Labor union women commit to broadening fight against sexual harassment
Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles Nov. 12, 2017. | Damian Dovarganes / AP

WASHINGTON (PAI)—The Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) is committing itself to broadening the fight against sexual harassment and exploitation on the job.

That includes working with the National Women’s Law Center, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, and other individual unions to spotlight the frequent sexual exploitation of woman workers in industries other than movies and politics, and use of power by supervisors at all levels.

“Sexual harassment is an expression of power and CLUW is committed to putting our collective power to fight for real and measurable progress,” the organization, an AFL-CIO affinity group, said in a statement on its website.

CLUW’s decision came in the wake of the appearance of two prominent woman labor leaders, Ai-Jen Poo of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Saru Jayaraman, at the Jan. 7 Golden Globes Awards—where empowering women to fight such exploitation was a major theme.

In solidarity with exploited women, and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, all but three women at the Golden Globes wore black.

The battle against exploitation was also the clarion call of Oprah Winfrey, who received a lifetime achievement award—ironically named for a racist movie director—and gave a ringing address against exploitation that not only brought the house down, but started speculation that she might run for the Democratic U.S. presidential nomination in 2020.

“The final months of 2017 brought mass national attention to an issue which has plagued working women for decades, that of workplace sexual harassment and assault,” CLUW said. Jayaraman and Jen-Poo shone the spotlight on two low-paying, heavily female professions that feature rampant sexual exploitation: Domestic service and restaurant work.

That “broadens the conversation to the large number of industries where women are subjected to this type of workplace violence,” CLUW said. Then it suggested exploited women can use the National Women’s Law Center as one way to fight back.

“The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund,” which the center runs, “will provide financial support for legal representation and public relations services for some individuals experiencing workplace sexual harassment or related retaliation,” CLUW explained.

CLUW St. Louis Chapter

While workplaces are now scenes of gender-based violence, they can also be sites for “building systems to protect survivors of abuse,” CLUW said. “Thanks largely to the brave women across industries who have been coming forward to boldly share their stories and seek justice,” including determined union women, “we could be in the middle of a welcome culture shift… The time is clearly ripe.”

CLUW also offered other paths for woman workers to take to combat sexual exploitation on the job. One is to “create channels for union members, union staff, and others to report harassment quickly, before it escalates, without having to resort to formal mechanisms.”

“Most women who suffer sexual harassment are not interested in filing complaints or engaging in legal battles,” CLUW explained. “They just want the harassment to stop. Instead of forcing women into formal complaint mechanisms that put the onus on her to prove a case, unions should adopt informal resolution mechanisms to address the offensive conduct when it takes place. Women should be included in developing these resolution mechanisms.”

CLUW also warned unions they must “clean our own house,” and cited recent ousters of top male staffers and supervisors at the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees after female workers documented sexual exploitation and harassment.

Though CLUW did not say so, the federation acted just before its workers’ union filed a grievance over the harassment. And the SEIU official whom President Mary Kay Henry forced to quit led the “Fight for $15 and a Union” campaign—a drive benefiting low-wage, mostly female and often sexually harassed exploited workers.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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