I authored a Workplace Harassment guidelines proposal for Local 802 in 2001 after suffering egregious and daily harassment by a stand partner during a 2-year run of a Broadway show. The harassment ranged from annoying, “gaslighting”-type behavior on the stand throughout the show each night whenever I could even bear to show up to racist pictures, articles and comments made and passed around the pit on a regular basis, when I was not there and when I was. I complained and reported this behavior to the house contractor, the outside contractor, the conductor, the management of the theater, the producers and Local 802. Nothing was done and I was all alone. I did not suffer in silence but I truly suffered. When I spoke to my colleagues at American Ballet Theatre this afternoon about my candidacy, I began to cry when I talked about harassment in the workplace. I did not know until that moment that, after 20 years, I was still traumatized from that experience. I was slightly embarrassed about my emotional response but realized later that I shouldn’t be. That is the same reason why I did not put my name on the article at the time I wrote it even though I was encouraged to do so. The emotional scars were too new and too painful and I did not want to expose myself as the victim.
Apparently, nothing significant has been done since to address this type of behavior that continues at all Local 802 workplaces at one time or another; and the refrain is, unfortunately, the same from the victims of all types of harassment. What do I do? Where do I go? Who can I talk to and have my privacy protected? Why can’t or doesn’t Local 802 do anything when the grievance is considered member-to- member harassment?
On October 24, 2018, there was a harassment discussion at Local 802 where all of the campaigning Members Party candidates showed up (I had never seen them all in one place before) and spoke about this like they were addressing a “new” or recently defined wrong. It is now 17 years after I wrote that article and what is now proposed is solely a one-paragraph amendment to a bylaw that seeks to broadly define the bad behavior but does not provide any written, consistent mechanism for addressing punishment for the harasser or assisting the victim to make a report and provide support during the process that follows.
I strongly suggest that there is still substantial work to be done to protect all members of Local 802 against this vile behavior. And we have a long way to go in terms of education, most glaringly it seems among the Trial Board which currently hears the harassment grievances. During the October 24th meeting, one of the Members Party Trial Board members and a current candidate/delegate actually stood at the microphone and began to angrily rail against the harassment bylaw amendment and said we shouldn’t pass it. He also said that anonymity had no place in the process. When asked a few minutes later by one of the amendment’s drafters if he at least thought harassment was a serious problem, he answered “no”.
Instead of only offering one small step towards acknowledging that this behavior does indeed exist, I believe that work should begin immediately on developing a multi-faceted and comprehensive plan to show a good-faith, serious effort to address this important issue. I would be willing to serve on a Local 802 committee to help. As a violinist and attorney, I would think they would welcome some assistance—but I was told at the meeting that they had already done the work and we should “trust the lawyers” on this. I disagree. If this is what you believe will make the difference, then maybe you should add another lawyer to the conversation.
It is not enough to refer victims to the Actors Fund—though they have wonderful resources available to the entertainment industry at large and I am a huge proponent of their work and the help they provide. But our union has over 7,000 members. We should also be taking care of our own.