Unions Agree on Back-to-Production COVID-19 Protocols

Technician Sergeo Santana tests the camera and computer systems nominees for the 2020 Emmys will receive.
(Image credit: ABC/Tyler Watt)

The unions that represent the production teams for TV shows and movies have agreed to a COVID-19 testing regime that will allow productions to resume filming. It includes a compliance supervisor who must be on site "from crew call to wrap."

It is based on the "Safe Way Forward" report issued by the unions in June and developed with the guidance of epidemiologists and other experts.

“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 Gabrielle Carteris, president of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG/AFTRA). "This agreement establishes sensible, science-based protocols that allow members to return to doing the work they love while managing risk. I am grateful to our sister unions, who pulled together during this extended crisis, as well as to the studios for collaborating on this important issue.”

Basics of the new protocols include testing regimes, zone-based systems* and use of PPE.

The regime also includes COVID-19-related sick leave and quarantine pay.

Issuing the new protocols were the Directors Guild of America (DGA), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Teamsters and the Basic Crafts, and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), in conjunction with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

According to the protocols each cast and crew member will be tested on the first day of work, then periodically throughout the production. Some form of lab-based test will be required. Antigen and antibody tests will not be accepted. Cast members will be tested more frequently given that they "are not able to utilize PPE and physical distancing when cameras are rolling" (unless, of course, those are part of the storyline).

For others, the frequency will be 1) a minimum of once a week for those who work on set but not when performers are present; 2) every two weeks for workers in areas other than the set, like the production office; and 3) on the first day for remote workers not in the actual production environment.

All employees get 10 days of COVID-19 paid sick leave, which could be used for testing positive, exhibiting symptoms, taking care of a sick household member, isolation, or quarantine. There are exceptions, but, generally, employees will receive quarantine pay.

* Zone-based systems are "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."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.