#What’sTheHype: Workplace Activism Stories ft. Netflix, Apple & IATSE

  • Author

    Klara Gavran

  • Published

    Oct, 29, 2021

  • Reading time

    10 min

A recent Edelman study confirmed what’s already been obvious for a while: employees are increasingly motivated and driven by their personal beliefs and values

The last couple of years, as marked as they were by the pandemic and social movements, have shaped the way we look at and interact with our environment – workplace included.

People have emerged from this period hungrier for justice, inclusivity and dignity. And that hunger bled into the workplace.

No longer are employees willing to go with the status quo and stay willingly ignorant and silent out of fear of losing their jobs.

Quite the opposite, actually. The Edelman study has shown that 59% of employees are willing to or have left their job because it didn’t fit their values, and 50% because it didn’t fit their lifestyle.

Percentage of those who are changing jobs and the reasons behind the decision, source: Edelman study

What’s more, they’ll choose their next employer based on shared beliefs. Employees of today have higher expectations:

  • 77% say personal empowerment (including values and diversity) is a strong expectation/deal breaker when considering a job (71% says the same for social impact).
“7 in 10 people expect opportunities for social impact”, source: Edelman study
  • 6 in 10 employees choose employers based on beliefs.
    Some of the beliefs included in the study touch on morals, employer’s stand on social issues, silence on controversial issues and more.
61% choose their employer based on beliefs, source: Edelman study

Finally, the Edelman study finds that “workplace activism becomes the norm”. More specifically, 76% of employees have said they would “take action to produce or motivate urgently necessary changes within the organization”.

Of that, 40% said they would take it public, which includes actions such as whistleblowing, strikes, protests, leaking internal documents or emails, and similar.

Truly, it is not the case of posturing and talking the talk, but rather of walking it, too. Just this past month, there have been many stories of people going on strikes or protesting workplace injustices. Employees are fed up and they’re more often not afraid to show it – possible consequences be damned.

So let’s dive into these stories.

Netflix employees stage a walkout after Dave Chappelle controversial comedy special

dave chappelle during his comedy special
Dave Chappelle during his comedy special “Closer”, source: Vox

“It’s going to get way worse than that.”

“I’m going all the way.”

Self-aware, yet unrepentant and purposely provoking seem to be the best words to describe Dave Chappelle’s most recent Netflix comedy special.

Doubling down on being offensive to the LGBTQ+ community and trans people especially? If the staged walkout of Netflix employees is to go by, absolutely.

Dave Chappelle very much gives off the “I support the LGBTQ+ community and I’m an ally, but…” vibes.

He knows exactly what he’s saying and the impact and the consequences his words will have. He’s also quite defensive, and seemingly never quite regretful. If you do say something that a person or a group of people find offensive, are hurt by, and consider discriminatory, why is it so hard to own it and apologize?

Especially if you’re not part of a marginalized group you speak about – how can you possibly be the one to decide what is and isn’t okay to say?

Even if it’s a part of a joke or a sketch. Especially if it is. It’s time to retire the “you can’t take a joke, you’re being sensitive” rhetoric.

Some (comedians) would argue how “political correctness is killing comedy”. 

Let’s put aside the fact that it really isn’t, and focus on the fact that comedians who thrived on using marginalized groups as punchlines and can’t do so anymore are now feeling threatened.

As was written by The Guardian in 2019:

“Complaints against PC [political correctness] culture tend to come from comedians who had it easy for a long time, and who are too lazy or untalented to progress their comedy along with society. These are bitter men who refuse to approach comedy in a more clever way, and who would instead prefer to blame their inability to win over the wider public on those groups they are no longer allowed to use as punching bags.”

Harsh, but true.

So, when Chappelle’s new comedy special came out, armed with the purposeful mispronunciation of the LGBTQ+ acronym (he’s pronounced it as LBGTQ+ several times), seeming support for TERFs, or comparing being trans to wearing a blackface, essentially insinuating that trans people are making a mockery of gender, it’s no surprise that he faced backlash from the trans community.

Vox summed the problematic nature of the special best:

“These are all arguably the kinds of transphobia that can escalate when a prominent comedian with a potential audience the size of Netflix’s 180 million subscribers treats trans identity like a quirky made-up fantasy. In fact, study after study has shown a direct connection between the type of perceptions of gender identity Chappelle is performing and anti-trans violence. Even if you believe “Chappelle, the offstage human” is a decent and supportive trans ally, “Chappelle, the onstage comic” is promoting bigotry and amplifying gender essentialism in a way that contributes to making trans people deeply unsafe. Additionally, despite Chappelle’s reluctance to admit the overlap between Black and trans interests, Black trans women are the most susceptible group, by orders of magnitude, to the harmful impact of rhetoric like Chappelle’s.”

Because of all this, Netflix trans employees and allies protested the special and presented Netflix with a list of demands (among which are increasing investment in trans and non-binary content on Netflix and recruiting trans people, especially BIPOC, for leadership roles in the company).

While Netflix fully supported Chappelle and the special when all of this was happening, now Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos admits he “screwed up”. When Variety asked him if he had any regrets about how the situation was handled, he responded:

“Obviously, I screwed up that internal communication. I did that, and I screwed it up in two ways. First and foremost, I should have led with a lot more humanity. Meaning, I had a group of employees who were definitely feeling pain and hurt from a decision we made. And I think that needs to be acknowledged up front before you get into the nuts and bolts of anything.”

Still, the special is there to stay, as Sarandos says it hasn’t crossed their “own line”:

“Where we’ll definitely draw the line is on something that would intentionally call for physically harming other people or even remove protections. For me, intent to cause physical harm crosses the line, for sure.”

The truth is, trans people, and especially trans people of color, are facing a surge in hate crimes and there are more transgender people reported dead so far than in six full recent years.

This isn’t to say that Chappelle is promoting physical harm, of course not. It’s that he has a big, influential platform that perpetuates negative discourse around the trans community and attracts people that support that discourse. When Chappelle started talking about the North Carolina law that requires a person to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender they were assigned on their birth certificate, a person from the crowd whooped, to which Dave had to shut him down and say it’s not a good law.

So yes, while the LGBTQ+ community is fighting the good fight, as he says in the special, there’s still a long way to go towards achieving tolerance and freedom to be who you are, without fear of repercussions.

And his comedy does not help.

Apple employee says they were fired for their workplace activism

Image source: Business Insider

Apple Maps program manager, Janneke Parrish, was fired this month for deleting files off of her work devices during an ongoing investigation.

Parrish is also a leader of the #AppleToo movement, an employee activist group that publishes stories of Apple employees who’ve experienced discrimination and harassment in the workplace. That affiliation is what Parrish claims was the true reason she was let go.

This wouldn’t be the first time Apple was under fire for firing an employee under questionable circumstances. They also recently fired Ashley Gjøvik, a senior engineering program manager, for allegedly leaking confidential information. 
Gjøvik has been known for openly discussing and even tweeting about allegations of harassment and workplace safety and privacy. One of the more recent privacy concerns regarding Apple’s policies on searching and surveilling work phones were what prompted Apple to open an investigation:

As she’s said for The Verge after being let go:

“When I began raising workplace safety concerns in March, and nearly immediately faced retaliation and intimidation, I started preparing myself for something exactly like this to happen.”

Parrish, on the other hand, was investigated for leaking audio from an all-staff meeting. After the meeting, CEO Tim Cook sent a memo in which he says Apple “does not tolerate disclosures of confidential information” and that “people who leak confidential information do not belong here”.

As Parrish was suspected of leaking this information, Apple confiscated her work devices. Prior to that, she deleted apps with personal information, like Robinhood and Pokémon GO, leading to her termination.

When asked why does she think she was let go, Parrish said for The Verge:

“I believe I was fired in retaliation for speaking out, for my work with #AppleToo, and out of concern that I was organizing to help other employees tell their stories. In my view, this is entirely retaliation for trying to bring Apple’s actions to light and publicly asking the company to do better.”

She’s said for USA Today that the investigation was just Apple looking for reason to fire her:

“I think when I came under investigation that was a pretext to find something that they could use to fire me. Prior to turning in my devices, though, I did remove some of my personal data from these devices, because well, my private conversations…those are not Apple’s business. And similarly, my financial information on apps like Robinhood is not Apple’s business. Because I deleted files from my devices before turning them in, that is the reason that was given for why I was terminated.”

When asked about Parrish’s firing, Apple said:

“We are and have always been deeply committed to creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive workplace. We take all concerns seriously and we thoroughly investigate whenever a concern is raised and, out of respect for the privacy of any individuals involved, we do not discuss specific employee matters.”

