Unions, Studios Release Back-to-Work Guidelines Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The entertainment industry has released its blueprint for resuming production amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 22-page “white paper” was delivered Monday to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and will also be delivered to California Gov. Gavin Newsom along with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“Regular, periodic testing of the cast and crew will be used to mitigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19,” the report said.
“Employers will utilize current effective testing protocols that must be developed in conjunction with, and approved by, the Unions and Guilds. Employers, Unions and Guilds shall rely upon medical experts for advice and guidance. As tests are developed and others become more accurate, the testing protocols shall also change.”

The document contains dozens of recommendations, highlighted by the need for physical distancing.

“Limiting face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the report said. “Cast and crew must practice physical distancing whenever possible. Physical distancing involves maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from any other person at all times, except when doing so is incompatible with one’s job duties. Cast and crew should avoid congregating in groups. When practical, separate work locations into zones to facilitate physical distancing.”

Other recommendations include a recommendation for actors to wear personal protective equipment.

“The number of people involved in close proximity with a performer should be kept to a minimum whenever possible,” the paper said. “If a performer requires work by more than one make-up artist/hairstylist, make-up artists/hairstylists should observe appropriate PPE requirements, and both performer and make-up artist/hairstylist should observe hand hygiene practices immediately after completing the task.”

All cast and crew will be required to participate in daily symptom monitoring prior to arriving on set or at their workspace, the report said: “Recommended options include electronic survey, manual screening and/or temperature spot-checks. Productions shall emphasize and reinforce to all cast and crew that working while sick with symptoms of COVID-19 is not permitted.”

The recommendations include an autonomous COVID-19 Compliance Officer(s) with specialized training and responsibility and authority for COVID-19 safety compliance and enforcement will be in the workplace to address issues as they arise.

“Specific duties and responsibilities of the COVID-19 Compliance Officer(s) may include, but are not limited to, overseeing and monitoring physical distancing, testing, symptom monitoring, disinfecting protocols, and PPE education, protocols and adherence and such other duties as may be determined by the employer,” it added. “A COVID-19 Compliance Officer shall be accessible in the workplace at all times during work hours and all personnel should have access to the COVID-19 Compliance Officer(s). All cast and crew shall be informed who the COVID-19 Compliance Officer is and how to contact him or her.”

Craft service buffets will no longer exist. The report said. “Meals and snacks should be served in individually packaged or wrapped portions. Avoid shared communal trays or bowls. Eating utensils should be disposable and individually wrapped.”

The report also recommends eliminating paper scripts and sign-in sheets: “Whenever possible, use of paper should be minimized. Alternatives such as electronic scripts and electronic sign-in/out should be explored.”

The white paper is the result of a collaborative effort by the The Industry-Wide Labor Management Safety Committee Task Force, which is made up of production companies, unions and guilds to provide governments with a set of guidelines to safely resume production.

The task force of around 50 participants was put together by the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, a long-established entity that deals with safety and training concerns related to production. The committee includes by safety, physical production and labor relations executives from the major studios and union reps from SAG-AFTRA, DGA, the Teamsters and IATSE. It was organized through the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

“This document is an initial set of principles and guidelines that we all agree form a relevant and realistic first step to protecting cast and crew in the reopening of the entertainment and media industry in its two largest markets,” SAG-AFTRA said. “As we have reported previously, our draft protocols are being developed with advice and input from our epidemiologist and industrial sanitation experts, with guidance from member leaders, staff, our fellow unions and labor relations and sanitation officials. Our protocols will be completed and released in the coming days.”

DGA President Thomas Schlamme and National Executive Director Russell Hollander told DGA members Monday that, based on the guidance provided by consultants, it quickly became apparent that testing would be the cornerstone of the DGA’s recommendations.

“We cannot emphasize enough the importance of this,” they said. “Without testing, the entire cast and crew would be working in an environment of unknown risk. Confirmed cases, determined days after people have been shedding the virus, could potentially endanger the health of cast and crew members. Moreover, they could lead to the quarantining of others on set, and should those individuals include a principal actor or director, to production delays or even a production shutdown.”

“For this reason, the Committee is recommending that first, every member of the cast and crew be tested for active Covid-19 infection before their first day of work to ensure they are not shedding the virus,” Schlamme and Hollander said. “Cast and crew members should then be subject to regular testing protocols during the course of their work on the production.”

The frequency of that testing should be based on a number of factors, they added: “In recognition that performers are among the most vulnerable because they cannot wear PPE when cameras are rolling, and frequently will not be able to engage in physical distancing, there must be higher testing frequency for them and those with whom they come into close contact. On the other hand, individuals who work in areas like the production office – where physical distancing and PPE can be utilized – do not need to be tested as frequently.”

Teamsters Local 399, which represents drivers, animal wranglers and location managers in The Hollywood area, said, “While the Industry White Paper provides a solid foundation for the appropriate state agencies to examine the resumption of production, the discussions will continue between the Producers, the Unions and Guilds over how it affects our respective agreements. There is still a lot of work ahead of us to not only ensure the safety of our Members on set, but also to ensure the jobs of our Members and our Collective Bargaining Agreements are protected throughout this process.”

The White Paper gave no timetable for resuming production and did not address cost issues.

“The intent of this White Paper is to establish recommendations for governments to authorize the safe resumption of motion picture and television production activities within their jurisdiction,” the paper said. “These guiding principles may evolve over time. In addition to the recommendations provided in this White Paper, the Unions, Guilds and Employers have acknowledged the need to develop department-specific operational protocols and project-specific workflows, which will be subject to further
discussion and agreement between the Employers and the respective Unions and Guilds representing the cast and crew. All have agreed to develop those protocols and workflows separately once government authorizes production to resume.”