The “Me, Too” and “Time’s up” movements against sexual harassment and gender inequality are not the first time women in Hollywood have stood up for political and social causes. Just ask Jane Fonda, one of the movie industry’s original agitators who has been participating in direct-action, grass-roots canvassing since the 1970s with the Indochina Peace Campaign.
“All the good stuff that’s happened in this country happened because people were on the ground talking to people,” said Fonda. “Talking, but mostly listening, to people.”
The two-time Academy Award-winning actress, producer and author was in San Francisco on Thursday, Jan. 11, to advocate for the One Fair Wage ballot measure in Michigan, which aims to raise the minimum wage in the state to $12 per hour and end the $3.38 separate minimum wage for tipped workers. That morning, she spoke on behalf of the measure at the private San Francisco club the Battery with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United co-founder Saru Jayaraman, one of several female activists who attended the Golden Globes this year and wore black in a show of solidarity with Time’s Up.
“I was supposed to take her to the Golden Globes but I had surgery to remove cancer from my lip,” said Fonda, indicating a bandage. Jayaraman ended up attending the ceremony with Amy Poehler.
Fonda has long been known for her advocacy of causes — including women’s rights and the antiwar movement — starting famously with her involvement in the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1970s. Fonda’s positions even found their way into her films, including the 1980 comedy “Nine to Five,” where Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton famously addressed sexual harassment in the workplace. At her appearance with Jayaraman at the Battery (streamed on the Battery Facebook page), the subject of sexual harassment was front and center.
Jane Fonda speaks at Sproul Plaza in 1978 to promote solar energy.
Fonda said raising the minimum wage for tipped workers was important to her for reasons that point back to the Me, Too movement and Time’s Up’s initiatives: the vulnerability of tipped workers, especially women.
“One of the things that interested me about it was that these are the people who are so vulnerable to sex harassment and sex abuse,” said Fonda. “They’re dependent on the tips to feed themselves and their families.
“There are seven states — California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Minnesota, Nevada and Alaska —where there isn’t a two-tier wage system. … In those seven states, sexual harassment dropped 50 percent,” said Fonda. “What it shows is that when women are on a parity financially with men, they don’t have to put up with it. That’s why the Time’s Up movement that we just launched at the Golden Globes with the women in Hollywood I’ve been working with is not just the issue of sexual harassment; one of our demands is 50/50 by 2020. This issue of financial power and decision-making power is critical.”
Fonda was one of the 400 signers of the letter supporting and introducing Time’s Up.
Both Fonda and Tomlin have already made canvassing trips to the state (Tomlin is a native of Detroit) with Jayaraman to collect the 300,000 signatures needed to get the initiative on the ballot. The women also hosted a fundraiser together later that night. Fonda, who turned 80 in December, said she had been considering retirement in the years leading up to the birthday “but then Trump got elected and it was back to the barricades.”
The partnership with Jayaraman, who’s also the director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley, came about, Fonda said, because “you always want to find out who’s the best and Saru is one of them.”
Amy Poehler and Restaurant Opportunities Center United President Saru Jayaraman arrive for the 75th Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 7, 2018.
Jayaraman pointed out that even though the restaurant industry is the fastest growing in the United States, it’s among the lowest paying, and the tipped-worker wage disparity most strongly affects women.
“It’s a legalized pay inequity in this industry that allows you to pay women about a fifth of what you pay men,” Jayaraman said. “In every other industry, that’s illegal. In our industry, it’s the law.”
Harassment in the restaurant industry, Jayaraman said, was also perpetuated through management that encouraged women to dress “sexy” in tighter and more revealing shirts as a way of encouraging tips.
“Thanks to the Times’s Up and Me Too movements, all the things we’ve been saying about the intense sexual harassment in this industry and the fact that, look, this isn’t just millions of women in this industry who put up with this every day of their lives: 1-in-2 American women has worked in this industry in their lifetime,” Jayaraman said. “This is the first job for most young women in American high school, college or grad school. This is how they learn what’s acceptable and tolerable in the workplace.”
Tony Bravo is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org