On Monday, Feb. 22, AAJA Philadelphia board members, along with leaders from NAHJ Philadelphia and PABJ, met with Philadelphia SAG-AFTRA Executive Director Stephen Leshinski, President Sam Clover and national SAG-AFTRA Director of Diversity Ellen Huang. During the meeting, we discussed our concerns with how Philadelphia SAG-AFTRA handled a recent incident in which a local board member posted and defended a racist image, and did not resign until his actions began to draw wider public attention several weeks later.
AAJA Philly urged SAG-AFTRA leaders to acknowledge how the lack of transparency or quick disciplinary action undermined the union’s credibility among members. We also asked them to create policies to ensure that if a similar incident occurs in the future, the local will be empowered to immediately initiate a disciplinary process.
Philadelphia SAG-AFTRA acknowledged that their initial statement about the board member’s racist post was inadequate, that their handling of the situation revealed a breakdown of internal processes and that they need to review how they communicate about such incidents in the future. They pledged to create a code of conduct, and potentially a social media policy, for their board members to prevent a similar incident from occurring again. They are consulting AAJA Philly, NAHJ Philly and PABJ about how to best develop these policies.
They will also work to make their members better aware of the union’s internal disciplinary process, including how to initiate a complaint if a member observes discriminatory or hateful behavior. They hope to do all of these things before their upcoming board elections this summer.
Philadelphia SAG-AFTRA had previously announced that Lyman Chen would fill the vacant board position for the remainder of the term. AAJA Philly is grateful that Lyman, a talented actor with a strong business background, wanted to join the board and help tackle these issues. He knows some of our AAJA members and even attended the 2017 AAJA national convention in Philadelphia. We look forward to working with him and the rest of the board moving forward.
AAJA Philly is glad that Philadelphia SAG-AFTRA is working to address the failures that have undermined its members’ trust in the organization. While AAJA Philly will continue to hold local institutions accountable, we know the best way to serve our members — and the broader AAPI community — is to work together, not against each other. We are looking at opportunities to collaborate with Philadelphia SAG-AFTRA on events or other programs. Additionally, we are always available to provide guidance for any media organization, association or union needing to respond to anti-Asian racism.
AAJA Philly board:
Tim Tai, president
Hannah Chinn, secretary
Jess Bond, vice president for student engagement
Bethany Ao, national board representative
*Note: Treasurer Juliana Reyes recused herself from this meeting because she has reported on this incident.