Leaders of the Hollywood’s unions today outlined their legislative agenda to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the arts, entertainment and media industries, including a call on Congress to pass a flurry of legislation to increase federal arts funding; establish diversity objectives for grant recipients; to leverage federal tax incentives to encourage diverse hiring, and to protect the rights of unions to organize nonunion workers.
“As unions, we hold a fundamental belief that diversity is a strength,” the leaders of SAG-AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE, Actors’ Equity, the WGA East and several other union leaders said in a joint statement. “We work inside and outside the traditional collective bargaining process to create more and better opportunities for underrepresented people. Smart policy solutions aimed at creating diverse talent pipelines, incentivizing diversity in hiring, and supporting collective bargaining will help our workplaces and our industries move forward.”
Those taking part in a press conference, which was moderated by Jennifer Dorning, president of the AFL-CIO’s Department of Professional Employees, included:
• David White, national executive director of SAG-AFTRA
• SAG-AFTRA national board member Michelle Hurd
• Russell Hollander, national executive director of the DGA
• Matthew Loeb, international president of IATSE
• Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity
• Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGA East
• Raymond Menard, president of the American Guild of Musical Artists
• Laura Penn, executive director of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC)
• Lisa Portes, SDC board member
• Alfonso Pollard, legislative-political director and director of diversity for the American Federation of Musicians
• Carson Grant, VP of the Guild of Italian American Actors
• Lisa Blake, VP Diversity at the Office and Professional Employees International Union.
“Creative professionals must be able to earn fair pay and benefits,” they said in their joint statement. “Otherwise careers in the arts, entertainment, and media industries will be limited to a narrow, non-inclusive set of people – those who can afford to hold out for the promise of a future payday that may never arrive. Creative professionals must be able to enforce their workplace rights, including the right to join together in union and negotiate collectively with their employers. Through collective bargaining, people of color and women have raised their pay, narrowed the racial wage gap, and established mechanisms for addressing intentional and unintentional racism in their workplaces.
“Creative professionals also need strong copyright protections because they depend on the sale of legitimate content for their pay and benefits. Too often creative professionals of color, women, and other marginalized individuals are not able to realize the full economic value of their intellectual property, an impediment to maintaining a career that utilizes their unique talents and abilities.”
To achieve those goals, they said that Congress should:
● Pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act;
● Pass the Restoring Justice for Workers Act;
● Pass the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act
● Pass the AM-FM Act; and
● Support copyright reforms aimed at combating theft of lawful content, such as reforming Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to restore balance between content creators and online platforms and ensure that creative professionals can earn a fair return for their work.
“Through grants, seed money, and technical support, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) ensure that Americans of all means, geographies, and abilities have access to artistic and educational content,” they said. “The NEA, NEH, and CPB also help bolster local economies and put creative professionals to work on nonprofit productions and performances, including members of our unions. These gigs have also provided entry points to careers in the for-profit side of our industries for many of our members through the opportunity to develop skills, experience, and professional connections. Congress can help ensure that more of these career opportunities are available to people who are underrepresented in our industries.”
To that end, they said, Congress should:
● Increase funding for the NEA, NEH, and CPB;
● Work with stakeholders, including unions, to develop diversity hiring and reporting objectives for grant recipients, such as requiring that applicants provide a three-year lookback report on recruitment, hiring, and promotion;
● Authorize funding for Chief Diversity Officer positions at the NEA, NEH, and CPB; and
● Establish an incubator grant program to help underrepresented people pursue creative projects and make connections with industry mentors.
“Recognizing the boost provided to state and local economies, Congress has established tax benefits for American-based film, television, and live entertainment productions,” they noted. “Tax incentives are important because they create work opportunities for our members that may otherwise go abroad. We know from the state level that tax policy can also offer a ‘carrot’ approach for our industries’ employers to hire more inclusive casts and crew.
Therefore, they said, Congress should:
● Follow the lead of states like Illinois, New Jersey, and New York to identify effective diversity requirements for federal tax incentives that will spur more inclusive hiring in film, television, and live entertainment.
Equity’s Shindle spoke for all, perhaps, when she said: “We are a union, so by definition, we must view injustice against any one of us as injustice against all of us.”
