Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘#MeToo’

Senators are letting themselves off the hook with sexual harassment bill, women's rights groups say

Friday, May 25th, 2018

Sexual harassment in Congress is a scandal—and it would probably be a lot more of one if Congress hadn’t written its own rules for dealing with allegations in secret. But since the #MeToo movement has shined a light on sexual harassment, the House of Representatives has managed to pass a decent bill. The Senate … hasn’t, and the bill it has coming up for a vote is not the answer. The American Civil Liberties Union, Equal Pay Today, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center, and Public Citizen are calling on the Senate to strengthen its bill.

Their letter points to serious weaknesses in the Senate bill, including that it doesn’t call for an independent investigator, instead putting approval of settlements in the hands of the ethics committees of both the House and the Senate to sign off on if the settlement is because of a member of Congress’s own actions:

“This provision appears to provide an opportunity for a Member who has settled a claim to avoid personal accountability and to be absolved from reimbursing the taxpayers,” the groups wrote in the letter.

Additionally, the Senate bill fails to hold members liable for discrimination settlements:

“A Member who has committed wrongdoing should be liable for all damages negotiated in a settlement or awarded by a court; they should not be shielded from the consequences of their actions,” they wrote.

Seriously. Time for Congress to be held accountable—and the way for that to happen is for Congress to write its own rules to demand accountability.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on May 25, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

The Supreme Court’s Latest Anti-Worker Decision Deals a Major Blow to the #MeToo Movement

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

After months of sustained public pressure targeting sexual harassment in workplaces across the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday significantly undermined the power of workers to collectively challenge discrimination and abuse at the hands of their employers. In a 5-4 decision on the Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis casethe Court ruled that private-sector employees do not have the right to enter into class-action lawsuits to challenge violations of federal labor laws.

“[T]he Supreme Court has taken away a powerful tool for women to fight discrimination at work,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, in a press statement. “Instead of banding together with coworkers to push back against sexual harassment, pay discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, racial discrimination, wage theft and more, employees may now be forced behind closed doors into an individual, costly—and often secret—arbitration process. This will stack the deck in favor of the employer.”

The case concerns tens of thousands of employees at three companies—Epic Systems Corp., Ernst & Young LLP and Murphy Oil USA Inc.—who were forced to sign away their right to join class-action lawsuits against their employers as a precondition to being hired.

The workers argued that their right to file class-action lawsuits over alleged wage and hours violations is protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which was passed in 1935 to offer employees greater leverage to collectively challenge unjust treatment on the job. But, echoing the employers’ arguments, Justice Neil Gorsuch—who was appointed by Trump—wrote in the majority opinion that the 1925 Federal Arbitration Act supersedes the NLRA.

The ruling means that workers do not have the right to take bosses to court over alleged violations of federal labor laws. It also means bosses can force workers to arbitrate complaints individually instead of collectively, which overwhelmingly slants in favor of employers. This ruling is poised to impact a large swath of the U.S. workforce, where 41 percent of private-sector employees have already signed away their right to class-action legislation.

These workers include those who are pushing against wage and hour violations, as well as fighting patterns of racism, sexism and other forms of harassment in the workplace. Workers’ rights advocates say they are concerned that the ruling could potentially be detrimental to the #MeToo movement, which has relied on power in numbers to confront sexual assault in workplaces from Hollywood to tomato fields. Some warn that, for those facing sexual harassment in the workplace, the choice between employer-controlled arbitration or continuing on in silence is a choice between two bad options.

“#MeToo has shown us that the abuse of power is not one ‘rotten apple in a barrel’: It is widespread and systemic, especially in low-wage industries,” Palak Shah, social innovations director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told In These Times. “We need checks on power—like collective action—to counter abuses of power when they happen. While unchecked power imbalances exist between employers and workers, we can be sure abuses like sexual harassment will continue.”

Arbitration is often kept secret and, employees frequently foot the bill for the arbitration process. Experts warn that this secrecy would protect employers responsible for harmful work environments by not allowing space for workers to collectively address widespread patterns of harassment.

“In the case of sexual harassment, say there was a group of employees who claimed that they’d been sexually harassed, they can’t proceed together. They’d have to go individually [to arbitration] and they can’t go to court,” Alexander Colvin, a labor relations scholar at Cornell University, told In These Times.

According to Graves, the stakes are “particularly high” for women who “often face discrimination that is difficult to detect, like pay discrimination, or suffer from sexual harassment and face retaliation for reporting it.”

Writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued that the 1925 law exemplified a different age for labor relations, and that employees should not be forced into “take-it-or-leave-it” agreements in order to find gainful employment.

The case is one of several currently being considered by the Supreme Court that could severely undermine workers’ rights. Much like the pending decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which could prevent unions from collecting union dues from non-union members, it furthers the ongoing anti-worker agenda pushed by the Trump administration.

“As mandatory arbitration is forced on growing numbers of employees as a condition of employment,” Graves added, “the Supreme Court should strengthen rather than undermine the rights of workers to challenge insidious and often widespread civil rights violations.”

 About the Authors: Rima Parikh is a summer 2018 editorial intern at In These Times and an incoming MSJ candidate at Northwestern University. Tanner Howard is a freelance journalist and In These Times editorial intern. They’re also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Women of color face barriers in sexual harassment claims

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

Women of color are more likely to experience sexual harassment, yet less likely to report it.

The dynamic is true across all sectors, including state and federal government jobs. The increased awareness and sympathy in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp doesn’t always translate when the victim of sexual harassment is a minority woman.

What needs to change to make it safe and viable for women of color to report harassment?

Minority women are still leery of coming forward

Numerous surveys and studies indicate women of color experience sexual harassment at a higher rate than white women. This is especially true in low-wage occupations such as food service and housekeeping. So why don’t formal harassment complaints reflect this?

  • Women of color are both fetishized and marginalized, making them frequent targets for harassment. This is especially true if they are isolated in the workplace. I’m the only non-white woman in my whole department. They worry that co-workers or supervisors will not back them up.
  • Dominant culture stereotypes can inhibit investigation of workplace harassment. Asian women are submissive. Black women are dramatic. Latinas are hotheads. Such preconceptions can skew how sexual harassment complaints are perceived and processed by management or HR.
  • Cultural norms also influence women from minority communities, including what they consider harassment and whether to report it. We don’t snitch on our own. You should take it as a compliment. Our people don’t rock the boat. No one will take a black woman seriously.

These external and internal messages get in the way of holding harassers accountable. Instead of focusing on the sexual harassment, the victim is more likely to be doubted or “handled” if she is a woman of color.

More to lose, less to gain

Women from racial and ethnic minorities are already at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring and advancement. Like all women, they have to weigh the risks and rewards when deciding whether to blow the whistle on harassment. But women of color are less likely to be believed and supported, even within the current environment to expose sexual harassment. According to The Alliance, for every black woman who reports a sexual assault, there are 15 black victims who don’t even bother to go to police.

Women of color are also more likely to suffer retaliation after reporting sexual harassment – transfers, poor performance reviews, denial of security clearance, or even termination. And so the self-dialogue becomes how much harassment they are willing to put up with.

You do not have to fight this battle alone.

The inequality won’t change overnight, but the needle is moving in the right direction. Women of color do have legal recourse to stop workplace sexual harassment and pursue civil damages. An employment law attorney can help document the harassing behavior, identify allies (or reluctant witnesses) and initiate a formal sexual harassment complaint through the EEOC or other channels.

This blog was originally published at Passman & Kaplan on May 4, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

Labor Department tells senators it’s too ‘complex’ to collect sexual harassment data

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

The Labor Department told Democratic senators that it can’t collect data on sexual harassment in the workplace because it would be “complex and costly.” On Monday, Democratic senators dismissed that justification.

In January, 22 Democratic senators sent a letter to labor department officials requesting the department act on studying sexual harassment. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) signed the letter and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and others co-signed the letter, according toBuzzFeed.

Referring to the #MeToo movement, the letter noted that “there has not been an exact accounting of the extent of this discrimination and the magnitude of its economic costs on the labor force. We therefore request your agencies work to collect this data.”

CNN was the first to obtain the Labor Department’s response, which was addressed to Gillibrand. The department’s letter read, “There are a number of steps involved in any new data collection, including consultation with experts, cognitive testing, data collection training, and test collection. Once test collection is successful, there is an extensive clearance process before data collection can begin.”

The department went on to say that employers would have difficulty providing the information they’re requesting and that requesting additional information for the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey “may have detrimental effects on survey response.”

The letter mentions “alternative sources of information on sexual harassment,” such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, but senators sent a letter in response that essentially balked at that recommendation.

“…the Department is surely aware that not all sexual harassment rises to the level of a violent criminal act and therefore would not be captured by this survey,” the letter read.

