More than 300 IATSE members, dissatisfied with what they call “a-la-carte protocols” for the safe return to work on commercials and music videos, have signed a letter urging their union leaders to adopt uniform guidelines similar to those established for film and television productions.
“As of today, we do not have a consistent return to work agreement based on the needs of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the letter states. “Due to this deficiency, and IATSE’s willingness to negotiate a-la-carte protocols, we are each working under individual and variable levels of safety. This is unacceptable and breaches the union’s commitment to protect its members, one and all.”
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The Association of Independent Commercial Producers, which bargains collectively with IATSE for commercial shoots, issued its own protocols on June 1, but gave short shrift to on-site testing for the virus, opting instead for policies “to self-diagnose health symptoms” before each day’s work. “Currently, testing for active cases is not available on-site,” the AICP’s guidelines and recommendations state. “In addition, testing (such as antibody testing and temperature-taking) are not reliable screening indicators — therefore, using symptomatic polling is the most reliable screening process.”
That’s a far cry from guidelines promulgated the same day in the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force’s “White Paper,” which determined that “Regular, periodic testing of cast and crew for COVID-19 is critical for a safe return to work.”
“As you know,” the letter to IATSE leaders says, “the White Paper includes very specific guidelines, including testing, that are not currently being implemented or required by the Commercial Employers consistently. This bait-and-switch situation is putting each Union employee at risk and is ignoring the scientific evidence and advice you used to receive approval to authorize a return to work.”
The AICP’s recommendations also fall far short of the standards for film and television production that were adopted June 12 by a coalition of guilds and unions – SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, the DGA and the Teamsters – which in their “Safe Way Forward” protocols stressed that “testing is the key to the resumption of production.”
The coalition of unions and guilds determined that “without testing, the entire cast and crew would be working in an environment of unknown risk.” And signers of the letter to leaders of IATSE say that that’s how they feel about working on commercials and music videos.
“I personally know of five people who have taken jobs in these past weeks,” wrote one signer. “They have felt extremely unsafe and have been torn several ways: between contracting COVID, keeping their families safe, keeping their families housed and fed, and keeping their relationships with their production company clients. It doesn’t have to be this way.”
“I’m about to do a commercial and we pushed so hard to get the whole crew tested and were denied,” wrote another. “Hair, makeup, cast, wardrobe, and the stand-ins are being tested. Other than that I don’t know who else is being tested. Totally a loophole in the County guidelines, and they are doing the bare minimum on commercials.”
Another wrote: “I worked a small commercial a week ago that did not come close to complying with the White Paper recommendations. We need to set a standard and hold people to it!”
“(We) need to have the same protection in all media formats: Film/TV/Commercials,” wrote another.
Another union member wrote: “Please keep ALL areas of film and video held accountable to the same standards to keep our brothers and sisters safe.”
“It is our understanding,” the letter states, “that the current hurdles in negotiations are testing and details related to the COVID Compliance Officers. Requirements in both categories are clearly stated in the White Paper.”
Organizers say they will deliver their letter to IATSE leaders on Tuesday. “We are at a crucial moment of action,” the letter states. “We demand our Leadership support the utmost level of safety on our Commercial Sets. Any less than the standards provided to Film/TV is unacceptable. The IATSE is currently approving Commercial and Music Video work with standards below that of most other entertainment categories.”