After weeks of talks, Hollywood’s studios and unions have agreed to another extension of the Return to Work Agreement, the set of COVID-19 safety protocols that have governed all film and television productions since September 2020. The extension will now last through January 31, 2023.
“The agreement maintains the multi-faceted approach that has kept the industry working safely since shortly after the onset of the pandemic,” read a joint statement from SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the Directors Guild of America, Teamsters Local 399 and the Hollywood Basic Crafts.
While the unions were light on details, the statement announced that the modifications will allow for less stringent protocols for productions filming in areas with low COVID-19 transmission rates. During the previous round of talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, the unions agreed to less frequent COVID testing for cast and crew members in low transmission areas.
“In addition, the agreement again grants a bank of six additional sick days reflecting the shorter term of this extension,” the statement read.
But the modifications also set up defined thresholds for when the strictest COVID protocols must be enforced on set, triggering them for any production in an area where the hospitalization rate is more than 14 people per capita.
Over the past two years, the United States has seen significant spikes in COVID-19 infection rates during the winter, thanks to a mix of new variants that spread more easily and colder weather bringing people more into indoor areas. In January 2021, the film industry went on a voluntary pause as an early variant cause then-record spikes nationwide.
While such a pause is very unlikely this winter due to the easy availability of COVID-19 vaccines, which many studios have mandated for primary cast and crew workers on productions, the unions say that “the full set of stricter protocols will be reintroduced if there is a COVID-19 surge over the winter,” including constant testing and mask-wearing for workers in Zone A, the area where filming directly takes place.