Senators called the justifications for declining to work on the issue “wholly inadequate” and wrote that since they “hope that the Department would always consider rigorous methods inherent in data collection,” the department’s mention of its complexity should not justify the decision to not study sexual harassment. Senators also mentioned that the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board did this type of data collection and analysis in the ’80s and that “Surely the government’s capacity to collect this data has only become more sophisticated over the past several decades.”

Senators from both parties asked the labor secretary to take some kind of action on sexual harassment at an April Senate panel on the budget. According to Bloomberg, at the time, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta “expressed willingness to act.”

Many researchers have looked at the economic cost to harassed women themselves. Heather McLaughlin, an assistant professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University, has studied the career effects of sexual harassment and found that a lot of the women who quit jobs because of sexual harassment changed careers and chose fields where they expected less harassment. But that meant that some of those fields were female-dominated, and many female-dominated fields pay less. Some women were more interested in working by themselves after the harassment.

” … but certainly they’re being shuffled into fields that are associated with lower pay because of the harassment,” McLaughlin told Marketplace.

People who have been harassed also experience effects on their physical and mental health, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of sexual harassment can also experience headaches, muscle aches, and high blood pressure.

Fifty-four percent of U.S. women said they received inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances from men, with 23 percent saying those advances came from men who had influence over their careers and 30 percent coming from male co-workers, according to a 2017 ABC News/Washington Post poll.

“Right now, we don’t know how many gifted workers and innovators were unable to contribute to our country because they were forced to choose between working in a harassment-free workplace and their career,” Gillibrand wrote in her January letter to the department.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president under investigation for sexual harassment

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

John Bailey, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is under investigation for allegations of sexual harassment, according to an exclusive Variety report published Friday. A probe into the academy president’s alleged misconduct was immediately opened after the academy received three claims of sexual harassment against Bailey.

In a painful twist of irony, Bailey’s tenure has been marked by the #MeToo movement, which forever changed the way the academy approaches misconduct by its members, almost using membership as a tool to punish those accused of sexual assault and/or harassment.

Just 10 days after The New York Times published its bombshell report on film producer Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual assault and harassment, the academy voted to expel him from the organization. In spite of this, however, many prominent actors themselves accused of sexual harassment or assault — such as Casey Affleck, Bill Cosby, and Roman Polanski — remain members of the academy.

In January, the academy proposed a new standards of conduct as part of the organization’s attempt to respond to the sexual harassment and assault scandals.

“The Academy’s goal is not to be an investigative body, but rather ensure that when a grievance is made, it will go through a fair and methodical process,” CEO Dawn Hudson said in an email sent to members.

The standards outlined how the academy will approach sexual misconduct allegations going forward. According to a document sent to members, individuals will be able to report misconduct through an online form the academy plans to launch in the summer of 2018, or by phone to the academy’s membership department. The allegations must be substantiated by evidence, and will be subject to a review by the academy’s membership committee. If the allegations are deemed serious enough, the committee may refer the issue to the board of governors, which can then vote to suspend or expel a member.

But Bailey’s alleged actions put the academy in the precarious position of choosing how to handle potential misconduct at the organization’s highest level. Should the academy choose to let Bailey go, Lois Burwell, a veteran makeup artist, will fill the role until the next election in July.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 16, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

Women in male-dominated workplaces more likely to be mistreated

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Nearly half of American women work in places where they outnumber the men. But for millions of other women, employment in a male-dominated workplace can be stressful, dangerous and harmful to their careers.

A Pew Research Center survey confirmed that women in majority-male workplaces are more likely to experience gender discrimination and sexual harassment. The mistreatment is often worst in traditionally male jobs and workplaces without women in positions of authority.

Gender ratios are linked to gender discrimination

The Pew Research survey was conducted in 2017 before the #MeToo movement put a national spotlight on sexual harassment. The research gave credence to a known phenomenon:

  • Sex discrimination – In majority-male workplaces, women were more likely to say they (a) are paid less than men, (b) are treated as not competent, (c) received less support from leadership than their male counterparts, and (d) suffered small but repeated slights based on their gender.
  • Sexual harassment – Women in majority-male workplaces were more likely to say that they had personally been sexually harassed (28 percent). Harassment occurs even in female-dominated occupations, but both men and women said it was less of a problem in those work settings.