It is truly outstanding of Apple to protect the privacy of individuals who’ve already identified themselves publicly. They offered the bare minimum generic response, whilst refusing to delve any deeper into the real issue (and accusations) at hand.

IATSE almost went on a strike that could’ve crippled the entertainment industry

IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) is a labour organization that boasts over 150,000 workers from all aspects of the entertainment industry: television, motion picture, live theater, broadcasting, concerts, and more. They were founded in 1893 with the goal of establishing fair wages and good working conditions for the behind-the-scenes workers: stagehands, hair and makeup artists, designers, production technicians, wardrobe attendants…

Now, when the fairness and the basic humane working conditions of their members were threatened, IATSE wasn’t ready to budge and threatened a strike.

That strike would’ve put the brakes on the whole of the American entertainment industry. TV shows, movie sets, and talk shows would have been forced to go on a prolonged hiatus, and just after the whole business started recovering and working full force in the aftermath of the pandemic.

It all began this summer when the IATSE and AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, with members like Disney and Universal) started negotiations after their previous contract expired.

As Vulture reported, IATSE was asking for:

“…a three-year basic agreement that addresses a variety of grievances, including a higher minimum wage, humane off-hours between shifts, and increased pay for jobs on nonbroadcast streaming shows, which the Los Angeles Times notes are often saddled with rates and residuals that, IATSE claims, are “unfairly discounted” and bereft of pension hours due to their classification as “New Media”.”

The IATSE president, Matthew Loeb, has said about the situation:

“If the employers refuse to engage in substantive negotiations, refuse to change the culture by managing the workflow, and refuse to put human interests before corporate profits, the failure to reach an agreement will be their choice.”

As they couldn’t reach an agreement, IATSE asked its membership to authorize a strike, and there was an 89% voter turnout. Just to put into perspective how real the threat really was and how disruptive it would’ve been if thousands of workers walked off of movie and TV sets.

However, due to a tentative agreement, the threat of a strike was averted. At least for now, as the workers are still opposed to proposed workweek hours.

In his statement, IATSE president Loeb, says this is a Hollywood ending:

“Our members stood firm. We are tough and united. We went toe to toe with some of the richest and most powerful entertainment and tech companies in the world, and we have now reached an agreement with the AMPTP that meets our members’ needs.”

He goes on to say that this should serve as a “model for other workers in the entertainment and tech industries, for workers employed by gaming companies, and for so-called “gig workers”. And concludes that: “Solidarity is more than a word. It’s the way to get things done.”

Truly, as the PR Daily called it, there’s a “labor revolution” happening across the US right now. IATSE isn’t the only one fighting a good fight for their workers’ rights, as there’s a flare-up in strikes across the country in different industries, from construction (John Deere) and food manufacturing (Kellogg’s, Frito-Lay) to healthcare (Kaiser Permanente).

The reason for this so-called revolution is somewhat two-fold.

There’s the “Great Resignation” or “The Big Quit” phenomenon happening, where people are voluntarily and massively quitting their jobs. In fact, last month, a record 4.1 million US workers resigned voluntarily, and CEOs are citing labour shortage as one of the biggest challenges in the upcoming year.

As the previously mentioned Edelman study has shown, the power seems to be somewhat shifting to employees. Indeed, a Fortune study confirms that businesses are fighting to keep their employees:

  • 80% of CEOs surveyed said they’re offering increased WFH flexibility in an attempt to retain and attract talent.
  • 68% of CEOs said they’ve increased their emphasis on corporate purpose.

Somewhat tied into that is the pandemic. While the start of the lockdown was marked by job insecurity, it seemed that this whole period also shifted workers’ perceptions – and priorities. Weighted by pressures, high workload, and work-life (im)balance, employees may have started to rethink their work environments and conditions and what it is that they may be sacrificing in lieu of their jobs.

Hence, the strikes and unwillingness to go with the status quo. Hence, the need for change.

As stressful and scary and turbulent as the last couple of years were, it feels like they collectively woke us all up.

It feels as if we might have been stagnant, afraid to voice our opinions and take a stand against injustices. And then all at once, everyone woke up and said no more.

That’s not to say we’re now living or are any closer to the utopia of a workplace. Far from it. There’s just more resistance in people, a refusal to be treated as disposable. And that resistance is slowly morphing from meek and quiet to loud and assertive.

And to that I say, good for us.

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