A groundswell of opposition has risen up against Jon Hendry, the IATSE union boss in New Mexico, in the wake of sexual harassment allegations that surfaced earlier this week. A movement has begun calling for his ouster, and Deadline has been inundated with calls from members complaining that he runs the union like a “fiefdom” that’s allegedly ripe with corruption, favoritism and nepotism.
Hendry, who is the business agent of IATSE Local 480 in Santa Fe – and as the president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor AFL-CIO is one of the most powerful labor leaders in the state – declined to discuss the lawsuit or any of the other allegations being leveled against him.
“I have to refer you to our attorney,” he told Deadline. “I can’t talk to you about anything,”
His members, however, are doing a lot of talking – among themselves and to reporters. And they’ve started a grass roots effort – called “480 Time for Change” – to encourage the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to look into the charges against him.
“Stories are told about abuse of power, discrimination, sexual abuse, harassment, verbal abuse, bulling, unresolved grievances, job loss due to whistle-blowing, etc. in the workplace,” the organization said in a statement signed by six members of the local. “Fear of reprisal prevents many people from sharing these stories. It’s time to overcome that fear and tell your stories.”
Their purpose, they say, “is to raise awareness of abuse of power and harassment in our industry – to let our leaders know they must do things better to punish abusers and support victims – to better educate us and make us more aware of our own behavior and how it affects others – the create a better working environment for all of us.”
“Be brave and tell your story,” they said, and have created an email account – email@example.com – to collect more testimony of alleged sexual harassment and abuses of power.
“He has run this local like a mafioso,” said Robert Seymour, a former vice president of the local. “It’s a fiefdom. I was part of the inner circle for years, and everyone in the union knows about it. He has literally run people out of town who opposed him.”
“It’s a dictatorship,” said Greg Hewitt, who ran against Hendry in 2013. During that election, he said, “I went to a general membership meeting, and the executive board had decided that anyone who succeeded him would be paid half his salary because he had more experience.”
Department of Labor records show that Hendry was paid $133,360 – plus $47,210 in expenses in 2016. Hewitt said that the executive board is controlled by Hendry, and that their move to cut the business agent’s salary in half if he won was an attempt to get him to drop out of the race. After he lost, he said, he couldn’t get hired in New Mexico and left the state.
The firestorm of criticism being leveled against Hendry arose after Christa Valdez, the local’s former outside public relations rep, filed a sexual harassment suit against him earlier this week.
She claims that he sent her a text in 2016 that said, “Could you send me a pic of your naked, sweaty, skinny body? At least one of us will feel much better.” The suit claims that he “continually harassed and intimidated (her) with sexual propositions and inappropriate conditions to maintain employment,” and that he grabbed her and other female staffers’ by the buttocks and showed her and others “naked photos on his phone.”
Her suit also accused him of “bragging frequently about how he ruined careers of people in the industry who crossed him,” and alleges that that’s just what he did to her when she complained: firing her and then, when she got a new job at a local casting company, got her fired there, too.
“It’s been an ongoing struggle to maintain equilibrium and balance, because there is a favoritism process going on with people who are politically connected to our business agent,” said a senior founding member of the local. “Change must happen.”