Leaders of entertainment industry unions are pledging to move as quickly as possible to re-launch production — as soon as they can do so safely in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were among the first to be hit by the virus and may be among the last to come back – simply because we work in high numbers and in very close proximty where PPE can not always be utilized,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. “That said, we are working tirelessly to develop the structures and protocols that will allow the industry to reopen safely.”
David White, national executive director of SAG-AFTRA, said that the protocols need to be in an “easy to understand” format in order to be most useful to the industry. He also offered a sobering assessment of when production will return to normal, asserting that availability of an effective vaccine will be necessary to get to that point.
“If you don’t know who is a supercarrier (of the virus) is, that’s a problem,” White added.
The AFL-CIO hosted the news conference Wednesday in a forum to detail how the leaders are dealing with the industry’s shutdown. Matthew Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, stressed that leaders of the below-the-line union — which has seen nearly all of its 150,000 members idled — are hammering out details with the companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers through the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee.
“We are working with the AMPTP for a uniform policy guided by medical and scientific data,” Loeb added.
Directors Guild of America President Thomas Schlamme pointed to the recent selection of has “Contagion” director Steven Soderbergh to head a DGA committee to explore resuming production when the coronavirus pandemic abates.
“We are anxious to get back but it has to be safely,” he said. “We are working on this day and night. We will be sharing the report very soon. There’s a lot riding on this. It’s important to get it right.”
“As we look ahead, of course we’re anxious to get back to the set, but — and this is of utmost importance — it has to be done correctly with the safety of all our members and industry workers in mind. The DGA has appointed a National Board Committee, chaired by Steven Soderbergh, to determine what a safe return to production can and should look like. This is something we’re working on day and night, applying the latest science as we consult with top medical experts,” Schlamme said.
The DGA president also cited the complexity and fluidity of the situation, adding that his union will be sharing its work with other unions and the rest of industry.
“There’s much left to be done, but there’s a lot riding on this, and it’s just too important to not get it right,” he added,
In answer to a question about the politics of the crisis, Loeb revealed that IATSE will commit resources to supporting the election of presumptive Democrat nominee Joseph Biden as president. The IATSE leader said that many companies have stepped forward to provide relief to unemployed crew members.
Loeb sharply contrasted those employers with Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has offered advance loans against future earnings to 1,000 sports network freelancers who work at its Fox regional sports networks and Marquee Sports Network. Sinclair has not responded to requests for comment about the offer, which Loeb called “despicable.”
Carteris said more needs be done on the legislative level to help SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 members.
“The recent CARES Act legislation helped provide a pathway to some portion of income replacement for our members – and some support to the industry. This is an important start. And we are proud to have played a part in encouraging, urging and sometimes insisting to our elected leaders that freelance employees be included in the stimulus package,” she said.
“However, more must be done to aid our members and all workers in and out of this industry,” Carteris said. “We are in full support of expanding and extending critical components of the CARES Act and we are urging congress to take action closing the mixed income loophole as well as protecting defined benefit pension plans.”