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WGA West Adopts “Zero Tolerance” Sexual Harassment Policy!

31 January, 2018 (23:12) | 2016 | By: Arlin Miller

 

 

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12:40 PM PST 1/31/2018 by Jonathan Handel Hollywood Reporter

jh@jhandel.com
jhandel

Still, the forceful yet nuanced statement says, “a writer achieves or retains membership despite any personal criminal history.”

The Writers Guild of America West announced a “Statement of Principles on Sexual Harassment” in an email to its members Wednesday morning, supporting a “zero tolerance policy” and industrywide approach. But in a break with such organizations as the Motion Picture Academy and even, perhaps, the Directors Guild, the union says it will not expel members based on accusations or even legal adjudications regarding sexual harassment.

“The WGAW believes the current social outcry against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace is not just warranted, it is long overdue,” begins the statement. “It is the legal and moral responsibility of our employers to adhere to both the letter and the spirit of [federal and state antidiscrimination] laws. Unfortunately, their policies have historically failed to do so. [Therefore], we must take action on behalf of our members to address these issues.”

“To that end,” the statement continues, “the WGAW supports the creation of a meaningful industrywide policy agenda that is fair, legal and effective.”

But, in what some may find the most uncomfortable part of the statement, the union notes that “WGAW membership standards are defined by our constitution, labor law and requisite employment by signatory employers.” The reference to “requisite employment” reflects the fact that to become and remain an active member, a writer must sell or option a certain amount of material, within set timeframes, to a studio or production company that has signed on to the guild agreement.

The statement then emphasizes, “A writer achieves or retains membership despite any personal criminal history.” That contrasts with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which, as a voluntary membership organization rather than a union, has said, “There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency.” It expelled accused mogul Harvey Weinstein in October.

Weinstein is also out of the Directors Guild, which is a union. But the DGA didn’t eject him: He resigned — a perhaps crucial distinction, even if he did so under pressure. Weinstein also was banned for life by the Producers Guild (after resigning), but that organization is not in fact a union: Despite its guild-like name, it’s a voluntary membership organization with no legal standing in the employer-employee relationship.

No doubt weighing on the WGA leadership was the organization’s complicity in the 1950s anti-Communist blacklists, for which leaders of the major Hollywood unions all apologized in 1997. In addition, the guild is apparently wary of being dragged into numerous, contested allegations.

“The WGAW is a union, not judge or jury, and cases of harassment and discrimination should be adjudicated in a court of law or through legal policies of employment,” reads the statement. In contrast, the Motion Picture Academy’s policy explicitly stipulates that its board of governors may reach a finding that a member has violated its rules.

On the subject of just what “zero tolerance” actually means, the guild explains, “Zero tolerance means that every claim of harassment or discrimination is taken seriously, and the investigation of every claim is thorough and transparent,” but, in a recognition of concerns being voiced by many in the industry, adds that “zero tolerance does not mean the absence of due process, or that there is a one-size-fits-all punishment for every incident.”

The statement also refers to the 2006 Friends case, where the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of several writers on the show who were sued by a former assistant for sexual harassment based on her having to routinely listen to, and transcribe, sexually vulgar jokes. The court reasoned, in part, that writers rooms for shows with sexual content can be freewheeling in a way that might be inappropriate elsewhere.

“The WGAW acknowledges that creativity requires a unique workplace,” says the statement. “There are no words or ideas that can be off-limits, and deliberately pushing the boundaries of good taste, or social and political correctness, is instrumental to the work we do. But there is nothing about creativity and humor that requires individuals to fear for their physical or economic safety.”

Finally, the statement acknowledges the need for pay equity and equal opportunity. “Because harassment and discrimination are products of an institutional imbalance of power, the WGAW believes that there is no solution to harassment that does not include efforts to address the economic and career disadvantages that burden women and other protected classes.”

Read the full statement below:

The Board and Officers have identified the following principles as our starting point toward meaningful change in our industry’s treatment of sexual harassment and discrimination.

The WGAW believes the current social outcry against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace is not just warranted, it is long overdue. Sexual harassment is a form of employment discrimination, which is illegal under federal and state law. It is the legal and moral responsibility of our employers to adhere to both the letter and the spirit of these laws. Unfortunately, their policies have historically failed to do so. Since it is the right and obligation of the WGAW to support the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, we must take action on behalf of our members to address these issues. To that end, the WGAW supports the creation of a meaningful industrywide policy agenda that is fair, legal, and effective.

The WGAW supports a zero tolerance policy for any form of workplace discrimination, including sexual harassment. Zero tolerance means that every claim of harassment or discrimination is taken seriously, and the investigation of every claim is thorough and transparent. Zero tolerance does not mean the absence of due process, or that there is a one-size-fits-all punishment for every incident. The WGAW supports a fair and legal process that is consistently and transparently applied. The WGAW also believes that it is a perversion of due process to implement policies that protect the accused or the employer, instead of the accuser, that create obstacles to investigation, or that discourage victims from filing claims.

The WGAW acknowledges that creativity requires a unique workplace. There are no words or ideas that can be off-limits, and deliberately pushing the boundaries of good taste, or social and political correctness, is instrumental to the work we do. But there is nothing about creativity and humor that requires individuals to fear for their physical or economic safety. Assaulting, demeaning, or diminishing anyone is wrong, and doing so in the workplace based on gender or other protected attributes is illegal. The WGAW condemns this type of behavior, both toward its members and by its members. It demeans our profession and our industry as a whole when a hostile work environment is considered normal or acceptable.

WGAW membership standards are defined by our constitution, labor law, and requisite employment by signatory employers. A writer achieves or retains membership despite any personal criminal history. The WGAW is a union, not judge or jury, and cases of harassment and discrimination should be adjudicated in a court of law or through legal policies of employment.

Because harassment and discrimination are products of an institutional imbalance of power, the WGAW believes that there is no solution to harassment that does not include efforts to address the economic and career disadvantages that burden women and other protected classes. Pay equity and equal opportunity are necessary to the solution. The WGAW will actively seek effective programs that promote gender equality in our industry. The WGAW will also investigate any pattern of retribution by employers toward individuals who file claims or who speak out about harassment. No member of the WGAW should tolerate any form of backlash against hiring or working with women due to fear or discomfort around this issue.

These principles form the basis of our policies and actions going forward. We are committed to not merely stating what is right, but to doing what is right, for our members and our industry. We can no longer leave issues of harassment and discrimination solely in the hands of our employers. In addition to the action items above, we will seek every opportunity for change, including: partnerships with our sister Guilds and unions, surveying our membership, creating awareness and training programs that are actually effective, working to correct the toxic culture of discrimination within our industry, and negotiating policies with our employers that focus on protecting victims rather than the companies themselves. There is no issue more important to a union than ensuring a safe and fair workplace for all. That is our goal.


Ensuring a safe and fair workplace for all  Gets Zero disagreement from the Ol’ Dog!

Arl

The Ol’ SAG Watchdog

*Headline photo selected by the Watchdog

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