For those wondering why it took so long for labor and management to come to terms on return-to-work protocols – more than three months after their initial guidelines were adopted in June – the answer is simple: They had to re-negotiate large swaths of the unions’ current contracts to accommodate the realities of shooting films and TV shows during the COVID-19 pandemic, while preserving the existing protections contained in the unions’ minimum basic agreements.
“This document is the result of months of negotiations between the AMPTP and the unions and guilds in our industry,” said Rebecca Rhine, national executive director of the International Cinematographers Guild, IATSE Local 600, in her latest video message to her members. “It is really remarkable that, to my knowledge, for the first time ever, the unions and guilds negotiated something together, and I think the result speaks for itself. Our solidarity was our strength.”
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The new agreement, which was reached Monday, “has many of the key elements that we have talked about over the last six months of the shutdown,” she said. “It has robust testing; it has a zone system so that contact tracing is easily achievable; it has a requirement for quarantine pay when you’re forced to quarantine; it includes paid sick leave so that you don’t come to work if you don’t feel well or you’ve been exposed somehow to the virus; it has an important provision that prohibits the employer from asking members to sign liability waivers – something people have expressed concern about over the last few months. It has compliance supervisors so that there are people on-set and in the workplace to ensure that the protocols are adhered to.”
See her video message here:
Rhine noted, however, that “documents like these are just words on paper: They don’t have any real meaning until they’re implemented on the ground. And the reason that we have regular meetings scheduled with the employers during this crisis is so that we can continue to refine what we view as a living document to ensure that it does create the most safe environment, but it also acknowledges that there’s something you put together in a room, and what actually happens in the workplace.”
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The new 57-page agreement contains protections for members of all the unions and guilds involved in the talks, which included IATSE, SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, the Teamsters and the Basic Crafts unions.
See the protocols here.
Specific items for the Directors Guild include a provision that eliminates the old rule about one director to an episode of episodic television if the director “is unavailable due to reasons related to COVID-19 (e.g., the original director is or becomes ill, a location becomes available after being closed due to COVID-19 when the original director is unavailable, or scenes must be shot at a time when a jurisdiction eases restrictions on crowd or intimate scenes and the original director is unavailable at such time). To minimize the possibility of introducing a new employee who may be infected with COVID-19 to the production, the Guild and the Producer shall enter into good faith discussions to allow someone who is already engaged on the production to direct scenes for another director’s episode when such situations arise.”
The new deal also allows for the temporary upgrade of an assistant director “to a higher classification to replace an employee who is absent due to an Eligible COVID-19 Event, even if he/she is not on the Qualification List for such higher classification.” The producer, however, must notify the DGA “as soon as practicable after it becomes aware that a replacement is necessary, so that the parties can discuss a plan for the return of the absent employee or a replacement from the applicable Qualification List.”
For theatrical motion pictures, a substituting director “shall only be guaranteed the greater of the number of guaranteed days remaining…or the number of days actually remaining on the shooting schedule at the time such substituting director begins the assignment. In addition, the substituting director shall receive no less than 150% of minimum compensation for the work performed. However, there shall be no compounding of premium pay to such substituting director for work performed on a holiday or for the sixth or seventh day worked in the director’s workweek.”
Items specific to SAG-AFTRA members include a provision that paid sick days under the agreement’s temporary COVID-19 sick leave provision “shall not be considered workdays for any purpose under the applicable collective bargaining agreement; however, paid sick days may be counted for purposes of determining whether an employee is eligible for health coverage under the ‘alternative days eligibility rule’ of the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan.” Facing massive deficits, the union’s health plan will be adopting new earnings eligibility requirements on January 1.
Other SAG-AFTRA-specific provisions in the agreement include:
• Testing: Time spent undergoing COVID-19 testing and awaiting the results of such testing does not start span for series contract performers whose guarantees do not meet one of the thresholds specified in Section 14(b) of the SAG-AFTRA Television Agreement (i.e., $20,000 per episode, $100,000 per series when such series is one of a number of series presented in a combined series format or $150,000 for a 13 episode guarantee), nor consecutive days of employment for performers other than series contract performers.
• Quarantine: If a performer is placed in quarantine prior to the start of production due to COVID-19, such quarantine period does not start span for series contract performers whose guarantees do not meet one of the thresholds specified in Section 14(b) of the SAG-AFTRA Television Agreement (i.e., $20,000 per episode, $100,000 per series when such series is one of a number of series presented in a combined series format or $150,000 for a 13 episode guarantee), nor consecutive days of employment for performers other than series contract performers.
• The Union shall not unreasonably deny requests to waive payment of intervening days when a Producer recalls a daily or weekly performer following an interruption in the performer’s work due to reasons related to COVID-19, provided that the Producer gives the performer a specific recall date which is at least five (5) days after the date of the interruption, and the performer is not on overnight location.
• In the event that a production is suspended due to reasons related to COVID-19, the Producer may renegotiate the performer’s personal services agreement for the production so that the performer can be recalled (subject to his/her professional availability) without payment for the intervening days, in lieu of terminating the performer under Section 61 of the Television Agreement or the ‘Illness of Performer (Suspension of Salary and Termination)’ or ‘Emergency Suspension or Termination’ provisions in the Codified Basic Agreement.
The agreement also contains specific provisions protecting voice-over actors, and amends SAG-AFTRA’s contract to allow studio teachers to instruct minors remotely “to the extent permitted by law or the applicable governmental authority.”
Other provisions of the deal involved negotiations with each of the guilds and unions for coronavirus testing, quarantining, sick pay, and numerous other contingencies involving filming during the pandemic — which is why it took so long to create.