Open Letter to AGMA's Leadership
Since the landmark decision in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson in 1986, sexual harassment in the workplace has been recognized as an illegal form of discrimination. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists harassment as a form of workplace violence, and calls are increasing for OSHA to issue regulations that make the connection between sexual harassment and workplace safety even more explicit.
Workers join together in a labor union to fight for common goals, and a workplace free from violence and discrimination is chief among those goals. Unions that fail to achieve these protections are in breach of duty as regards fair representation and they commit civil rights violations themselves if, by failing to take appropriate actions, they allow a hostile work environment to persist (Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co. (1987)).
AGMA’s leadership and staff have failed to address sexual harassment and sexual abuse in any meaningful way in the fields of opera, choral arts, and dance. Sexual violence in the workplace is a pandemic that predates the COVID-19 pandemic that now shutters much of our industry and it is just as debilitating. AGMA’s track record over the last three years speaks for itself:
Past President James Odom made tone-deaf remarks in response to the article by Dan Kempson that marked the first rumblings of the #MeToo movement in opera.
National Executive Director Len Egert chose to seek the reinstatement of predators Catazaro and Ramasar to the roster of New York City Ballet.
For years, AGMA’s reporting system for sexual harassment consisted of a single email inbox infrequently checked by staff which resulted in a pronounced lack of timely responses or any responses at all to reports of workplace violence.
AGMA has failed to adopt a code of conduct after agreeing to joint action on harassment with other entertainment unions.
AGMA negotiated a quid pro quo settlement agreement with Plácido Domingo, complete with a non-disparagement clause, with the direct participation of AGMA President Ray Menard. This would have kept even the smallest details of AGMA’s investigation secret had some of the findings not been leaked to the Associated Press.
AGMA President Menard offered well-wishes to David Daniels after he was stripped of tenure and fired by the University of Michigan for sexual misconduct. AGMA then offered to permit Daniels to be represented by legal counsel when responding to disciplinary charges within AGMA. This is a blatant act of favoritism that directly contradicts AGMA’s policy that “neither the charged nor the charging party may have counsel present”*.
AGMA’s leadership and staff have shown time and time again that they side with the predators over the survivors. Not only is our workplace unsafe, our union undermines us and we continue to live and work in fear.
At the September 29 meeting of AGMA’s Board of Governors, those of us who observed the meeting heard a report from AGMA’s Sub-Committee on Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy given by one of the co-chairs of that sub-committee, a position they have held since the sub-committee was formed in February of 2019. It was appalling to discover that one of AGMA’s governors, charged with making policy recommendations, was not only unaware of the accepted language used when discussing issues of sexual harassment and assault, but also submitted a report replete with statements that were triggering to those in attendance. None of the concrete actions AGMA’s members have been clamoring for for years were acknowledged, supported, or even grudgingly put forward for consideration.
In July of 2018, AGMA sent out a press release that stated, in part, “The art forms under AGMA’s jurisdiction require incredible vulnerability and trust for Artists to practice and perform at their highest levels.” However, AGMA has continued to violate that trust and exploit that vulnerability. We no longer have faith in the ability of AGMA’s leaders to keep us safe from sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
Over the next few weeks, the Soloist Coalition will release position statements detailing steps AGMA must take to regain the trust of its members and become an ally in our fight to change the culture of our stages. Our union must be a part of the solution, and the Soloist Coalition is committed to holding AGMA’s leaders accountable for their regressive actions and their chronic negligence.
*AGMA Bylaws, Article V, §2(b).