New Labor Forum Highlights: Nov. 13th, 2017

The New Labor Forum has a bi-weekly newsletter on current topics in labor, curated by the some of the most insightful scholars and activists in the labor world today. Check out some highlights from the latest edition below.

While important revelations of workplace sexual harassment committed by men in the entertainment industry continue to come to light, we take this occasion to consider the ubiquitous and nearly invisible harassment faced by the women who are most tethered to their jobs and least able to access legal remedies. They labor in fast food joints, hotels, secretarial jobs, farms, hospitals, and night shift janitorial jobs. For a host of reasons, their sexual harassment, assault and rape go largely unreported.* This abuse sometimes motivates them to organize, says New Labor Forum Editorial Member Kate Bronfenbrenner,  “But it can be a reason women don’t organize,” she explains in a Boston Globe article on sexual harassment within unions. Lin Farley, journalist, author, and coiner of the term “sexual harassment,” suggests that employers may also use sexual harassment to fend off union drives: “You have young girls, working-class kids for the most part, trying to get jobs in fast food places, because they have to work. And you have fast food managers systematically using sexual harassment to keep turn-over high, so they don’t have to unionize, they don’t have to give high wages. . . . Its one of the huge scandals going on in America today.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, few studies have been conducted on the scope and nature of these predations that take place, often as a condition of work for women. A recent report on the Chicago hospitality industry, sponsored by UNITE HERE Local 1, is an exception to this dearth of information. The report surveyed 487 women at thirteen Chicagoland hotels, three casinos and one convention center, revealing, for example, that some forms of sexual harassment affect nearly half of all hotel housekeepers. Enabling the details to surface and the women to tell their stories is another piece of the missing reportage, and that is the contribution made by a Frontline documentary, Rape on the Nightshift. The film features the harrowing accounts of immigrant women employees of ABM, the country’s largest janitorial firm, eventually forced to settle one of the largest sexual harassment claims in EEOC history. As the organization Futures Without Violence argues, trade unions were created to fight for dignity and respect for all workers and, although they often fall short of this ideal, unions have a particular responsibility to challenge sexual harassment in the workplace. In their piece, Ana Avendaño from United Way and Linda Seabrook from Futures Without Violence provide a list of 10 things unions can do right now to combat the crisis.”

*Special thanks to KC Wagner, Director of Workplace Issues at Cornell University’s ILR Metro District Office in New York City, for supplying several of the resources listed in this newsletter, and for her decades of work educating labor activists to recognize, understand, and tackle this problem.

Table of Contents

  1. Labor Leaders Confront Sexual Harassment in Their Top Ranks/ Josh Eidelson, Boston Globe
  2. Hands Off Pants On: Sexual Harassment in Chicago’s Hospitality Industry/ UNITE HERE Local 1
  3. Rape on the Night Shift/ FRONTLINE
  4. Top 10 Things Unions Can Do Right Now to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace/ Futures Without Violence, Medium 

Photo by Sharon Brogan via flickr (CC-BY-NC)