The three best and most significant decisions of Herb Harton’s life were getting married, having children and joining the union.
“I attribute my success to those three decisions,” said Harton, the North Carolina-based 1st AC. “Those are the gifts that keep on giving.”
In his nearly 33 years as a dues-paying union member, Harton himself has continued to give. He spent 12 years as a member of Local 600’s Election Committee, also serving as the Local’s Regional Steward for North Carolina and the state’s political director. Outside of Local 600, he is the president of the Southeastern North Carolina Central Labor Council.
600LIVE! recently spoke to Harton about his life as a union member.
600LIVE!: Tell us about your early years in the business.
Herb Harton: I came home from Vietnam at the close of 1969 and started working in the Charlotte North Carolina film community. I worked freelance non-union for 19 years.
600LIVE!: You joined the union in 1989. What were the circumstances of your becoming a union member?
HH: I was the first person in North Carolina to join the union, and I joined under threat from the local producers. The majority of productions were non-union and I couldn’t afford to trade steady work for an occasional union job. Then one day, the Executive Director from IATSE Local 644 walked into a camera truck where I was loading mags. The others immediately dispersed because they had been warned not to talk to him, but I stood my ground. I agreed to join the union at the earliest opportunity.
600LIVE!: Tell us about your “Resolution on the Value of Organized Labor.”
HH: Three years ago, I submitted my resolution (“Resolution on the Value of Organized Labor to the U.S. Economy and the Need to Stop the War on Unions and Come to the Aid of Organized Labor and Working People”) at the local Democratic Precinct meeting. It went up the ranks and eventually advanced to the North Carolina Democratic Party Executive Committee of which I’m a member. Now it’s a plank in the Democratic Party platform. I was appointed the leader of the 7th Congressional Democratic Labor Party Caucus for my work with the resolution.
600LIVE!: What sort of advice do you give to new members entering the business?
HH: Develop a work ethic that everyone recognizes. When I started, there were people who were better trained, better looking and better connected than me. There were people who were smarter and had more money, but I would not allow anyone to be more dedicated and responsible than me. I worked shows where I was the first person to get there in the morning and the last person to leave after wrap. I always knew that my work directly affected all the other members of the crew.
600LIVE!: You have strong feelings about the importance of calling in jobs. Can you discuss them?
HH: In 33 years, I have never lost a single job because I called it in, but I have gotten better wages and benefits that would have been denied had I not called the job in. Calling in your jobs should apply to features, commercials and other day playing productions. Union or non-union, large or small, call them in when you hear about them. It’s also a good idea to routinely forward or take a picture of your call sheet and send it to your Local 600 business agent. When you call your job in, you are helping your business agent to guarantee your right to benefits, safety protocols and staffing.
600LIVE!: You have taken COVID safety certification. Why do you feel that has been valuable?
HH: That’s another win/win situation. COVID training can be completed online in under an hour. It’s easy to take, it’s free and you will receive a small stipend for your time. Signatory production companies are now mandated to make sure that all hires have had COVID training, but even if they weren’t, the information presented in this training course can save your life.
600LIVE!: Why do you feel it is important for union members to stay politically involved?
HH: There are organizations which are well-organized and well-funded that are working to make sure that unions are marginalized and finally eradicated. Just remember that we have never earned a single benefit just because we deserved it. Unions have had to fight for every single benefit that we enjoy today. We have to stay politically involved to control the evolution of politics and make sure that they favor unions and working families.