The Wrapbook Team
Jul 7, 2021

Return to Work Agreement Modified - Producers and Unions Renegotiate COVID Protocols

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On June 30th, 2021, IATSE, the DGA, SAG, Basic Crafts, and the Teamsters all agreed they needed more time to negotiate COVID-19 modifications and protocols from the original Return to Work agreement.  As of July 19th, 2021, a new agreement was reached with certain modifications that will be in effect through September 30th, 2021.

These updates from the original agreement range from reduced outdoor mask wearing for fully vaccinated persons, to reduced testing in areas that have low COVID rates, to updated meal protocols, to even an option for mandatory vaccinations on some productions.  

Let's get into exactly what's changing to determine what it all means for working producers, cast, and crew.

AMPTP’s Return to Work Agreement modified

As of July 19th, the Return to Work Agreement created in September 2020, modified again in April 2021, and extended on June 30th, has now been once again, updated. This contract is between the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) and the unions; this contract does not apply to the commercial/AICP agreement. (The AICP is working on their own RTW agreement and has not reached an extension agreement as of yet).

While safety is a primary concern for everyone involved, many production companies are likely relieved at the latest compromise that will reduce restrictions for fully vaccinated workers, as well as reduce testing in areas with low COVID rates. This will likely lessen some of the budget and scheduling impacts felt by the prior requirements. However, with cases still rising in certain areas, many workers will still be required to get tested and wear masks when applicable. But perhaps the biggest change is the option for mandatory vaccinations.

Let's dig in.

Latest decisions regarding mandatory vaccinations

As of the writing of this post in June, SAG-AFTRA specifically, had released their own guidelines if employers chose to make vaccinations mandatory.

But even more recently, the July 2021 modifications include that mandatory vaccinations on productions will now be allowed with certain restrictions. This option has been added to the RTW agreement to give producers “the option to implement mandatory vaccination policies for casts and crew in Zone A on a production-by-production basis.”

For reference, Zone A is the most restrictive zone as it's the area where actors work unmasked.

If producers do implement mandatory vaccinations, they must give Zone A workers enough time to get vaccinated.

The agreement now says that producers must give workers one week to schedule an appointment and receive their first shot, plus another six weeks from that date to receive their second shot (if applicable), which includes the waiting period.

The agreement states that as long as employees in Zone A who schedule their appointment as well as receive their first shot within this time period, will remain eligible to work on a production that implements this mandatory vaccination policy. However, those who do not schedule or receive their first shot will be ineligible for work until they are fully vaccinated.

Please see section 2a of the latest agreement.

"2. COVID 19 Vaccination:

a. Mandatory Vaccination

Where permitted by law, a Producer may implement a policy providing that the following individuals must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment and/or prior to entering the workplace, subject to reason able accommodations as required by law for individuals who cannot be vaccinated due to disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance:

i. “Zone A” employees (as defined in Item 3.a.ii. (1) below), provided that the FDA has approved or authorized vaccines for use for individuals in the employee’s age group and the approved or authorized vaccines are generally available to individuals in the employee’s age group; and

ii. Studio Teachers and any other individuals who come into close contact with minors.

It is understood that a Producer may implement such a policy for the employees described above on a production by production basis. Employees shall be provided with a reasonable period of time not to exceed one week from the effective date of this Agreement to schedule a vaccination appointment and receive a first vaccination, and thereafter six (6) weeks from the date of the first vaccination to become fully vaccinated. In jurisdictions where vaccinations are not available or where Government restrictions prevent Employees from receiving a first or second vaccination within the allocated time period, Employees will satisfy the provision by making their best efforts to get fully vaccinated. A Producer that intends to implement such a policy must notify the applicable Unions/Guilds as soon as practicable prior to implementation..."

For more on mandatory vaccinations and what constitutes a "fully vaccinated" worker, please refer to section 2b in its entirety in the latest agreement.

Changes to PPE and testing requirements

The updates in the latest agreement relax mask requirements for fully vaccinated workers - they no longer have to wear masks outdoors. However, those who aren't vaccinated will have to wear face masks at all times, except when eating or drinking (excluding Zone A workers when performing).  