Fire station lawsuit is “Exhibit A” of boys’ club mentality

The Justice Department has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the City of Houston. The suit alleges years of egregious harassment against three female firefighters – the only female firefighters – who worked at Houston’s Station 54 firehouse. The lawsuit describes male firefighters behaving badly in a concerted campaign: Racial epithets. Death threats. Ostracizing. Juvenile pranks. Mocking a woman’s dead daughter. And literally marking their territory in the women’s dorm – urinating on toilet seats, urinating on the carpet and defecating in the women’s toilet after covering up the flushing sensor.

It’s definitely a guy thing

While the misconduct alleged at Station 54 is over the top, it fits a pattern. Gender discrimination, a hostile work environment and sexual harassment are often worst in traditionally male occupations: firefighting, dock work, auto repair, law enforcement, computer programming, engineering, construction and landscaping, to name a few. The higher the ratio of men, the more pervasive or brazen the misconduct is likely to be.

The Pew survey noted that women in male-dominated workplaces do not differ much from women in gender-balanced or majority-female workplaces. They have similar demographics as far as age, education, race and ethnicity. The variable is male attitudes toward their female co-workers and subordinates. Many men in majority-male fields view women not as equals but intruders. Management sets a poor example or downplays complaints.

In the #MeToo era, fewer women are willing to put up with the status quo.

This blog was originally published at Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on March 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

Ready to fight sexual harassment? Call Tina Tchen.

Friday, March 9th, 2018

The Grammys had a sexism problem.

Perhaps you’ve heard: That only one woman, Alessia Cara, won a televised award at this year’s ceremony; that the only female nominee for album of the year, Lorde, was not offered a solo performance slot, even though all her fellow male nominees were; that sexual harassment and violence were as inescapable in the music industry as an earworm from which even the biggest pop stars on the planet were not immune; that the numbers were in, and the numbers were damning, making self-evident the truth that had been lurking all this time by revealing that women comprise just 12 percent of the total music creator population.

At first, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said that women who want to win more Grammys — as if the golden trophies at the end of the misogyny rainbow were, alone, the issue at hand — could solve this problem all by themselves if they were just willing to “step up.” Amid calls for his resignation, Portnow slid back from his comments, and after his apologies were made, he announced the creation of an independent task force “to review every aspect of what we do as an organization and identify where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.”

And then he called Tina Tchen.

Because if you are really ready to reckon with the sexism in your industry — that is to say, you realize it’s not merely some minor inconvenience but rather a systemic, rampant, seemingly incontrovertible crisis — then that is what you do.

Tchen is who Hollywood turned to when, in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations and its aftershocks, it was well past time to get organized and act. Tchen is a co-founder of Time’s Up, the formal Hollywood initiative to combat sexual harassment and assault within and outside the entertainment industry, which launched on New Year’s Day. She’s leading the legal defense fund, which provides subsidized legal and PR support to those who have experienced sexual harassment or violence in the workplace.

She is the attorney corporations employ when they are ready to do more than the perfunctory sexual harassment trainings, when they realize that sexism has crossed a line — namely, the bottom line, because a company that cannot attract and retain women is one that cannot complete in a global marketplace — and want to change.

Tchen was Michelle Obama’s chief of staff and, before that, an assistant to President Barack Obama. (Tchen affectionately refers to the former FLOTUS as her “forever boss.” No offense, 44.) She spent a couple years as the director of the White House Office on Public Engagement, then worked with the president to create the White House Council on Women and Girls, on which she served as executive director. And all of that followed a 23-year legal career in which she rose through the ranks to become a partner in corporate litigation at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the firm she joined after she graduated from Northwestern Law School and went to undergrad at some school outside Boston.

What might appear at first glance to be a bug in a resume longer than a CVS receipt (zero experience in the music industry) is, according to Portnow, a feature: “The fact that she lacks business ties to the music industry ensures her objectivity as chair,” he said in a statement. “In this moment, the Recording Academy can do more than reflect what currently exists; we can help lead the industry into becoming the inclusive music community we want it to be -— a responsibility that the board and I take seriously. Tina Tchen is an accomplished advocate for women and an impact-oriented leader versed in convening disparate stakeholders for a common purpose.”

A week before the Recording Academy announced Tchen’s appointment, Tchen met with ThinkProgress to talk about her work with the Time’s Up legal defense fund and combatting institutionalized sexism, something she has been doing all her life. Literally, all her life: When she was born, her father, who immigrated to the United States from China with Tchen’s mother, was in denial that he didn’t get the son he’d hoped for and insisted Tchen was a boy for days. (He came around.)

