COVID Return-to-Work Agreement Extended Temporarily as Talks Continue

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The industry’s return-to-work agreement — the pact between studios and unions that has kept Hollywood productions going during the COVID-19 pandemic — has been temporarily extended as both sides continue talks over whether to adjust current health and safety protocols.

The latest iteration of the deal was initially set to expire on Friday, at which time both sides put the temporary extension in place. Talks over the latest version of the agreement began several weeks ago between unions including the Directors Guild of America, IATSE, the Teamsters and SAG-AFTRA and the negotiating entity for studios and streamers, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

When reached before the extension, legal sources said their producer and director clients still plan on instructing productions to comply with protocols outlined in the current agreement regardless of whether they are loosened.

Meanwhile, performers’ union SAG-AFTRA has been having its own internal debates over the agreement. The union has an outspoken faction that opposes the fact that the return-to-work agreement empowers producers to impose vaccine mandates on “Zone A” (the work group including performers and crew members that work closely with them) if they wish. On Sept. 10, it held a meeting for its national board to discuss vaccine requirements on certain productions. (Productions that have required vaccines include Starz’s Gaslit and ABC’s General Hospital.) “The board concluded its meeting without taking any action to modify the existing policy supporting the employer’s ability to implement such mandates subject to the protective provisions contained in the return to work agreement,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement in September.

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When the agreement was last renegotiated in July, unions and the studios only made two small changes to measures covering transportation and meals when COVID levels are high. Now, COVID levels are low in the Los Angeles area, and on Sept. 23, L.A. County ended its rule requiring masking on public transportation and in areas like train stations and airports. However, the arrival of fall could change conditions, health officials have warned.

Winston Cho contributed reporting.

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