The agreement stipulates that the restrictions for both testing and PPE are more relaxed in areas with lower transmission rates. To take it a step further, those who are fully vaccinated in these low transmission regions may not have to wear masks indoors either, as long as those indoor spaces follow a particular air filtration standard.

In areas with increasing COVID rates, testing requirements remain as before, though the agreement does expand the types of tests that are now allowed depending on the situation.

Fully vaccinated workers may still be required to periodically test depending on how many days per week they work and where they work on set - though now at a reduced frequency compared to the prior agreement.

However, fully vaccinated workers in Zone C and Zone D no longer need to be periodically tested for COVID-19, (see agreement for who qualifies as a Zone C or D worker).

These updates will appear in section 3 of the latest agreement under "Health Screening."

This section outlines mods made for pre-employment as well as testing requirements during working periods.

Prior to working on set, an employee must be tested using a lab-based PCR test conducted within 48 hours prior to the start of employment. Only if it is not viable to obtain results before start day, shall a rapid or antigen test be allowed. However, say a crew member was just tested the day before for a separate shoot, as a producer, you are not required to test them again since it's been within the 48 hour timeframe.

For more on pre-employment, see section 3.a.i.

Zone A and Zone B employees

Fully vaccinated Zone B employees shall be tested at least once every two weeks using a lab-based PCR diagnostic test, the results of which must be returned within 48 hours. The agreement states that the "Producer will stagger testing of “Zone B” employees, so that one-half of the “Zone B” employees on a production are tested in one week, and the other half is tested in the following week."

And other Zone B employee shall be tested at least once per week if using a PCR test (with results returned within 48 hours), though they must be tested twice per week if using a rapid test. As a reminder, Zone B employees are those working on a "hot set," but aren't working with an actor while said actor isn't wearing PPE.

Fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated workers in Zone A who work five or more days in one week will be subject to testing at least 3 times per week. Though, only one of those tests needs to be a lab-based PCR test.

Fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated Zone A employees working fewer than five days per week do not need to be tested more than once within 72 hours before each day of employment. One test per week can be a lab-based PCR test, and those results must be turned in within 48 hours. Any other test in that same week can be rapid or antigen.

However, a producer does not have to continue periodic testing for Zone Employees if:

" (A) the employee starts and concludes employment within seventy-two (72) hours following the time the employee took a pre-employment test which yielded a negative result; or

(B) the performer is employed for a voiceover, ADR or looping session outside a personal or home studio, is alone in a space (e.g.,a recording booth) while recording and is not required to come within six (6) feet of any other individual at the location where work is to be performed for longer than fifteen (15) minutes..."

For more info on Zone A, B, C, and D workers, read all of section 3 here.

Meals and transportation changes

The updates also grant some more flexibility around ground transport. Vans for vaccinated employees can now drive at full capacity, while those unvaccinated may only operate at 75% "for trips between set and crew parking, lunch, and base camp," and only "50% capacity for all other trips." However, in areas that have low infection rates, earlier limits on occupancy have been done away with. Regardless, all employees must wear masks, or at the very least, must be able to physically distance.

For meals, individually packed meals are no longer necessary. Though, buffet style food will not be allowed for those not completely vaccinated. These employees must social distance from any other employees during the duration of meal.

What does this mean for producers?

The DGA discussed their hopes to further relax many of the protocols from the original agreement, unfortunately with the possibility of a new variant and growing infection rates, this is the safest compromise to reduce on set transmission.

Balancing safety while trying to remain budget-friendly, is no easy task. And while the parties have reduced the frequency of testing and even lifted some mask requirements, continued compensation for testing, training, compliance offers, etc. is still very much a reality.

Compensation for time spent screening 

As of now, the compensation requirements as laid out in the agreement still stick. As a recap of the agreement, employees or anyone who is not a background actor who also travels outside of their home to take a test, will receive a stipend of $250. Background actors will continue to receive $100. 

No stipend is due if the employee is already working that day. For more specifics please see page 18 or section d. i. of the agreement. 

Stipends also cover payment for any COVID-19 training or paperwork completed on a separate day from when the employee is working. 

