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Hollywood Unions Join AFL-CIO Push for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Public Policy Agenda

Hollywood’s major unions have signed on with the AFL-CIO’s push to advance public policy initiatives involving diversity, equity and inclusion issues.

The broad goal is to strengthen collective bargaining and copyright protections and the state and federal level. On Thursday, a clutch of entertainment industry union representatives gathered for a virtual news conference to detail the policy proposals and underscore the urgency for the need for action to better protect middle-class and low-rung workers.

“We stand solidly behind the missions and goals. We believe very strongly in copyright protections. It’s how our members receive appropriate remuneration for their work,” said David White, national executive director of SAG-AFTRA. “And we feel very strongly about the importance of showcasing the full variety of the American scene” in entertainment content.

Other unions represented on the call included Directors Guild of America, Writers Guild of America East, IATSE, Actors Equity Association, Stage Directors and Choreographer Society, the American Federation of Musicians and the American Guild of Musical Artists have teamed with AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees wing to field specific proposals.

The key components of federal policy proposals are:

  • 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
  • Reform 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.”

Union leaders stressed that collective bargaining is the key to ensuring strong wages for entertainment workers, which is crucial to allowing people of color to rise in the industry. Part of the policy push is for federal agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and Corporation for Public Broadcasting to mandate that grant recipients to adhering to strictly diversity and inclusion guidelines in hiring. They’re also pushing for the appointment of a chief diversity officer to oversee DE&I issues at those three arts orgs.

There’s also a focus on lobbying Congress to adapt at the federal level recent moves by such states as New York, New Jersey and Illinois to provide tax incentives to productions that meet hiring guidelines for workers from underrepresented communities.

Numerous speakers noted that the pandemic has created a unique moment for many in entertainment to make big structural changes during shutdowns and slowdown of business. Actors Equity Association president Kate Shindle noted the hardship during the past year for workers in the theater community. That situation should force leaders to ask themselves “What kind of industry do we want to go back to?”

Michelle Hurd, actor and co-star of CBS All Access drama “Picard,” was among many speakers who cited the importance of recognizing the impact of diversity in storytelling. She noted her own experience as a child watching the original “Star Trek” series and its groundbreaking portrayal of a Black woman through the Lt. Uhura character played by Nichelle Nichols.

“The original ‘Star Trek’ made diversity and inclusion a part of public conversation,” Hurd said. “She was one of the first black characters in a major series role. She played a professional female, a ranking officer that outranked many of the male characters. That was landmark.”

The speakers repeatedly emphasized the importance of seizing the moment to make meaningful progress on equity issues, starting with gaining a better understanding of the depth of the problems.

“Systemic racism in our industries is a virus in its own right,” said Aleta Braxton, a soprano with the LA Opera, who spoke on behalf of the American Guild of Musical Artists. “The good news is we are having the hard conversations, and that’s what matters.”

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