We spoke at the Washington D.C. outpost of her new firm, Buckley Sandler, in the World Wildlife Fund building, a few floors above President Obama’s post-White House office. Arriving especially polished for an ordinary Tuesday afternoon — “I did a little CNN on Time’s Up earlier today,” she explained, laughing. “That’s why I have CNN hair and makeup.” — Tchen dug into how the Time’s Up legal defense fund will work, what tackling workplace sexual harassment at work really entails, and why, in spite of everything, she does not think the solution is to burn it all down. As she sees it, this very moment “is probably the best opportunity we’ve had in generations to make these changes.”

I want to start with the latest data, that you’ve heard from over 1000 people–

1600.

And you’ve raised over $20 million. I’d like to talk through that because it seems both incredible and like a logistical challenge.

Right. Logistical challenge! (laughs) We knew once we launched on January 1st that there would be calls. But I’m not sure we realized how big a volume and across how many industries. The amazing thing about the 1600 requests is they cover, like, 60 different industries. From construction to police officers to hotel workers to government employees. So it really does validate something many of us have thought for a long time: This is very pervasive, and unreported, and it doesn’t know any boundaries in terms of geography or age or even gender or industry. That’s proving to be the case.

“Sexual harassment is the symptom at the end of the road, and the road starts with: What do our workplaces really look like?”

So we’ve done several things, knowing there would be a lot of volume. The National Women’s Law Center, which is the home of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, is staffing up. So there will be dedicated staff. In the meantime, my law firm, Buckley Sanders, and several others, have been sending lawyers over there to help answer the phones and help do the screenings, so that we have the capacity. Because we knew we wanted to answer the requests as they were coming in. So of the 1600 requests, over 1,000 have already got information about lawyers they can call, and they’re in the process of getting representation.

So you’re essentially the field office and ultimately their cases are handled locally?

It’s more than that. We’re really a clearinghouse. We’re a place centrally that people can call if they need help. We’re a place centrally where attorneys can volunteer to take cases, either at a pro bono or reduced fee. And we serve as the clearinghouse as somebody calls for help, figuring out, who are the three or four lawyers in that geography who we can give that client that information?

One of our base principles is, we want the clients to always be able to make their own decisions and be empowered to do that. So the client and the lawyer make their own decision, at the end of the day, of whether they’re going to actually work together to pursue the case, or sometimes people just need advice as to whether they even have a claim or not. Sadly, for a lot of people because of statutes of limitations which are so short, they might not actually have a claim, but they need to have someone walk them through that so they can figure out what their rights are.

How do you determine — is there some kind of hierarchy of who gets the resources that you have and the money that you have? Because there’s a lot of it, but it’s not this bottomless well.

No, and anyone who knows about legal bills, even $21 million isn’t going to go far when you’ve got thousands of cases out there. So one thing is, we’re continuing to fundraise. $21 million is not the cap by any means. The GoFundMe page is still going strong.

“There are still lots of ways to mentor, to be friendly — I mean, I’m a hugger in the office and I still hug lots of people! — without abusing the relationship that you have as the person who controls their career, and their job, and their work environment.”

We’re developing criteria for funding. Of all of the cases that have come in so far have been accepted and linked with lawyers, not all of those cases will necessarily get funded, because we don’t have enough funding for every case. So the NWLC has been working on criteria for how to prioritize cases — how to divide up the money. How much is fair to give per case. This really hasn’t been done before at this scale, so it’s not like we had a lot of examples to work on. But they’re doing a very thoughtful process of developing those criteria.

The closest thing that I can think of is when, after a natural disaster, the Red Cross gets all this money and they have to decide how to divvy it up among people. Do you feel like you then end up in the business of quantifying how bad someone’s experience was?

No, I suppose for a hurricane you might! But here, it will be more around, probably, kinds of activities. We’ll set an amount for, if you’re investigating a case you can get up to this amount. [All the lawyers] are going to have to do it for a reduced fee. We need a very, very discounted fee in order to make sure there’s enough money to go around. And this is a charitable enterprise; no one is in this to make money.

So it’ll probably be by different activity stages of cases: For investigation, a cap up to this amount, for pre-trial discovery. It probably breaks up more like that. It’s not really up to us to decide the specific severity of the cases, and in fact, we can’t really get in that business because a lot of the information to evaluate cases should be privileged. The Legal Defense Fund is not the lawyer for these clients. We’re helping link them up with a lawyer. But how they decide to prosecute the case, and how weak or strong the case is, is really up to the client and his or her lawyer.

