Recognizing the increasing imperative of “change now or die,” Cinematographers Local 600 last month took a bold giant step towards changing the face and future of Chicago film unions.
Local business representative Jason Rosin and Central region business agent Larry Gianneschi initiated the first meaningful meeting on diversity ? the urgent need to embrace women and minorities in labor organizations.
Twenty-two union members from Locals 600 and 476 (out of an invited 1,200) got the message when they spent a weekend at the diversity seminar held in a chilly VFW Hall in Park Ridge in early December.
“…This meeting was the closest thing to real diversity progress made in the past 15 years.” “To Local 600’s credit, this meeting was the closest thing to real diversity progress made in the past 15 years,” said Lun Ye Marsh, community activist, the first black female to be admitted to Local 476, and the only local female attending the seminar.
|L.A.-based Kristin Glover, National Chair, Local 600’s diversity committee
The only other woman was L.A.-based Kristin Glover, long-time Local 600 member and National Chair of Local 600’s diversity committee, who flew in especially for the weekend.
The meeting, she said, showed her “union thinking was being shaken up. They heard about a real need to solve a problem that obviously needs changing.”
The speaker was labor and industrial relations expert Dr. Robert Bruno, a University of Illinois professor originally from the blue collar, industrialized city of Youngstown, Ohio, who put the history of the labor movement into the context of present day problems.
“An attack on women and blacks is an attack on labor.” Dr. Bruno’s warning: “An attack on women and blacks is an attack on labor. If you don’t support them then you are all under attack.”
The benefit: By supporting one another you create an environment of solidarity, which is essential to a union’s growth and prosperity.
Harassment sparked program
Rosin and Gianneschi decided to take action last March when they learned about the racial harassment of a black Local 476 member by two white members on “The Weatherman” set. “We strongly felt a program on how workers should act in the workplace was necessary,” said Rosin.
Their goal, in the interest of solidarity, “is to end the fear-based tactics that divide people and harm the labor movement. Alienation of those who speak about diversity has to stop.”
The weekend meeting, he emphasized, was only “the first step.” But Glover wants to take it further. She said she was so impressed by Dr. Bruno’s “brilliant presentation ” that she wants to import it to Local 600’s East and West Coast chapters.
Once they decided a training seminar was essential, Rosin began searching last summer for the right meeting facilitator. The Chicago Federation of Labor recommended Dr. Bruno. The CFL, which has a prominent Chicago labor education program, is also served by the University of Illinois advisory board.
Rosen said they knew right away “he was the guy since he understood the subtleties of diversity issues in the workplace environment.”
After Dr. Bruno learned about the local industry, Rosin said, the next step was for him “to recommend programs that would work, and infuse them with our specific race relations issues.”
The importance of inclusion
At the meeting, Dr. Bruno presented the history of the working class struggle in economic and political terms and the losses created when one group is used to damage or harm or weaken another group.
“I also tried to lay out the larger context of job placement for women and minorities,” he said. “If they aren’t [included] you end up sending a message that the union is not an agent of economic opportunity for all workers and it becomes a special interest club.”
A select group of people benefit from exclusion, he said. But the potential for a stronger union comes from solidarity that goes beyond the prejudices.
The potential for a stronger union comes from solidarity that goes beyond the prejudices. Labor markets are harmed when women and minorities cannot enter certain industries, when men keep them out. When their positive contributions are seen and understood, there’s a potential for a stronger union.”
Before recommending structural, alternative ways to deal with diversity, Dr. Bruno cautioned that unless unions take control of the problem to become self-regulatory ? which puts them affirmatively in a strong position and keeps the government out -power is going to be used in one of two ways.
For one: “Outside parties will file lawsuits with the EEOC, for example, which can impose penalties and damage unions (or the union). For another: it could be left in the hands of individual officers, white men, who are not trained to deal with this,” he stated.
Dr. Bruno’s specific recommendations
- Create a Civil Rights office, or a committee responsible to hear complaints, and deal with them.
- Hire a union-paid ombudsmen to work within the union structure, a third party over whom the union doesn’t have control. The ombudsman would have a role in determining the final judgment on a dispute over denied opportunities, asking, is there something structurally institutional going on.
- Institute a workable plan to bring women and minorities into the industry and train them.
- Continue diversity and awareness training.
- Establish a directory of contacts for union members to be able to network openly with each other.
- Conduct an 18 month study to see what has happened beyond the demographics. “Let’s see what we’ve really got and get beyond feelings and lay data on the table,” he said.
A return to a hiring hall roster system, where a worker takes a number for a job in his category, was floated among the attendees as an equitable hiring practice.
“It would be a way of taking power away from the foreman who tends to choose his own guys,” noted Local 476 electrician Peter Donaghue. “The production company can hire the foreman and the rest of the crew is hired fairly by number.”
Donaghue also pointed out that if Local 476 is serious about recruiting African Americans, it should seek candidates from South Side trade schools, rather than Columbia College where the emphasis is more on artistic achievement than trade crafts.
Need essential to airing problems, continued training
To continue bringing diversity problems into the open and dealing with them, Rosin urged finding ways to empower members to become more active in their locals, to make their voices heard.
“Unions need to talk to each other, to find out where we are, where we need to go. Right now, let members who want to lead take the initiative on the diversity issues. The 22 people who showed up for our meeting were a start,” he said.
“We must mend the horrific historical riffs that have torn us apart as human beings.” Glover was in strong accord with Rosin and Gianneschi in stressing the need for diversity and continuing talks. “It’s an issue really the majority of us can totally agree upon.”
“We must move into 21st century?even the 20th century?and mend the horrific historical riffs that have torn us apart as human beings,” she said.