SAG-AFTRA’s White said: “Our members make a fair living today because of a foundation built over many decades thanks to strong collective bargaining rights,” SAG-AFTRA’s White said. “Across generations, from Boris Karloff to my colleague here today, SAG-AFTRA National Board member Michelle Hurd, who many of you will recognize from Star Trek: Picard, Law & Order, and many other wonderful performances, strong union rights have set the parameters for us to partner with our employers at the studios and networks. We stand solidly behind the Pro Act’s mission and goals. When our members do their work it is with the protection of strong and vigorous copyright laws. It is how they are appropriately remunerated and it is how we ensure their work is not hijacked or pirated, a situation that is dehumanizing as it is for any member in any industry to have their compensation stolen. We must all work every day to ensure the strength of copyright protections.
“We also have an obligation to do our part to ensure that on-screen representation shows the full variety of the American scene,” he added. “Right now, truthfully, what we see on screen does not reflect the true diversity of our communities, and that must change. We still have a long distance to travel before we truly realize this goal. And we see it as a core mission to be the agents of that change. We can and must be strong voices for robust arts funding. Enhanced funding is critical for our industry to thrive, particularly for small theaters and arts groups across the country. It is also crucial for the survival of the central pillar of public media through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All these entities serve communities, large and small, in every neighborhood, providing diverse and inclusive content for audiences of all ages. When taken together, those three elements —strong union rights, copyright protection and arts funding—fulfill our mission to represent our diverse membership who can, then, show the world what we can be as a society.”
DGA’s Hollander, outlining the steps his union has taken to create a more inclusive workforce, said: “As unions in arts, entertainment and media, we know that diversity and inclusion is important, just as much for work opportunities as it is for culture. Having different voices and perspectives on screen is so imperative to the well-being and development of our society. That’s at the heart of our longstanding diversity, equity and inclusion work at the guild.
“While as a labor union we do not control employer hiring, we have harnessed the strength of our membership to push the studios and other employers in film and television to increase their hiring of women and people of color,” he continued. “That work dates back over four decades, when a group of women directors mobilized to address the discriminatory hiring practices of entertainment industry employers. When the studios, networks and production companies failed to take significant action, the DGA sued on behalf of women and members of color. Although the suit was eventually dismissed on technical grounds, our landmark effort made clear that the industry’s lack of diversity inclusion could no longer be ignored. We have since continued to dedicate significant time and resources in growing our efforts throughout our guild operations; from collective bargaining with our employers, though which we’ve achieved some of the strongest and forceful provisions out there – including the requirement that each of the major television studios maintain a television director development program focused on diversity.”
The DGA, he said, also has “for many years issued highly publicized diversity and inclusion reports, holding a mirror to the industry in bringing attention to the employers’ hiring records. In fact, our next report will be coming out very soon. And while we’ve seen progress in some areas, the same cannot be said with respect to Latinx directors, who continue to be severely underrepresented, as well as Asian directors, whose numbers have not increased. We’ve also developed our own diversity programs and membership initiatives within the DGA, focused on career development so that our members have the tools and resources they need to turn opportunities into ongoing, sustainable careers.”
The DPE’s policy agenda items, Hollander said, “are critical to our continued work, individually and collectively, to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry.”
IATSE’s Loeb said: “We have made diversity, equity and inclusion a major priority. We’re fully committed to seeing this through and have taken action, of late, to be fair and to be equal and to show compassion – to make inclusion something that is expected.”
“At the Writers Guild of America, East,” Peterson said, “we believe that the lack of diversity in the ranks of professional writers stems, not from a lack of talent, but from a lack of opportunity. We have built programs to ensure that historically underrepresented writers – women, BIPOC writers, and more – not only have the opportunity to develop skills but more importantly the opportunity to gain access to industry decision-makers. This is the basic orientation of our many mentorship, skills-training, and networking programs. Our programs are also about power – building the power of our members, developing diverse leaders in our union and in the industry who can exercise power to make real change. We also believe that the key players – industry, government, and we ourselves – must take concrete action. With the support of all of our sister unions, and working hand in hand with the DGA, the WGAE won a tax credit in the state of New York that will provide a real incentive for studios and networks to hire women and people of color to write and direct television in the state. The equity and inclusion work we do, and the programs we ask the government to undertake, are essential not only as a matter of social justice but also to the long-term survival of the arts and entertainment industries and the good union jobs they create. Audiences want stories that reflect their own experiences and perspectives. We are fully committed to making that happen.”