Nearly 100 SAG-AFTRA members rallied peacefully but boisterously Thursday outside the union’s Los Angeles headquarters to protest the industry’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate.
Chanting “Stop the shot” and “This is insanity,” they carried signs that read “My body, my choice,” “End the mandates now” and “The only shot I’m taking is Jack Daniel’s.” A guy with a bullhorn shouted, “Coercion is not consent,” and that accepting the mandate “is the beginning of socialism.”
Cha Cha Sandoval-McMahon, a stuntwoman and actress who organized the protest, called it “a pretty good turnout” for only two days of networking.
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. The move enabled jobs and productions to rebound during the 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 safe work zones on sets.
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.”
“I’ve been a member of SAG-AFTRA for 62 years,” Oscar-nominated actress Sally Kirkland told Deadline, “and I’m devastated by what they’re doing.” Speaking to the crowd as an occasional car driving by on Wilshire Boulevard honked in support, Kirkland, an ordained minister, said a prayer for the union and its members. “No more of this forcing the vaccine,” she prayed. “No more. No more. No more. Let the people work.”
Kirkland said that she became chronically ill for seven-and-a-half months, ended up in the hospital “and thought I was dying three times” after taking the second shots last year.
Such reactions are rare, however, and the Center for Disease control says that the benefits far outweigh the risks. To date, nearly 1 million Americans have died from Covid-19 – the vast majority of whom have been unvaccinated. More than 6 million people have succumbed to the virus worldwide.
Standing next to the union’s logo and addressing his remarks to the union’s leaders, Carlos Guerrero, a Miami-based actor, asked: “Why the hell are you not allowing unvaccinated people to work while vaccinated people are catching the virus on your sets?”
SAG-AFTRA alone, however, cannot lift the mandates, which were agreed upon by the companies and a host of industry unions including SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE and the Teamsters.