It was a good year for Hollywood’s unions, except for two things: Donald Trump and the ever-widening sexual harassment scandal that came to involve many of their members as both victims and perpetrators. How the unions responded tested their mettle like never before and will continue to do so in the year and years to come.
It was a year that saw the Writers Guild come perilously close to an industry-crippling strike, only to be averted with a last-minute deal that saved its failing health plan. It was a year that saw the end to the longest strike in Hollywood’s history – SAG-AFTRA’s 340-day walkout against the video game industry — and a year that saw the election or re-election of new presidents at all the major guilds and unions.
But 2017 will forever be remembered as the year that Trump, who with the help of Russia, became president — even after exposing himself as a “grab ‘em by the p*ssy” sexual predator on the Access Hollywood tape,and the year that Hollywood and the nation finally awoke to the pernicious and pervasive problem of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
It was the year of Trump and Harvey Weinstein – two men who shaped and were shaped by show business and whose assaults on decency and American values drew condemnation from the unions like never before.
Otherwise, it was a pretty good year for Hollywood’s unions.
Two days after the November 8 election, then-WGA West president Howard Rodman called Trump a “wildly incompetent sociopath,” and the day before, IATSE president Matt Loeb warned that his election would have “severe consequences” for unions and working people.
Even so, the business of show business went on. Five days after Trump was inaugurated, DGA members ratified a new film and TV contract that set the template for all the other guilds and unions to follow. And after coming dangerously close to a writers strike in early May and dodging a threatened actors strike in July, labor peace was assured into 2020, when Trump, if he’s not impeached, will be up for re-election.
During the past year, the WGA West has been by far the most critical of Trump, calling him “a national disgrace” and urging him to resign. Just last week, guild leaders called his new tax bill “a disaster” that’s “skewed the tax system heavily in favor of the rich,” and proclaimed that the guild “stands with those who will resist.”
And in the wake of his Charlottesville comments equating neo-Nazis with anti-fascist counter-protesters – one of whom was killed by a white supremacist – the guild released a statement saying, “President Trump legitimizes hate speech and violence, and disgraces our nation.”
And Rodman went a step further. “By what he says and what he will not say, the President encourages the violent and murderous acts of the worst among us,” he wrote in an email to his members. “In declining to condemn in unambiguous terms those who believe the white race deserves to be paramount above all others, our President – and his enablers – have abdicated any claim to moral leadership. He should resign.”
And last month, in the wake of Trump’s retweeting of anti-Muslim videos promulgated by a right-wing British hate group, WGA West leaders said that his “vile display of naked prejudice reached another new low,” and accused him of trampling on “every principle of justice and truth we hold dear.”
“The question for us, always, is when to speak out,” they told their members. “What is the ‘right time’ when lies are paraded as truth; when racists are praised for their decency; when the press is derided as ‘fake;’ when a child molester is endorsed to smooth the way for an unfair tax cut? If we made a statement each time, we’d be writing to you every day.”
In 2017, Gabrielle Carteris was re-elected president of SAG-AFTRA, and Loeb was re-elected international president of IATSE. Thomas Schlamme was elected president of the DGA; David A. Goodman was elected president of the WGA West; and Beau Willimon, the most vocal critic of Trump, was elected president of the WGA East.
In a series of pre-Christmas tweets, Willimon blasted Trump as a blowhard and a con artist. “We have a president who has neither the experience nor ethics to lead. His cons are the only legacy he will leave behind,” he tweeted on December 23.
“Trump has been a con-artist his entire life,” he wrote in another tweet. “Look at Atlantic City as one example. He lied to investors. He cheated contractors & staff out of pay. His bankruptcies left others on the hook. He intimidated those who sought compensation. He will do anything for personal profit.”
Read another: “The ‘Wall’ was always a scam. Trump’s half-hearted attempts to get it built were in direct contradiction to the bombastic, blowhard rhetoric he used during the campaign to win votes through fear-mongering. He maintains this rhetoric, but the emperor has no clothes.”
On Christmas Eve, Willimon tweeted:
The WGA East and West are two separate unions, but they see eye to eye on most things Trump. In September, when Trump announced that he would rescind DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), they issued a joint statement calling it “a shameful crime of prejudice and malice.” And just days after he was sworn into office, they joined in condemning his “profoundly un-American ‘Muslim ban,’” calling it “both unconstitutional and deeply wrong.”
