Yesterday, SAG-AFTRA posted on its website an Urgent Safety Notice to address the "high risk to the health and safety of actors returning to work" in commercials and other union productions. The Notice makes it clear that the union is taking the necessary steps to protect its members' health and well-being as our country - including the advertising industry - slowly opens up again for business.
Here are the key takeaways:
First, members are required to contact the union before accepting a gig to confirm that the union "has evaluated and established that the producer/employer has made provision for and met adequate health and safety standards." The Notice doesn't specify the process by which the union will evaluate each production, nor does it detail the minimum standards that the union will consider to be acceptable. However, the Notice does require that all work be performed in a manner that is "consistent with all local, state and federal guidance regarding social distancing, essential business closures, and shelter in place orders." I expect that the union's procedures for evaluating each job will be worked out over the coming weeks, and that the safety standards will continue to be tweaked in the coming months as we all learn together the best ways to create safer working environments. (In the meanwhile, check out Jeff's post about the AICP's COVID-19 Production Guidelines.)
Second, the Notice states that "employers and producers remain solely responsible for ensuring the health and safety of all members they employ, and no member shall sign any document releasing the employer from such responsibility." In other words, the union is prohibiting members from signing certain waivers of liability. No huge surprise. However, this prohibition does not mean that a producer cannot require performers to provide information to enable it to ascertain whether the performer may pose a danger to others on the production - for example, to determine if the performer may have been exposed recently to the virus or is experiencing common symptoms. Nor does this prevent a producer from requiring everyone on the set - producers, cast and crew - to adhere to common-sense policies aimed at promoting workplace safety, such as rules requiring the wearing of masks, hand washing, and maintenance of social distancing.
Finally, the Notice states that SAG-AFTRA leadership is working "around the clock" with industry allies and medical professionals "to develop safety protocols in accordance with the best medical and safety information on COVID-19." In this respect, we are all on the same page. Everyone in the industry - indeed, everyone in society - is committed to getting this right.
Update: Shortly after we published this post, the JPC posted an news update of its own, in which it clarified that the union's Notice "does not have any impact on productions where a [union] member is not on set/location and is not interacting with any production personnel." The JPC also noted that it was working with SAG-AFTRA to develop safety guidelines to protect industry personnel and talent and recommended that any producer that is planning in-person productions, should contact the JPC to discuss health and safety requirements.