Obviously you came to this with so much knowledge already about the scale of sexual harassment and violence in this country. I’m curious what, if anything, has been surprising to you about the emails or calls you’ve been receiving, the responses you’ve been getting?

I think we’ve all been — we’re all still surprised by the breadth. We intellectually knew: We think it’s everywhere. But the idea that we have over 60 different industries among the 1600 folks who’ve called in the first month and a half, that surprised us.

I am not an employment lawyer so I don’t do this every day, so I was surprised, knowing what I do know — which is that we have Title VII, and happily we’ve had Title VII protections under employment law for going on three decades, and it provides for recovery of attorney’s fees when you win the case — so I actually, foolishly thought a lot of these cases already had lawyers, but that people who were speaking out and were getting sued for defamation didn’t have lawyers. I thought we’d have more of those cases.

And we do have a lot of those cases, where people who are speaking out — even though their cases were a long time ago — against people who are rich and powerful who have the resources to sue them, they’re on the defense side, and those cases don’t generate any fees.

“It’s a little bit like bringing your work home: Bringing the outside gladiator that you have to be into the workplace when you’re actually people’s bosses, not their opponent.”

But I am surprised at the number of cases, for example, of low-income women who have been unable to find a lawyer, even though there is the potential for recovery of attorney’s fees at the end, because they don’t make enough and therefore, the recovery’s not very big, so it would be spending a lot of time for not a lot of money. I was surprised at how many people who are out there, who have sexual harassment claims, who still can’t find a lawyer. And of course, we always knew that Title VII doesn’t cover small employers. There are lots of categories of kinds of workers who aren’t covered by those kinds of protections.

One of the things that’s been frustrating to see unfold in the reactions to movements like Time’s Up is this, “Well, I guess you can’t date at the office anymore! I guess you can’t flirt with your waitress anymore!” How do you react to that and respond to that? 

We are all worried also, by the backlash. It’s “don’t flirt with your waitress” and it’s “don’t take a female associate on a business trip.”

Right: Don’t mentor young women, Mike Pence rules at dinner.

And what I say is, that’s completely, obviously, the wrong reaction to this. The issues here aren’t about mentoring folks or relationships. Some of this is kind of easy! This is workplaces and how you should behave in a workplace, and the way you behave in a workplace is different from how you behave in a social setting. And that, when you’re the boss, you are always the boss. And you have a power relationship with the people who work for you, and you have to treat them appropriately and with respect.

There are still lots of ways to mentor, to be friendly — I mean, I’m a hugger in the office and I still hug lots of people! — without abusing the relationship that you have as the person who controls their career, and their job, and their work environment. So I think the lines are not that hard to find. But we do have to talk about it more. I think the problem that we’ve had is we don’t talk about it enough to make sure people understand the distinction, and we haven’t allowed people to also voice when they’re uncomfortable so that people can understand. Most people, if you say you’re uncomfortable, they’ll respect that. But we haven’t had a culture where it’s been okay to say, “Well, that doesn’t make me comfortable.”

It also seems that in some of these industries, especially creative industries — I think about somebody like Harvey Weinstein. There’s this pairing of, you get to be a jerk if you’re effective, if you’re a creative genius. Or that those two things are linked in some way: That the kind of outlandish, violent behavior is somehow connected to being an effective boss. You of course have worked for the Obamas. I can’t imagine that working for first lady Michelle Obama involved her belittling her employees in any way.

Right, right.

Why do you think that myth persists?

I did 23 years at a big law firm. I’ve had clients who were some of the biggest companies in the country. And I do think — not the Harvey Weinstein, the most egregious sexual assaults that are involved there, but I do think when you talk about things like verbal abuse and bullying that happens in the workplace, that’s not uncommon. And it’s often tied to, “That’s what you have to do to succeed in the workplace externally.”

If you’re in a pretty competitive industry — you’re a salesperson having to sell a lot against competitors — there are a lot of professions, like my profession, I have to go fight it out in court with people for my clients. That’s what my clients expect. That’s what I know I should be doing to be successful for my clients. But, in a lot of times, I think what happens — and again, we haven’t talked about it enough — is that toughness that you have to succeed at external, to your own workplace, gets translated to how you’re behaving in your office.

