In his first public pronouncement on Hollywood’s ever-widening sexual harassment scandal, SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White said in a letter to the union’s members that sexual harassment “has been a scourge in the entertainment industry for decades, but the recent revelations that have fed headlines across the globe have been truly shocking.”
In his letter, posted in the current issue of the union’s magazine, he wrote that “Through the courage of those who are willing to share their personal experience, we are now presented with an opportunity – a chance to initiate systemic change that can improve the lives of many and shift an appalling practice of abuse. We must rise to this challenge.”
“Let there be no question,” he continued, “that SAG-AFTRA is committed to doing our part to bring about the change necessary to address the issue of harassment in our industry.”
He didn’t lay out just what the guild is doing, but noted that “Significantly, our membership has once again elected three women to the top positions of our organization, making SAG-AFTRA unique among labor organizations in this country. I congratulate them and all the elected members to our national and local boards, all of whom stand firmly behind the principle of personal and professional dignity in the workplace. Working together, we can eradicate any sense of tolerance for sexual harassment in our industry.”
As Deadline previously reported, White has been having private conversations with guild leaders about the ongoing scandal. In an email to local board member Cupid Hayes, who had inquired about a panel discussion that was moderated by attorney Gloria Allred earlier this month, he wrote: “President (Gabrielle) Carteris is leading this national discussion and, after hearing from fellow member Gloria Allred, who represents a large number of our members, opted to seize an opportunity to showcase the fact that SAG-AFTRA is, in fact, taking steps to protect our members during this turbulent time. Providing a forum for education and empowerment is well within existing policy and therefore a good first step.
“Because there is international, national and industry-wide press that has aggressively pursued SAG-AFTRA to learn what we are doing, we are managing this in a uniform way throughout the union, at least for now. That is to ensure that we are delivering a uniform message to our members, to industry partners who we are working with (DGA, WGA, Association of Talent Agents, etc.) and to the world about the role our union has to play.
“We’ll have more to say about this at the December executive committee meeting and board meeting. This is one of those extremely ‘big,’ emotionally sensitive, legally complex issues that has serious legal implications for SAG-AFTRA as well as for several of our members, who may look to us for protection as this process unfolds. Everyone is scrutinizing each word that we communicate about the union’s position. Duncan (Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s COO and general counsel), outside counsel, I and others are very involved to ensure we don’t have any misstep that brings on liability in any way.”
Like White, all three of the guild’s top elected officers – Carteris, EVP Rebecca Damon and secretary-treasurer Jane Austin – penned letters in the current issue of the union’s magazine about the union’s efforts to combat sexual harassment and abuse.
In her letter, Carteris said that “This is potentially a watershed moment, and SAG-AFTRA is seizing the opportunity to help shift social and workplace norms to empower members and curtail sexual harassment and abuse.”
To that end, she wrote, the union is “investing in tangible process improvements, like expanding our 24-hour safety hotline and adding staff resources to better support victims who report abuse.” She also noted that the union is collaborating “with dozens of leaders to assess and improve the industry’s policies and processes before and after harassment and abuse take place. We know that all of us can do more.”
In her letter, Damon wrote that “One area in which change is sorely needed is in the culture that has allowed powerful people to disrespect, sexually harass and abuse others without consequences for far too long. We need to build an environment in which the targets of abuse feel safe to come forward, confident that justice will be done. There’s a role for everybody in making that happen. Collectively, we must make it known that unprofessional – and in many cases criminal – behavior will not be tolerated.”
In her letter, Austin doesn’t mention sexual harassment per se, but cited “recent newsworthy events from within our industry” to remind members of the need to notify the union whenever they witness wrongdoing. “Each time a union member takes it upon themselves to speak out about unfair, dangerous or inappropriate business practices they have witnessed or heard about,” she wrote, “their action empowers not only themselves, but also contributes to the union’s growing strength and power.”