EXCLUSIVE: Hollywood’s unions and guilds are in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to renew their Covid safety protocols, which expire Tuesday amid mounting pressure to end a mandate that gives employers the limited option to require vaccinations as a condition of employment.

Union proponents of the mandate point out that vaccinations have saved the lives of many industry workers and prevented severe illness and hospitalization for many others. When the protocols were last extended in the fall of 2022, SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE, the Teamsters and the Basic Crafts unions said in a joint statement that “The agreement maintains the multi-faceted approach that has kept the industry working safely since shortly after the onset of the pandemic.”

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, however, has been leading the charge against the mandate, and got the guild to survey its members about their views on the issue. The guild is expected to release the results of that survey at its national board meeting this weekend. One of the questions on the survey asks: “Do you approve of employers requiring Covid-19 vaccination as a condition of access to the set?”

“I continue to fight on behalf of our members who feel discriminated against because of the Covid unvaccinated or un-boosted status, which is keeping them from working in major studio productions,” Drescher wrote in the latest issue of SAG-AFTRA Magazine. “For those members not being fairly considered by studios with regards to their religious or health exemptions, help is on the way! As a result of this lingering policy, many performers have lost their representation, their medical benefits and their livelihoods.”

First adopted on September 21, 2020, the protocols enabled jobs and productions to rebound after an industrywide lockdown early on in the pandemic. The protocols have been extended numerous times since then, and in July 2021 were amended to give producers “the option to implement mandatory vaccination policies for casts and crew in Zone A on a production-by-production basis.” Zone A, where unmasked actors work, is the most restrictive of the safe work zones on sets.

The mandate is “subject to reasonable accommodations as required by law for individuals who cannot be vaccinated due to disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.” But many vaccination-mandate opponents say that those exceptions are too rarely allowed.

Last August, in the prior issue of the guild’s magazine, Drescher wrote that the mandate “walks the razor’s edge of compromising religious, disability and body sovereignty freedoms,” and expressed “concern that giving employers the discretionary rights to decide which of us can or can’t work based on our medical history is a dangerous slippery slope. If an employer can decide you can’t work unless Covid-vaccinated, what’s next? We can’t work without a monkeypox vaccine?”


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