It’s a little bit like bringing your work home: Bringing the outside gladiator that you have to be into the workplace when you’re actually people’s bosses, not their opponent. And a lot of times we don’t train people well enough to be bosses, and how to manage people, and a good manager doesn’t manage the folks who are working for them in the same way I would approach an opposing counsel in a case. So we need to learn some of that behavior: How to manage differently, how to mentor differently, and how to be successful in very tough, competitive situations, in a way that doesn’t bring that tough competitiveness back to your own workplace.

I hesitate to give President Trump any credit for this moment that we’re experiencing right now. But it does feel like, as a culture, there are enough people who are angry enough that something like Time’s Up is even happening at all, and that we’re still talking about something that was sparked by a news story that broke in October in what might be the most headline-competitive environment we’ve ever had. I’m curious what you think is fueling that continued attention and passion on the part of the general public.

Here’s who I think we have to credit for a lot of that, and that, quite frankly, is the really brave individuals who are coming forward. And they’re still coming forward at some personal risk, and I think what we’ve not seen in past circumstances when this happened is that volume of outpouring of people feeling empowered to also talk about what happened to them. Those stories, and the proliferation of them, and the wide diversity of stories and the wide diversity of workplace situations, has, I think, kept it going. Because there’s a different industry and work situation with every news cycle. A lot of credit has to go to those folks.

“Nobody knew who Anita Hill was before she started testifying, and many people still, to this day, don’t know who she is. Millions of people know who these women in Hollywood are.”

And I do think the fact that it started with the women in Hollywood, who are very familiar people. In the past, people who would speak out, people didn’t really know or recognize or relate to. Nobody knew who Anita Hill was before she started testifying, and many people still, to this day, don’t know who she is. Millions of people know who these women in Hollywood are. I give them a lot of credit for being willing to use their celebrity, and to continue to use their celebrity, with each passing moment as they continue to speak out, to keep this issue in the forefront. I think that has been contributing a lot. Because people see them on their televisions at night, and see them in the movie theater. They relate to them — they feel like they have a relationship with some of these actresses. And that, I think, has really made people tune into this issue in a way that they haven’t tuned in before when the people making the allegations, which were also horrific, were not people that they knew or thought they knew.

It does feel, too, like people — in ways good and bad — are just closer to the edge than we were two years ago.

Here’s the other thing: Social media, we forget that it’s become such a fabric of our lives. We forget what it was like to spread news around or tell personal stories in a way that got the attention of folks. Before social media, there wasn’t really a vehicle for it. When Anita Hill was testifying 26 years ago, even if somebody had wanted to do Me Too then, there was no platform in which the average person who did identify with her could give voice to that in a meaningful way. (Editor’s note: Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement in 1997.

We’re in an age right now, also, where that ability for people to see something that affects them personally, and also join in and speak out publicly about it, to have that seen by thousands of people very quickly, it gives a great power to all of these social change movements.

As much as you’re seeing that the volume of this conversation is so huge, as you say, and more people are participating in it than ever before, is there anything that you think is not being talked about in this arena that should be? Or is there anything you think is being misunderstood?

I want to always make sure that, when we talk about sexual harassment, we can’t just focus on sexual harassment itself. Sexual harassment is the symptom at the end of the road, and the road starts with: What do our workplaces really look like? To really combat sexual harassment, it’s not just: Fix our policies, do some training, and discipline some folks. It is really: Build workplaces that are more truly diverse and where everyone is treated with respect and feels safe. And that is all about addressing core structural issues around how we organize work.

That’s something I’ve been talking about since I was in the White House, with our Summit on Working Families. (Disclosure: The White House Summit on Working Families was co-hosted by the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at the Center for American Progress.) It’s something I’m building a practice here at Buckley Sandler around, which is helping companies build workplace cultures that are more supportive.

Because that’s really how you’re going to solve the problem of sexual harassment, is if you have true diversity in the workforce with women and people of color in leadership as well as in other levels within the company, that you have a workplace culture and a set of conduct that is acceptable that you set by the tone at the top, by the corporation’s heads, that say: This is the kind of company we want to be, this is the kind of workplace we want to have.

Taking those steps will not only, I think, reduce incidences of sexual harassment or, when they occur, we’ll have systems in place that respond to them appropriately. It also will benefit companies. We’ve seen plenty of the data that shows that companies that are more diverse have better returns on investment, they make better decisions, they have lower costs of turnover from their staff. And we now also see — what the current news stories are showing us — the risks to the entire enterprise if you don’t address these issues appropriately. Because you will have the problems that we’re seeing now and they can lead to real damage to your business model and to your company.

