There are moments when our culture can undergo a tectonic shift. This is hopefully one of those times. Starting with The New York Times revelations about producer Harvey Weinstein on Oct. 5, the floodgates have opened, and the silence surrounding harassment and abuse in the workplace has been broken. Will the story fizzle out as public attention moves on to other things, or is this a real chance for social change?

SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris is working towards the latter, and wants to seize this opportunity. She sent a letter to members on Oct. 13, reaffirming that hostile work environments — whether on the set, in the newsroom or in the recording booth — will not be tolerated. It also provided information on how members can report incidents.

And people have been coming forward. SAG-AFTRA has seen an increase in the number of members reporting incidents. On social media, the #MeToo campaign, which was jumpstarted by member Alyssa Milano and tweeted more than 1 million times, has helped usher in a more frank national conversation on the topic. But despite this progress, it remains a difficult environment in which to report abuse, and victims are often forced to weigh the potential damage to their careers if they speak out. Beyond that, there’s the imbalance of power, with victims often being accused of making up stories to seek attention. Even an actor as successful as Ashley Judd recently told Diane Sawyer that she didn’t report her encounter with Weinstein for fear of not being believed. Carteris is doing everything she can to change that.

“This is the beginning of a big moment for change in this industry,” said Carteris. “We need to create an environment where people know they are protected and feel confident coming forward, knowing justice will be done.”

Carteris, who serves on the Executive Council of the AFL-CIO, is working with the national labor organization to create a cross-union task force to confront the issue. As more and more women and men have spoken out, it has become clear that the problem isn’t confined to the entertainment industry. Carteris made that point in remarks via videoconference to those assembled at the AFL-CIO convention.

“Sexual harassment and abuse go beyond Weinstein. It’s systemic in our society. And it’s not just Hollywood. It affects men and women in every industry,” she said.

In addition, at its convention in St. Louis, Missouri, in October, the AFL-CIO issued a “Workers’ Bill of Rights” resolution, which included the right to a safe job, free of harassment and violence.

“Right now, in our country, we are at a watershed moment. A moment to not only reflect on the power dynamics in the workforce, but also a time to take action to punish and deter acts of sexual assault and harassment,” said SAG-AFTRA Vice President, Broadcasters Catherine Brown, who spoke in support of the resolution. “Everyone has a fundamental right to be treated with dignity and respect at work.”

Even before the Weinstein article, there were numerous stories in the media about hostile environments in the tech industry, particularly for women. Before that, it was the online mobs of the “Gamergate” movement who targeted mostly women for harassment — to the extent of posting death threats. As people have begun to feel safer to speak out, accusations of sexual misconduct have been levelled against entertainers, CEOs and the current and former presidents.

SAG-AFTRA can’t change the nation’s culture by itself. But as workers in the influential entertainment and media industry, the union’s members have powerful voices. SAG-AFTRA is also enlisting allies.

In addition to the AFL-CIO, the union is going global with the help of the International Federation of Actors, known by its French acronym, FIA, and its constituent member organizations.

At FIA’s October conference in Zagreb, Croatia, Carteris introduced a resolution, which was unanimously approved by the body’s Executive Committee, to target the issue on a worldwide scale. It read, in part, “FIA condemns in the strongest terms any individual that has chosen to carry out sexual harassment, discrimination or retaliation for the reporting of sexual harassment. FIA urges the industry to treat this matter seriously and to work with determination and in good faith with unions and performer organizations to develop a long-term strategy to achieve a discrimination, harassment and retaliation-free work environment.”

“Real and sustained change takes time, but with determination and a strong buyin from members and industry allies, this can be a watershed moment. Everyone has a part to play, and the movement toward a workplace in which all workers can feel safe and secure is only beginning. People are now saying ‘no more,’” said Carteris.


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