Hollywood’s Covid return-to-work protocols are due to expire this Thursday, just a day before members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees begin voting to authorize a strike. The previously agreed-upon protocols agreed to between the studios and guilds remain in place for now but would be nullified if the workers’ union moves forward with strike action.
According to Deadline, the 100-page safe return-to-work agreement between Hollywood’s unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has been extended before, and probably will be extended before Thursday. However, it will require cooperation between the AMPTP and all of the signatory unions, including IATSE, which is currently locked in a bitter contract dispute. Now, producers are threatening to strike on film and TV productions across the country.
Although labor and management agree that the protocols have created job security by enabling Hollywood’s production of film and television shows to rebound during the pandemic, if an agreement to extend or modify the protocols cannot be reached, all the testing, masking, disinfecting, and social distancing requirements will automatically expire on September 30th – whether IATSE strikes or not. This also includes its Covid vaccination mandate, which made film sets among the safest workplaces in America.
Interestingly, IATSE revealed that it would hold a strike authorization vote between October first and third after talks on the Hollywood Basic Agreement and the Area Standards Agreement stalled. The Hollywood agreement oversees productions worked on by the 13 West Coast IATSE locals, while the Area Standards agreement covers productions nationwide (via The Wrap). It’s also worth noting that a strike authorization vote doesn’t necessarily mean a strike is taking place because there’s still one more round of discussions expected between AMPTP and IATSE.
Deadline explains that IATSE’s main film and television contracts (which is the Basic Agreement for shows filmed in Los Angeles and its Area Standards Agreement covering shows filmed outside the area) expired on September 10th. But the union told its members they should continue to work under its terms “until further notice.”
If the union strike does take place that would also jeopardize the continuation of the safety protocols because its provisions apply to all of those employed under union contracts, including “all collective bargaining agreements that a producer has with the IATSE or an IATSE local union for Hollywood’s motion picture production throughout North America.”
It’s a complex situation as the union’s pay-TV contract, covering Hollywood networks like HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax, and BET, and its low-budget theatrical film contract, don’t expire until next year. So even though they wouldn’t be shut down by a strike, their Covid protocols for IATSE crews also would expire if the protocols are not extended.
Created in September 2020 in an agreement between the AMPTP and Hollywood’s unions, the Covid safety protocols were originally due to expire on April 30, when they could be adjusted as medical research into the pandemic moved forward.
It’s a distressing situation for Hollywood, as allowing the protocols to lapse could make productions less safe for casts and crews, and much less expensive for producers. But extending them offers IATSE and the AMPTP one last chance to find common ground before a potential strike that both sides have said they’d want to avert.