organizing to fight sexual harassment

Earlier this month, I attended the convening launch of National COSH’s new Sexual Harassment Action Network, and heard countless stories of women fighting sexual harassment in a variety of industries. It’s good to see that this issue is finally getting the attention it deserves from the national labor movement, and equally good to see a combination of worker center leaders, legal advocates, and union staff joining together to talk about how to fight the kind of harassment that can make workplaces unwelcoming for those who identify as women or non-binary.

Fighting sexual harassment hasn’t always been a top priority for the entire labor movement. Too many women have been told to grin & bear it, for too long. Too many unions have felt that their legal duty, in cases of member-on-member sexual harassment, has been to defend the harasser not the victim. While unions do have a responsibility to make sure that every member’s due process rights are protected, it is not incumbent on the union to defend from appropriate discipline a member who did something wrong.

Presenters at the convening introduced the concept of victim-centered reporting, and talked about the need to press employers to make sure that their workers were safe. SEIU Justice for Janitors members discussed their fight to pass AB 1978, which puts requirements on cleaning companies to do training to prevent sexual harassment & assault, and showed this moving video about their fast, aimed at pressuring Governor Jerry Brown to sign that bill.

Unite HERE also showcased their work to bargain protections for housekeepers, who are often working alone in rooms with men who are strangers, into all their hotel contracts around the country, as well as to protect servers from sexual harassment at the hands of patrons.

COSH is asking folks who are supportive to take the “Our Turn” Pledge, and to commit to changing the power dynamics that allow harassment to thrive.

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