Steve Wynn and the Economic Inequality Behind #MeToo

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[Compare this story with the one posted right after this, and ask yourself how different things are in the 'developed' world. *RON*]]

Brittany Bronson, New York Times, 29 January 2018

Stephen Wynn, chairman and chief executive of Wynn Resorts, at his Las Vegas office in 2008.CreditLaura Rauch for The New York Times

It’s no surprise to those of us who live in Las Vegas that Steve Wynn’s day of reckoning has come. Mr. Wynn, the casino mogul, who bears that waxy look we associate with Las Vegas wealth — tanned skin, coifed hair and unnaturally white teeth — has been accused of sexual misconduct.

In the recent cultural movement during which many powerful men have been publicly accused of sexual harassment, Mr. Wynn is the first who is a C.E.O. of a publicly traded company in an industry that primarily employs hourly wage earners: casino workers, waitresses, housekeepers, and others who punch a clock every workday.

Compared with his accusers, Mr. Wynn is extraordinarily powerful. He has 11,000 employees in Las Vegas alone and has solidified his influence with millions of dollars in political contributions. The allegations against him should remind us of the vast economic disparities that make low-paid women especially vulnerable to misconduct by their wealthy bosses.

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal provided a detailed report of Mr. Wynn’s purported patterns of sexual misconduct against female employees. Mr. Wynn has denied the allegations. According to the report, he exposed himself in front of women, in an on-site office, who were assigned to provide him spa services. He’s accused of repeatedly pressuring them into unwanted sexual acts.

I’ve already heard people suggesting that my city is to blame for Mr. Wynn — that the Las Vegas Strip’s overtly sexualized culture enables powerful men like him to maintain their patterns of sexual harassment. That may have contributed, but when it comes to women facing workplace abuse, another dynamic does just as much harm: the culture of income inequality.

The report of Mr. Wynn’s misconduct reminds me, a casino worker, of every time a manager stepped across the line or a V.I.P. guest’s behavior was excused because of his financial status. Here, low-income workers are made to feel indebted to the rich men like Mr. Wynn who pay their wages. In a city with little economic diversity, good middle-class jobs like those offered by Wynn Resorts are difficult to find.

The women coming forward were lower-paid employees at the times of the alleged harassment. They were hospitality workers trained to be welcoming and smiling, and to always strive to say yes. Most of Mr. Wynn’s accusers had behind-the-scenes roles like food and beverage servers, manicurists and receptionists, employees whom executives often view as easily replaceable.

It is a similar approach taken by Harvey Weinstein, who preyed on female actors when they had little power — before their Hollywood debuts or successes. What many powerful sexual harassers seem to know is that when women don’t have the economic agency or career security to speak out, they often will choose not to.

There is a reported $7.5 million settlement between Mr. Wynn and his former manicurist, which prohibits her from speaking publicly about her experience. Many working-class and low-income women who never report misconduct are informally making similar deals, on a much smaller scale. Each day at work, they may decide to remain silent about sexual harassment for the sake of their families and their own sense of safety, in exchange for a much-needed paycheck from someone who has astronomical wealth.

It is exceptionally brave for any low-income woman who speaks out, but there is a reason Mr. Wynn’s accusers have remained unnamed: They do not have a legion of Twitter followers to mobilize around them, or people of power to affirm them, or forthcoming movies to support them financially. Socioeconomic status plays a significant role in their ability to say, “Me too.”

The majority of our wage workforce is women, like those who brought allegations against Mr. Wynn. Women are the most common victims of sexual harassment. Without ensuring that all women have a living wage and the right to unionize — things that provide the security an employee needs before she even thinks about reporting misconduct — we will never end the problem.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wynn will be fine. That’s no surprise. Our current president offers just one example of the way men above a certain income bracket seem to avoid career-ending consequences for accusations — or even videotaped admissions — of sexual misconduct. Mr. Wynn, whose fortune will buy him the best attorneys, is likely to remain comfortably and safely at the top. He may lose some money or no longer be invited onto Fox News, and on Saturday he resigned his position as finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. But the wealth he already has means that unlike his accusers, he’ll never have to worry about making enough to get by. It’s that kind of financial security that creates empowerment.

When I drive to my workplace on the Las Vegas Strip, I still have to see the names “Trump” and “Wynn” crowning the towers that form our skyline. For years to come, many women will still have to see those names printed on their uniforms, their work identification badges, and their paychecks.