This, of course, doesn’t just have an effect on the logistics of the shoot or even the production’s schedule, but often, it greatly impacts the crew. When crew members have to travel near and far to get tested when they’re not working, it may cause some crew members to reconsider their jobs. For instance, if a crew member has to take two subways just to get tested, maybe they’ll start reconsidering certain jobs. 

In addition to compensation for testing, payment for COVID paid sick leave will also remain.

COVID-19 temporary paid sick leave stays in place

In April 2021, the AMPTP sat down to extend and modify their Return to Work agreement as it related to temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave, extending it to December 2021. As of now, the latest decision made in late July 2021 to modify the entire RTW agreement until further notice has no bearing on the modifications for temporary paid sick leave.

While it has only been in effect since April 2021, prior to this modification, this agreement existed in a different form since last year. And of course, for good reason. Offering paid sick leave to cast and crew has allowed many workers to keep their jobs regardless of the impact the pandemic has had on their lives. Other stipulations of the agreement have helped improve safety standards on set. 

The items in the RTW that were modified in April 2021 and updated in July, will stay in place until December 10th, 2021. They are items 7a and 7c of the original agreement, and section 8 of the latest.

“8.  Temporary COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave 

a. An employee shall receive temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave for each day that the employee is absent from work due to an Eligible COVID-19 Event for which the employee is not otherwise paid by the Producer until the earlier of the following:

“The employee returns to work or declines to return to work; or 

“The end of the employee’s guaranteed employment period, provided that, for purposes of determining temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave, this period shall include the number of days that it was reasonably anticipated that the employee would work. 

“However, in no event shall an employee receive more than a total of ten (10) days of temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave per Producer prior to May 1, 2021, which may cover one or more Eligible COVID-19 Events. Effective May 1, 2021, all employees shall have a total of ten (10) days of temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave available per Producer, which may be used through December 10, 2021, and which may cover one or more Eligible COVID-19 Events. 

"b. There shall be no accrual period. Temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave shall be immediately available to employees upon commencing work.

“c. Temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave may be used for any of the following “Eligible COVID-19 Events,” or any combination of Eligible COVID-19 Events: 

“i. The employee has tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms of COVID-19. 

“ii. The Producer has requested that the employee isolate or self-quarantine because another person with whom he or she has been in close contact has tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms of COVID-19. 

“iii. A member of the employee’s household has tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms of COVID-19. 

“iv. A public official or healthcare provider has requested that the employee isolate or self-quarantine due to COVID-19 (other than a quarantine described in Item 8 below). 

“v. The employee must provide care for a child or senior, whose childcare or senior care provider ceases operations due to COVID-19. 

“vi. The employee needs to care for a child, parent or spouse who is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID19 or has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19.

“vii. The employee is experiencing symptoms related to a COVID-19 vaccine that prevent the employee from being able to work. 

“viii. The employee is attending an appointment to receive a vaccine for protection against contracting COVID-19. The employee must make meaningful efforts to cooperate with production in scheduling the appointment so as to minimize disruption to the production. Upon request of the Producer, an employee who receives temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave to attend a vaccination appointment shall furnish documentation of the vaccination, which may include completion of an attestation form supplied by the Producer. ” 

"d. For each day of temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave used by an employee, the employee shall receive payment as set forth below, based on the employee’s contracted rate, but in no event more than $750 ($750 CAD, if applicable) per day and $7,500 ($7,500 CAD, if applicable) in the aggregate. An employee who is paid his/her full regular salary or guarantee for a period that includes absence due to an Eligible COVID-19 Event shall not receive temporary COVID-19 paid sick leave in addition to his/her salary or guarantee..."

For more on the exact hour amount and payment rates per each union, see section 8. d. i.

IA and producers to re-negotiate Basic until August 17th

In terms of negotiation for the IATSE Los Angeles Basic Agreement, producers and the IA agreed to hold off until August 17th, when they’ll resume their discussions.

Wrapping Up

Extensions and new agreements are influx. We’ll be updating this post with any changes made. For this and more union knowledge, stay in the know by signing up for our newsletter.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we're all about providing the very best free resources to producers and their crews. However, this post is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Answers do not create a company-client relationship, nor is it a solicitation to offer legal advice. Seek the advice of a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction before taking any action that may affect your decisions or rights.

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