SAG-AFTRA Members To Rally Against Industry’s Covid-19 Vaccination Mandate

A group of SAG-AFTRA members opposed to the film and TV industry’s vaccination mandate say they will stage a protest Thursday outside the union’s headquarters in Los Angeles. Oscar-nominated actress Sally Kirkland, a former Screen Actors Guild national board member, will be one of the speakers. As Covid restrictions are being lifted nationwide, the protesters say it’s time for Hollywood to scrap the mandate.

The film and TV industry’s Covid-19 safety protocols, which include a narrowly defined “Mandatory Vaccination” provision, are set to expire Saturday but could be extended, as they have been several times since the protocols were first issued in September 2020, enabling jobs and productions to rebound during the darkest days of the pandemic.

After vaccines became widely available, the protocols were amended last July 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 protocol’s safe work zones on sets.

“I don’t think they should have a mandate requiring this vaccine,” Kirkland told Deadline. “I’m against the vaccination mandate because when I took the second shot last year, I became chronically ill for seven-and-a-half months. I ended up in the hospital and thought I was dying three times.”

Such reactions are rare, however, and the Center for Disease control says that the benefits of receiving the vaccine far outweigh the risks. According to the CDC, those who receive the vaccine are much less likely to be hospitalized or to die if they contract the virus, although vaccination doesn’t prevent people from acquiring the coronavirus. To date, nearly 1 million Americans have died from Covid-19 – the vast majority of whom have been unvaccinated – while more than 6 million people have succumbed to the virus worldwide.

Kirkland, an outspoken critic of the vaccination, says she’s received emails from “hundreds of people who have been vaccine injured.” Kirkland, who has appeared in 270 films and TV shows, says she’s “still working all the time.”

Carlos Guerrero, a Miami-based actor who will be speaking at the protest, has created a series of videos in which SAG-AFTRA members say they’ve been discriminated against because they refuse to be vaccinated.

Last month, Guerrero sent an email to SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland expressing his opposition to the vaccination mandate. “What is the purpose of continuing to keep the return-to-work agreement with the vaccine mandates when the entire world knows that the vaccines are neither protecting the vaccinated from catching or spreading the virus?” he wrote. “Why is it that you and your constituents continue to have these policies in place when the rest of the country has been lifting the mandates?”

The protocols specify that, where permitted by law, producers may implement a policy providing that those working in Zone A, as well as studio teachers, “must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as a condition of employment and/or prior to entering the workplace, 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.”

Guerrero, however, told Crabtree-Ireland that many producers “are not accepting any medical or religious exemptions. What are you doing to stop the discrimination happening with the members of SAG-AFTRA, the union members you are supposed to and claim to protect against discrimination? You must also be aware that there are tens of thousands of us who are not working because of the policies in place that do not make it safer for anyone on sets or in studios. When will you lift the mandates?”

SAG-AFTRA alone, however, cannot lift the mandate, which was agreed to by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers and a host of industry unions including SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE, the Teamsters and the Basic Crafts.

“A lot of people have lost a lot of work because they didn’t get the vaccination or the booster,” said stuntman Lane Leavitt, who is also expected to speak at the rally.

“All those years we paid our dues and our insurance just to be kicked to curb when we needed support the most,” said stuntwoman and actress Cha Cha Sandoval-McMahon, the organizer of the protest. “When I see the androgynous statue that symbolizes our union standing proud, I feel like it is flipping us the finger.”

Pete Antico, a former SAG-AFTRA presidential candidate and co-chair of the union’s Stunt and Safety Committee, will also be speaking at the protest. “The vaccination mandate has kept many members from working, feeding their families and qualifying for health benefits,” he said. “With the whole country being released of all vaccination mandates, it is unscientific and discriminatory that SAG-AFTRA wouldn’t follow suit.”

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