SAG-AFTRA and the DGA denounced the ban, as well. “Any public policy that enacts discrimination based on religious or national background runs absolutely counter to those values and will be vigorously resisted,” SAG-AFTRA said. “This immigration policy is misguided and we will support our fellow artists every step of the way.”
The Directors Guild said in a statement: “The DGA strongly believes that artists – regardless of their national origin, faith, or gender – should be able to come to the United States to showcase their work. Policies that prevent this, without due consideration, should be of concern to all who care about art and cinema.”
A month after Trump was inaugurated, SAG-AFTRA rebuked Trump for his attacks on the media and his false claim that “fake news” organizations like CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and The New York Times are “the enemy of the American people.” Without mentioning him by name, the performers’ union said that “As a union whose membership includes broadcast and online journalists, SAG-AFTRA champions the rights of a free press, whose primary role is to provide citizens with the information they need to effectively govern a democracy. These rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which establishes that the press shall be free from government interference in the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.”
The WGA East, which is engaged in a years-long campaign to unionize online journalists, was even harsher in its criticism in July, with its executive director, Lowell Peterson, saying that Trump’s “vicious attacks” on the media pose “an existential threat” to independent journalism as “encapsulated by the curt condemnation by the Tweeter in Chief: ‘Fake news! The media are the enemy of the American people!’”
In October, SAG-AFTRA reissued its statement from February after Trump tweeted, “With all the Fake News coming out of NBC and the networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their license? Bad for country!” The union said it was “re-emphasizing” its previous statement “in light of recent threats to ‘challenge’ the licenses of broadcast news outlets.”
But other than protest or vow to resist, there was little the unions could do about Trump. Not so, however, with Weinstein, who in short order was expelled from both the Television Academy and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and who resigned before being kicked out of the DGA and the Producers Guild.
Besides just expressing their horror and outrage, all the unions and guilds say they’ve taken concrete steps to finally address an epidemic that has been festering in Hollywood since the days of silent movies. Those steps actually began long before The New York Times shocked the world with its October 5 exposé of Weinstein. With a strong push from management’s Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, all of the unions already had codified online sexual harassment prevention training in their basic film and TV contracts.
“We were very much ahead of the curve,” AMPTP president Carol Lombardini told Deadline. “We have approached every group in the last bargaining cycle about sexual harassment prevention training.”
The AMPTP and IATSE established an online sexual harassment prevention training program as part of their 2015 collective bargaining agreement, and that program began rolling out in January. And in July, the delegates to IATSE’s quadrennial convention voted unanimously to approve a resolution to “condemn sexual or other physical abuse perpetrated in the workplace” and to “work together to inform members that such actions will not be tolerated and that anyone responsible for workplace abuse will be held accountable.”
Online sexual harassment prevention training, however, wouldn’t have prevented any of the shocking sexual assaults that have made headlines in recent months. No doubt, as Hollywood ponders how best to address the ever-widening scandal, quick fixes will be sought to weed out its sexual predators.
In the past, Hollywood has turned to “morals clauses” in actors’ contracts to keep them in line. But those clauses, which have a checkered history and tend to be so overly broad that they can and have been used to fire or discipline employees for all manner of real or perceived misconduct, have been banned for decades by the DGA and the WGA.
“Given the current climate, I imagine we’ll be seeing more morals clauses,” a veteran writer told Deadline. “That’s probably what’s coming. I imagine the legal eagles are sharpening their pencils right now. But if they try to put it in a writer’s contract, our lawyers will make them take it out, because morals clauses were so abused in the past [that] if you got arrested protesting for free speech or something the studio could dump you if they wanted to.”
SAG-AFTRA, however, still allows morals clauses, and they are contained in many actors’ personal services contracts today. As then-SAG president Alan Rosenberg told a congressional committee in 2009, “Nearly every actor’s series contract includes a morals clause prohibiting unbecoming behavior on and off screen.” Indeed, an actor who recently appeared on an NBC sitcom had to sign a contract that included “Paragraph 15,” which was entitled: “Morals Clause.”
Morals clauses became common in Hollywood in the wake of the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal of 1921, in which he was accused – but later acquitted – in the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe. Typical was a Universal contract from 1969 that stated: “Morals offense means conduct by a person which is without due regard to social conventions or public morals or decency, or which degrades such person in society or brings such person into public disrepute, contempt, scandal or ridicule, or shocks, insults or offends the community or any organized group therein, or reflects unfavorably on Producer or any Producer Affiliate or any then current television exhibitor, or conduct which is described in the morals clause of a contract with any television exhibitor, which contract is applicable to photoplays in which such person has rendered or may render services.”
