By Dave McNary

Hollywood unions have reached an agreement with the major studios on protocols to allow the industry to safely restart production amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The agreement was announced Monday, three and a half months after the unions issued their “Safe Way Forward” guidelines on June 12 following a June 1 “white paper” by the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force comprised of the unions and studios.

“Guiding principles include strictly enforced testing regimens and safety protocols, a zone-based system, and diligent use of personal protective equipment,” the unions said. “The new measures will be implemented by employers in order to minimize the risk of transmission. To ensure workers’ livelihoods are not burdened with added uncertainty during the pandemic, the agreement also includes COVID-19 sick leave and quarantine pay.”

The agreement was signed by the Directors Guild of America, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Basic Crafts and SAG-AFTRA with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Key highlights include mandatory testing regimens under which every member of the cast and crew will be tested before their first day of work to ensure they are not actively infected with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Cast and crew members in the production environment will subsequently undergo a regular testing protocol during the course of their work on the production.

Variety reported on Sept. 17 that the toughest sticking points have been the details on sick pay and time off and who shoulders the liability if cast and crew members fall ill. The studios have already restarted a number of primetime series and movie shoots by engaging in separate negotiations on a project-by-project basis with unions. The conclusion of the AMPTP’s omnibus pact will make it easier for the majors and others to move forward with new projects.

The new rules provide for implementation of a specialized “Zone” system, laying out barriers within which those on set can flow based on proximity to cast, level of testing, PPE and the extent to which physical distancing can be observed in the performance of their work.

“Given that performers are uniquely vulnerable because they are not able to utilize PPE and physical distancing when cameras are rolling, the agreement requires more frequent testing — of at least three times a week — for performers as well as those with whom they come into close contact, referred to as ‘Zone A,” the announcement said. “All other individuals in the production environment will utilize physical distancing and PPE at all times. Those who work on set, but not when performers are present without PPE (“Zone B”), must be tested at a minimum of once a week.”

The rules also specify that workers in production areas other than the set, such as the production office (“Zone C”), must be tested at a minimum of once every two weeks. Remote workers associated with the production, but not working in the production environment (“Zone D”) will be tested prior to their first day of employment. Additionally, each production will have a designated COVID-19 compliance supervisor responsible for safety compliance and enforcement, who will be accessible to cast and crew at all times during working hours.

All employees will receive 10 days of COVID-19 paid sick leave, per producer. Employees who go on COVID-19 sick leave will be reinstated once they have been cleared to return to work, so long as their position continues to exist. With limited exceptions, employees who are required to quarantine or isolate at the request of an employer, or as required by local law, will receive quarantine pay.

“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,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. “This agreement establishes sensible, science-based protocols that allow members to return to doing the work they love while managing risk.”

IATSE President Matthew D. Loeb said, “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.”

DGA President Thomas Schlamme said, “Getting everyone safely back to sets and back to telling stories in these difficult times has been critical for all of us.”

Schlamme singled out the efforts by “Contagion” filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who was selected in April to head up its efforts to develop the protocols, former DGA President Paris Barclay, the DGA’s COVID-19 Return to Work Committee, and  National Executive Director Russell Hollander.

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