing of cast and crew" without specifying what that specifically meant, the Stagecraft Recovery Committee notes that diagnostic testing results are "imperfect" and therefore "There is no single correct approach to the use of diagnostic testing, and the best approaches will change over time as testing methods are developed, community prevalence of disease changes, and work practices are modified." As a result, the Committee vaguely recommends employers and local unions settle on a testing protocol that works for specific cases. The testing rate of cast and crew that come into contact with the public "may be different" than for other employees, the guidelines add.

The DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and Teamsters' joint safety report for Hollywood, released June 12, emphasized repeatedly the importance of testing but again called for just "regular, consistent testing" while also calling for the implementation of a "Zone" system intended to keep workers socially distant, especially those that are at greater risk for catching the virus. Those at greatest risk should be tested at least three times a week, the recommendations said.

Daily symptom screening, however, is recommended, as is requiring employees to self-certify that they have not contracted COVID-19 in the past two weeks, do not exhibit COVID symptoms and have not come into contact with a COVID-positive individual, to their knowledge. The Stagecraft committee reminds employers that the Families First Corona Response Act dictates that employers with fewer than 500 employees provide two weeks of paid sick leave to employees that exhibit COVID-19 symptoms and are waiting for diagnosis.

Like the Industry-Wide committee, the Stagecraft committee calls for employers to "limit the duration of workdays and excessive consecutive workdays whenever possible and extend turnaround times whenever possible" to ensure workers remain well-rested, though it does not specify what an appropriate turnaround time looks like. Mealtimes should be staggered and buffet-style meals swapped in favor of individually-packaged food. 

Also like their colleagues in film and television, the IATSE Stagecraft committee says employers should establish a written plan discussing their safety protocols that should be communicated to all regular workers and temp or contract workers before they start work, in addition to general COVID-19 symptom training. IATSE adds that for long-term workers, more training should be provided periodically, and new hires should also be trained in COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Both documents emphasize that cast and crew should not be fired, laid off or disciplined for expressing concerns about safety as relates to COVID-19, and should be encouraged to do so.

The document also shares theater-specific safety regulations, such as discouraging the use of sharable lockers, which is perhaps more prevalent on the stage than on film or television sets. At the front of the house, floor markers should show where patrons can stand and "protective barriers" should be installed at box offices open to the public, as well as between work stations. The document also suggests a "work team" policy for performers who may not be able to socially distance from dressers, hair and makeup artists and other workers, which would require small groups that work closely together to physically distance from others as much as possible (for instance, a makeup artist may not work on the entire cast). Workers that work with performers, the document adds, should wear N95 masks for extra protection.

Unlike the Industry-Wide guidance, however, IATSE does not suggest that productions "consider measures" that would minimize scenes requiring performers to come into close contact.

Actors' Equity Association, the union for stage actors and stage managers, in early July released an online list of resources for theater producers that are looking to resume productions and approved two Massachusetts theaters planning on starkly reducing the number of audience members in its productions to resume performances that were paused in March in the next few months. Broadway League president Charlotte St. Martin, however, recently told Marketwatch that due to Broadway theaters' typically small size, “Social distancing just doesn’t allow a show to be viable financially.”

Read the full safety guidelines below.