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SAG-AFTRA Establishes Sexual Harassment Prevention Committee: “The Casting Couch Is Officially Dead”

·5 min read

SAG-AFTRA has established a national committee dedicated to the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. “SAG-AFTRA has always been committed to ending sexual harassment,” said SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher. “But now more than ever, we are declaring the ‘casting couch’ officially dead. This newly formed national committee is yet another way of working towards that goal.”

“As a survivor of sexual assault,” she said, “I want to ensure that we can do everything within our power to protect our members and ensure they feel safe in their workplace, both physically and mentally. This is the time and place for zero tolerance for any action that degrades or objectifies women and men of all ages who simply wish to do a good job for their employers in a safe and respectful environment.”

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Michelle Hurd, the union’s national vice president, will be the national chair of the Sexual Harassment Prevention Committee, which was created by a resolution of the national board on Saturday. “Michelle has been a dedicated leader in our union, particularly in advocating for ways to prevent sexual harassment – most recently by championing our sexual harassment reporting app,” Drescher said. “I feel confident that with Michelle at the helm, we will weed out this insidious behavior once and for all.”

SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said that “Creating a permanent standing committee is an important step in our long-term and strategic plan to protect our members from sexual harassment and abuse. Vice President Michelle Hurd will undoubtedly lead this group to explore new and creative ways our union and our industry can bring longtime practices of harassment and abuse to an end.”

The new national committee takes over the work of the existing Sexual Harassment Prevention Working Group. In recent years, the union has adopted numerous measures to prevent sexual harassment and assault in the industry, including a code of conduct; codifying contract language that bans improper private meetings in hotel rooms and personal residences; developing “Safe Place” reporting platforms so that members can quickly and discreetly report sexual harassment, and partnering with intimacy coordinators to standardize the profession while helping to change the culture on sets when nude and intimate scenes are being performed.

In her president’s report, Drescher updated the board on her recent meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris. Drescher led a delegation of SAG-AFTRA officials to Washington, D.C. where they met with White House staff “to discuss forging a long-term partnership.” They also met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Representatives Judy Chu and Adam Schiff to lobby in support of the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act and the American Music Fairness Act. The union’s delegation included Crabtree-Ireland; Pamela Greenwalt, chief communications and marketing officer, and Kerri Wood Einertson, national director of government affairs and public policy.

Drescher also reported on her efforts to establish a “Green Council” of high-profile SAG-AFTRA members to work with other entertainment industry organizations and NGOs to advance the industry’s green practices and sustainability efforts. She also reported on her plan to enhance support for senior members, including access to SAG-AFTRA and AFL-CIO Medicare supplement plans, as well as possible opportunities to raise funds specifically to support senior members.

Following a report by Ray Rodriguez, the union’s chief contracts officer, the board voted to exercise a contractual option to direct 0.5% of the annual wage increase under several of its contracts to the contribution rate for the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan. Trustees of the Plan, which had been facing mounting deficits, sparked controversy – and a lawsuit led by the late-SAG president Ed Asner – when it raised qualification requirements earlier this year that critics and plaintiffs said fell hardest on the union’s seniors.

Michael Estrada, CEO of the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan and Pension Plan, reported that both plans are “stable and healthy,” while noting the importance of growth in employer contributions to ensure their future success.

Secretary-treasurer Joely Fisher and CFO Arianna Ozzanto presented a financial report showing that expenses and income “are on plan and tracking to budget.”

In his report to the board, Crabtree-Ireland provided an update on the union’s operations and upcoming initiatives, including ongoing and upcoming contract negotiations, strategic partnerships, government affairs and public policy, and staffing updates. He also spoke about how SAG-AFTRA’s partnership with the DGA, IATSE, the Teamsters, and the Basic Crafts unions during the pandemic “have successfully led to the economic recovery of the entertainment industry” through their work with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to adopt safe return-to-work protocols, which have been extended through January 16, 2022.

He also addressed the union’s continued support for and the importance of various legislative efforts, including the American Music Fairness Act; the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act, and California’s FAIR (Freeing Artists from Industry Restrictions) Act, noting that “the combined efforts of collective bargaining and working to pass legislation are both key to the success of the union.”

David Viviano, the union’s chief economist, presented an annual performance report that showed that Jobs and earnings for SAG-AFTRA members had set record highs in the first five months of 2021, rebounding from a near 40% decline last year in the number of members working under the union’s contracts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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