Sexual harassment has become a hot topic within the executive offices of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. Almost too hot to touch.
In the last AFTRA newsletter, union prexy Marvin Kaplan addressed the issue, ultimately stating that sexual harassment was “not on most people’s lists of union priorities.” His statement sent up a red flag among several AFTRA members who subsequently chastised union officials with a flurry of letters. The end result was that AFTRA’s L.A. board last week unanimously voted to re-emphasize the union’s commitment to fight any form of sexual harassment.
In Kaplan’s column, “Ramblings and Rumblings,” he took issue with what constitutes sexual harassment, specifically related to what is said in the workplace.
“When there are overt physical overtures made by the propositioner to his/her target, these are clear, irrefutable instances of sexual harassment and require only the diligence of the abused to be prosecuted fully,” Kaplan wrote.
“But then there is the second definition of the law as ‘creating a hostile working environment’ and that extends from telling an off-color story to aggressive, excessive sexual innuendo. That’s where the specter of subjectivity comes in and may result in unfair employment consequences for everyone.”
Kaplan went to on to write that “we are becoming a nation, increasingly litigious in figuring angles to make the system pay off. In the same way that poor people were desperate enough to flop in front of automobiles to collect insurance, so too can verbal sexual harassment charge be leveled against anybody.”
In summation, “it seems to me in this economic Armageddon where there are major production cutbacks, massive unemployment, blatant runaway production, non-union proliferation and inter-union non-cooperation and support, sexual harassment, no matter how repugnant, is not on most people’s lists of union priorities.”
Kaplan’s comments come two weeks after an AFTRA member filed a multimillion dollar suit against the former stage manager on ABC’s “General Hospital” for sexual harassment (Daily Variety, Oct. 27).
Yet an AFTRA source said the union has had a longstanding policy to not only oppose any kind of discrimination, including sexual harassment, but to also train staff members on how to sensitively deal with such instances.
Currently AFTRA’s collective bargaining agreement only allows union officials to refer members to the proper government agency for relief, since the union has not won the right to arbitrate such charges.
Kaplan could not be reached for comment.