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Stopping Sexual Harassment
As a union, our job is to protect the rights and working conditions of the people in our workplaces. Sexual harassment is illegal and probably a violation of the contract as well - and it's our job to respond when we see it happening.
Sexual harassment is a violation of most union contracts and is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A steward's job is to protect the rights and working conditions of all people in our workplaces.
Sexual harassment is one of the leading forms of discrimination that women workers face. One survey of women workers showed that 56% had faced some sort of sexual harassment at work during their lives. Sexual harassment and discrimination are illegal under most union contracts and it is illegal under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a law that UE fought to get passed. In 1980, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidelines defining sexual harassment. It is defined as:
(1) unwelcome sexual advances; or (2) requests for sexual favors; or (3) any other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment can occur through looks, touches, jokes, innuendoes, gestures, or direct propositions.
Such conduct constitutes sexual harassment when (a) submission is made a term or condition of employment; or (b) submission is used as a basis for employment decisions; or most broadly (c) the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance, or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.
Under the law, men as well as women can be victims of sexual harassment, but in reality it is women who are affected 98% of the time.
So, in short, sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance or a hostile work atmosphere based upon sex. The key to all this is, if a woman says "no" or "stop it", then actions that occur after that probably are sexual harassment. The "no" does not have to verbal either. If a boss keeps demanding that a woman worker go out with him, and she walks away from him each time he does it, then that should be taken for "no". For him to keep bothering her is sexual harassment.
What Makes the Boss Guilty?
The employer is liable for the actions of its employees involving sexual harassment under certain conditions. These include the following:
- The sexual conduct was unsolicited and unwelcome. People can still talk about sex or make jokes with each other as long as both parties don't mind it and they keep it to themselves. A hostile work environment can be created by the language or actions of two consenting people if other workers find the language or behavior offensive.
- For "hostile working conditions," the conduct must be severe or continuous.
- The employer or someone in authority must know that a worker is being harassed. If the employer fails to take action to stop sexual harassment then their penalties can be greater. The "higher" up the boss is who is doing the harassment then the greater is the company responsibility.
What About Workers Harassing Other Workers?
Some Legal Terms
Quid Pro Quo is Latin for "this for that". This simply means demanding something from a woman in return for giving her something. "If you go out with me I'll make sure you get overtime" is something a boss may say to a woman worker.
Hostile environment is any unwelcome sexual conduct that "unreasonably interferes with an individuals job performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment". This type of harassment also includes cases where a boss harasses woman because he doesn't want them working on certain jobs, or he allows men to harass the women to get them "off of the mens' jobs".
As a rank and file union we must make it clear that we want to make working conditions better for all workers, and therefore we cannot tolerate one worker or a group of workers making life miserable for other workers. This is not union behavior.
The union's obligation is to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and gets a fair hearing. If the union determines in good faith that a member was wrong and was harassing another member, then the union has no obligation to defend the harasser.
Our policy is that workers get education on why their behavior is wrong. Many time this is enough to stop them bothering another worker. If we can handle this inside the union, that is the best approach, but if a worker after being "educated" continues to be abusive then we must take steps to protect the member who is being harassed. Our mission is to "unite all workers on an industrial basis, and rank and file control, regardless of craft, age, sex, nationality, race, creed or political beliefs and pursue at all times a policy of aggressive struggle to improve our working conditions."
Every instance of sexual harassment will be unique ... but we've got some suggestions for developing thoughtful responses ...
Every instance of sexual harassment will be unique and creating appropriate responses will require the Steward to be thoughtful, sensitive, and resourceful. Below are a few suggestion that should be kept in mind when dealing with sexual harassment.
- The Union should make all members aware that sexual harassment is illegal and that the union will fight on behalf of its members to stop it.
- Make the employer post notices that sexual harassment is illegal.
- Many women are not sure who to turn to when they are being harassed. The union can appoint several stewards (some of whom should be women) who are well known and respected by the members to be a special committee to deal with sexual harassment. Make this committee known to all workers.
- If the harasser is a boss (or an unrepentant union member), have everyone - men too - in the department wear stickers or buttons with messages like the one at the top of this page.
- When dealing with the issue in grievance meetings, make sure the victim isn't harassed again by the company by being made to recount what happened in front of many bosses. Make the company show some sensitivity.
- Make the harasser pay for the crime, not the victim. Too often, the boss's solution is to move the victim off of her job to "keep her away from Joe". Make the employer fire or move the boss who was the harasser, not the worker.
- Put the employer on notice that illegal behavior is going on. Be the buffer between the victim and the employer. Don't let a boss harass a worker into withdrawing their complaint.
- In cases where a union member is the harasser, try to make them stop before going to the boss (see #4). Get the union committee involved if the worker doesn't understand what they are doing is wrong.