Labor leader is out after harassment accusations

Hendry no longer president of state group; whether he will keep his position in local film industry union unclear


Jon Hendry is no longer president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, the AFL-CIO said late Monday (March 12) in a statement days after a former employee filed a lawsuit accusing the prominent local film industry figure of sexual harassment.

The longtime business agent for IATSE Local 480 representing film and television crews, Hendry has been one of the most visible advocates for the labor movement in New Mexico – a voice for progressive causes and a regular presence at the Legislature who has close ties to Democratic leaders in Santa Fe.

But last week, Crista Valdez, a former union employee, claimed in a lawsuit that Hendry had harassed her, touched her inappropriately and attempted to block her from finding other work after she was fired.

Over the weekend, an official at the IATSE -- the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees -- said it had opened an investigation into the claims.

Then on Monday, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO, a national umbrella organization of labor unions, said Hendry is no longer in the position of president of the state federation of labor.

Hendry could not be reached by telephone on Monday afternoon.

The lawsuit and investigation come at a time when sexual harassment in the entertainment industry is under particular scrutiny with the rise of the #MeToo movement.

Unclear, however, is whether Hendry will remain in his position during the investigation and lawsuit as business agent for the local film production union -- a job for which he received a salary of more than $130,000 in 2016, according to U.S. Department of Labor filings.

The president of the local union, which employs Hendry, did not respond to a voicemail message seeking comment on Monday.

Hendry had said in January that he would not seek another term as president of the state Federation of Laborand would leave the post around June. Contacted last week about the allegation against him, he refused to comment, saying: "I'm not talking about anything about a private organization and their functions. Why would I do that? I'm referring everything to my attorney."

A few days after Valdez filed her lawsuit, local union members received an email signed by six film union members urging them to speak out about "abuse of power, discrimination, sexual abuse, harassment, verbal abuse, bullying, unresolved grievances, job loss due to whistle-blowing etc."

"Fear of reprisal prevents many people from sharing these stories," said the email, obtained by The New Mexican. "It's time to overcome that fear and tell your stories."

State Democratic Party Chairman Richard Ellenberg, who acknowledged he and Hendry are co-owners of a rental property located near the Center for Peace and Justice in Santa Fe, where the film union and political party are headquartered, said he's hesitant to rush to judgment about the allegations against Hendry.

Asked his reaction last week when he heard of Valdez's accusations, Ellenberg said the claim didn't feel "credible" to him.

"It's not something I would expect anyone to accuse him of, let's put it that way," he said. "I think it needs to unfold more, and I have some information about the allegations in this case that I'm told would cast some of this in a very different light, but I'll have to leave it to Mr. Hendry and his attorneys to decide how they want to deal with that."

House Speaker Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, said he has done occasional legal work for film union members since becoming a state representative in 2008. He said he has no reason to question the validity of Valdez's claims. But added he was "shocked" by the accusation and hasn't previously heard reports that Hendry abused his power.

"I have no reason to think the allegations aren't true," Egolf said, "but that doesn't mean I have witnessed it or had anyone say anything of this nature to me about Jon Hendry."

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican­.com. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford.