Studios, Guilds Extended Return-to-Work Safety Protocols Until Feb. 13

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The entertainment industry’s top guilds and studios have again extended their COVID-19 return-to-work agreement, the Directors Guild recently told members amid a nationwide omicron surge.

Late last year, the guilds and studios “agreed to extend the Agreement to Feb. 13, 2022,” the DGA wrote to members in an update email on Jan. 22 and the AMPTP confirmed with The Hollywood Reporter on Monday. The studios and guilds are also “scheduled to negotiate further changes” to the deal in early February, the Guild added.

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The DGA added in its member email that the extension was reached “prior to the omicron surge” and that, as the contagious variant emerged, the union had reached out to producers and asked them to take additional safety measures, including daily testing for Zone A and more frequent testing for Zone B, “preferably two or three times per week”; “improved PPE,” especially the use of N95, KN95 or KF94 masks; and “promotion of vaccine boosters.” The Guild added in its message that “Most studios took our concerns seriously and adopted these measures on their productions.”

When asked if all of the labor organizations that are signatory to the return-to-work agreement — including, in addition to the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and the Hollywood Basic Crafts — requested these additional safety measures, a representative for the Teamsters Local 399 said that these groups bargain the return-to-work protocols together and “all decisions are made in collaboration between the Union and Guilds.”

The current return-to-work agreement does not address booster shots and does not differentiate between cloth masks and surgical masks or respirators. Its most stringent set of protocols, triggered when a metropolitan area or county’s transmission rate is at least 1.1 and 10 or more new COVID-19 cases occur per 100,000 people for seven straight days, require Zone A to test three times a week, including one lab-based PCR test, and Zone B to test only once a week if using a lab-based PCR test or twice a week if using a rapid test.

Prior to its extension, the agreement was only set to be in effect through Jan. 15. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which bargains on behalf of studios, and unions IATSE, SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, the Teamsters and the Basic Crafts, last made modifications to the safety agreement in July 2021, when they arrived at a tentative short-term deal that allowed producers to mandate vaccines in Zone A of sets. Other changes included modifications in testing frequency for the U.S. and Canada and changes in outdoor masking and mealtime rules. The agreement had been extended several times since the changes in July. The original iteration of the return-to-work protocols, announced in Sept. 2020, included guidelines on testing, health and safety training, PPE and paid sick leave, among other areas.

After the initial Jan. 15 deadline passed without any official acknowledgement, THR reported that the protocols were expected to be extended until mid-February, even as some workers were questioning whether the current guidelines are stringent enough. “We have to strengthen these protocols or else we’re just going to continue to [allow] the infection and reinfection and reinfection of these crewmembers who are at the mercy of whatever budgets and schedules have been decided for them,” Andy Kennedy-Derkay, an IATSE member who works as a second assistant camera, said at the time. Insiders in the post community who fall into Zone D, where employees “do not require periodic testing after a pre-employment test” per the current agreement, also expressed concerns about the current protocols.

As omicron cases continue to mount, prominent in-person industry events including the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s awards gala and BAFTA Tea Party have been canceled, while the 12th annual Academy Governors Awards and the AFI Awards were postponed. On Jan. 5 the Sundance Film Festival, which is currently taking place until Jan. 30, announced it would again hold a virtual edition due to the rise of the omicron variant.

According to the L.A. County Department of Public Health, recent outbreaks of confirmed COVID-19 cases have occurred at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, a Universal Studios building in Universal City, two Warner Bros. buildings and a Cast & Crew building in Burbank.

Staff writer Winston Cho contributed to this report.

Jan. 24, 5:58 p.m. Updated with a statement from a representative for the Teamsters Local 399.

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