Over the years, these morals clauses have been used in one industry or another to break contracts for all kinds of alleged misbehavior, including marital infidelity (Tiger Woods is said to have lost endorsement deals because of his adultery); homosexuality; espousing unpopular political views (as was the case during the Hollywood Blacklist); making racist slurs (Paula Deen lost her Food Network show after admitting that she’d used the N-word many years ago); having an abortion; smoking pot or even drinking alcohol (Babe Ruth had such a provision in his contract with the Yankees).
The DGA contract says, “Employer agrees that it shall not include or enforce any so-called ‘morals clause,’ as the term is commonly understood in the motion picture and television industries, in any contract of employment or deal memo for the services of an employee.”
The WGA has similar language in its contract, which states, “Company agrees that it will not include the so-called ‘morals clause’ in any writer’s employment agreement covered by this Basic Agreement.”
Mindful of the Blacklist, when many of their members’ careers and lives were destroyed because of their unpopular political beliefs, the DGA and WGA maintain that morals clauses are overly broad and can be used to fire or discipline their members for infractions far less serious than sexual harassment and assault.
The WGA banned the use of morals clauses in writers’ contracts in 1981, and “everybody in the guild was glad to see them go,” the veteran writer said. “It came into the contract because the studios were monolithic in those days, and if they wanted to get rid of a writer and didn’t want to pay him off, they’d use the morals clause. They’d say, ‘Aha, you violated the morals clause, so your contract is null and void and we don’t owe you anything.’”
The WGA removed it from the contract, he said, “because if people did bad things, they could be sued or prosecuted, and the guild didn’t want to give the studios another way to f*ck writers over.”
“If someone molests teenagers or is a rapist or a predator, I can see how they would want to get rid of them,” the writer said. But he added that a generic morals clause is not the way to do it because it opens the door to a wholly different kind of abuse, in which employers can impose their own moral values on their employees and fire them and not honor their contracts for failing to adhere to that moral code.
A WGA source said that he the guild’s ban on moral clauses “doesn’t have anything to do with sexual harassment or the body of sexual discrimination law that no parties can bargain away. It has an historical meaning that was directed at clauses that required compliance with a moral code that didn’t have anything to do with sexual harassment or statutory discrimination law.”
The question, then, is: If morals clauses are so bad, why does SAG-AFTRA still allow them? And if they can be narrowly crafted to target sexual predators, might not the DGA and the WGA reconsider their ban?
SAG-AFTRA was the first of the Hollywood unions to publicly condemn Weinstein – four days after the story went viral squared. While calling Weinstein’s conduct “abhorrent and unacceptable,” the guild said that it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and that such behavior “is more prevalent than our industry acknowledges.”
It followed up with a town hall meeting in Los Angeles, where SAG-AFTRA president Carteris observed that “This is not just a Hollywood situation – this is systemic throughout our culture. … And this is not just in our culture, it’s global.” She also suggested that the union and its high-profile members could play a major role in changing the culture of abuse. “By working together,” she said, “we can absolutely change our culture.” More than half of the 150 performers who attended the meeting raised their hands when attorney Gloria Allred asked if they’d been sexually harassed in the workplace.
In August, SAG-AFTRA members ratified a new film and TV contract that for the first time requires online sexual harassment prevention training for stunt coordinators. Actors and broadcasters don’t have to take the course, even though many of those who have been accused and shamed out of the industry since Weinstein are actors and broadcasters, including Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose and Louis C.K.
Which has put SAG-AFTRA in a tricky spot. As David White, the union’s national executive director, wrote last month in an email to local board member Cupid Hayes, “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.”
Two weeks later, White made his first public pronouncement about the ever-widening scandal, writing in the union’s magazine that while sexual harassment “has been a scourge in the entertainment industry for decades…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.”
SAG-AFTRA, like all the unions, had representatives present earlier this month at the founding meeting the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace – to be chaired by Anita Hill.
Separately, SAG-AFTRA has formed a Sexual Harassment Work Group as a subcommittee of its Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety, which is chaired by Carteris, who declared on October 13 that “our union has a zero tolerance policy against harassment of its members and others employed under our collective bargaining agreements.” Many other unions and companies have adopted similar policies, even though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces workplace anti-discrimination and sexual harassment laws, cautions against adopting “zero tolerance” sexual harassment policies, stating that “the term ‘zero tolerance’ is misleading and potentially counterproductive. Accountability requires that discipline for harassment be proportionate to the offensiveness of the conduct.”
On October 13, eight days after the Weinstein story broke, the DGA filed disciplinary actions against the disgraced producer, and eight days later, in a rare move, acknowledged the filing of those charges. The guild also released a statement from its national board condemning sexual harassment and the shroud of silence that has allowed it to go on for so long. “There must be no tolerance for such deplorable abuses of power,” the guild said. “This isn’t about one person. We must recognize sexual harassment is endemic in our society, and painfully, in our industry. We believe that every individual has the right to a safe workplace. The unfortunate truth is that there are those who abuse the power that they hold. For far too long, many have not spoken out – directors, agents, crew, executives, performers, producers, writers. This shameful code of complicity must be broken. As directors and team members who solve problems for a living, we are committed to eradicating the scourge of sexual harassment on our industry.”
DGA president Schlamme added: “As a man in this industry, I have a responsibility to not just condemn the actions of others, but to look inside myself. I ask all of us to do the same. Unless we recognize what has become so acceptable in our culture and how we possibly, even unconsciously, are participants, everything else will be meaningless. Changing culture is a long and difficult journey, but the first step towards that is acknowledgment. With that I am hopeful that this story will be different than the countless other stories that over the years have been ignored or dismissed. And with the hard work that needs to be done, we can finally be on a road to a better and safer future for all.”
Then, just after Thanksgiving, Deadline revealed that Weinstein had been booted out of the DGA – resigning in a “You can’t fire me, I quit!” move before he could be expelled.
The day before the DGA filed charges against Weinstein, WGA East president Willimon and executive director Peterson issued a statement condemning Weinstein’s “deplorable misconduct,” saying that “regrettably, sexual harassment and assault have long been hallmarks of the entertainment industry” and that “the vast majority of incidents go unreported.”
Acknowledging that “sometimes our own members might be perpetrators,” they also announced that the guild had begun a “thorough review of the tools we currently possess” and is exploring “additional steps the union can take to facilitate prevention, reporting, review, counseling and protection.”
Two days later, WGA West leaders told their members: “The recent accusations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein have opened up important discussions in our community and among our guild members about sexual harassment. The WGAW stands in solidarity with the women who have spoken out about the abuses they’ve suffered. We are well aware of the fact that writers can face these situations, too. We have to find solutions.” They added that “This matter has our full attention.”
Hollywood’s Teamsters Local 399, Musicians Union Local 47 and the Cinematographers Guild issued similar statements, vowing to investigate all reports of sexual harassment and urging their members to say something if they see something.
“Sexual Harassment in the workplace is not to be tolerated or taken lightly,” Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 399, told his members on October 20. “In light of the recent reports regarding the alleged harassment of many A-List actresses by Harvey Weinstein, we must not forget that sexual harassment will not be tolerated towards any hardworking women or men on set. Sadly, many below-the-line workers experience the same sort of treatment and harassment and we want to remind our sisters and brothers that if you feel you are being harassed by anyone on set you have every right to and should report the incident immediately to your employer. Should you feel your claim is not being handled properly, or feel that you are being retaliated against for reporting, I want each member to know that you have your union supporting you every step of the way. No person should experience any form of harassment on set and we take any and all claims very seriously. We will assist you to the best of our ability in order to protect our members and remedy the situation as quickly as possible.”
Dayan added that “We have a zero tolerance policy for harassment and as a Teamster you are expected to treat every crew member with respect no matter the race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical disability or national origin. We are stronger together and we expect our members to stand up for one another on and off set.”
Musicians Local 47 said that its executive board has also “adopted a zero tolerance policy against discrimination and harassment of any kind – sexual or otherwise – of our members and others employed under our collective bargaining agreements. If you see something wrong or unsafe, or are being subjected to unlawful discrimination or harassment, speak out.”
The Cinematographers Guild went even further. Like many of the unions, it has a hotline that members can call to report sexual harassment, and it encourages members to notify their employer and union reps if they’ve been abused. But noting that “people often feel unsafe and unsure about relaying these incidents to employers,” the guild posted on its website the direct phone lines to six of its female executives – including the direct line to Rebecca Rhine, the guild’s national executive director – for members who “prefer to speak to a woman rep.”
And so while Donald Trump no doubt will continue to vex the senses and sensibilities of Hollywood’s labor leaders, at least they can take some solace in knowing that Harvey Weinstein is finished for good in this industry and that in this new era, forged in the last months of 2017, those who continue to sexually harass and assault will do so at their own peril.
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