What I do hope we can get to is talking about these broader workplace issues as well, and not just the sexual harassment part. Because it doesn’t happen in isolation.

I have a feeling, given your work, that your answer to this question will be no. But because I sometimes feel this way, I want to know if you do, too: When you look at the scope of this problem and you think, okay, to deal with gender discrimination at work, we’re going to have to deal with gender discrimination all over, because we can’t suddenly expect people to skip into their cubicle and be better there than we are everywhere else — do you ever just feel like, we have to burn it all down?

Well, no. (laughs) Maybe it’s our age difference! But no. No, because I’ve seen how things can change. I know so many companies that have gotten better, that have set real different tones, that are in the process of seeing real diversity come through in their senior levels.

“Women are now 50 percent of the workforce. They graduate at a rate that’s 20 percent higher than men, in the United States. So if you want the most talented workers, you need to have a workplace that’s going to attract women as workers.”

I also really believe that the world economic system, and the global economy, and competitiveness, and the demography of workers, is all working in our favor. Meaning that women are now 50 percent of the workforce. They graduate at a rate that’s 20 percent higher than men, in the United States. So if you want the most talented workers, you need to have a workplace that’s going to attract women as workers. And globally, if we want to compete — the U.S. economy — we’re going to have to get better than being one of only two countries in the world without a paid family leave policy, because companies will move off-shore. They’ll get competition from overseas, if we don’t make sure that our workplaces are fully meeting the needs of 21st-century workers.

So all of the external forces driving the population and driving the economy are working in our favor, meaning, the companies that respond on these issues well will be able to respond to the environment that is changing. So it’s a great opportunity. It’s probably the best opportunity we’ve had in generations to make these changes.

You’ve been a part of an administration that sees these issues the way that you do. How does it feel now to be doing this work at a moment when it’s really the opposite messaging coming out of the White House?

Well, one of the things that we’ve known, even when we were in office in the White House, we didn’t have Congress for much of our administration. Therefore, some of the big federal policy changes, like passing the Paycheck Fairness Act, dealing with some of these workplace issues that have to be dealt with statutorily, we’ve confronted for now, several years, the fact that we would not be able to change federal paid leave policy, for example. So for a long time now, I have thought that the best way to change is for companies, employers, workplaces of all sectors, to voluntarily start instituting these changes.

We also have employers that are stepping up and making changes. That’s another part of Time’s Up as well: We’re all about trying to make sustainable change. I think you’ll see more and more companies who are voluntarily providing paid leave, that are changing the composition of their boards to make them more diverse and get more women on them, promoting more women into C-suite. All of those are things that we are starting to see movement on and that we’ll continue to see progress on by the end of the year.

It’s interesting to hear you talk about this all happening organically because I am very curious about: What is the meeting like? Are you just in this room with Oprah, and Shonda Rhimes, and Gwyneth Paltrow? It’s the Illuminati meetings, but just the women!

You know, there’s a great energy. There’s a great support. I’ve been in a lot of meetings with women — because that’s what I do, I’ve worked on women’s issues my entire adult life. So I’m used to the wonderful energy that you get when you’re sitting around a table with the shared experience women have, and trying to make some positive change. For a lot of the actresses, and some of them have said this publicly in interviews, they didn’t really know each other. Their experience is more like being the only woman on set. We, I think on the outside, think: Oh, it’s the Hollywood community!

Right, that they all hang out.

That they all hang out together on a Saturday night. Apparently, not so much! So these meetings have been a wonderful opportunity for them to have that experience that I have had elsewhere, and that’s great for them. They have found a whole new support network for themselves, which is terrific.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 7, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is the Culture Editor of ThinkProgress.

HR Has Never Been on the Side of Workers. #MeToo Is More Proof.

Monday, January 8th, 2018

After human resources was informed in 2014 that Emily Nestor, former front desk assistant for the Weinstein Company, was allegedly sexually harassed by Harvey Weinstein, company officials reportedly informed Nestor that any complaints would be directly reported to Weinstein himself. 

And when Helen Donahue, a former Vice employee, complained to human resources in 2015 that Jason Mojica, the head of Vice News at the time, had non-consensually groped her, she says she was told by then-human resources director Nancy Ashbrooke to “forget about it and laugh it off.”

Engineer Susan Fowler says that when she complained to Uber’s human resources department that a manager had propositioned her for sex, she was instructed to either move to a different job at Uber or continue working for her alleged harasser. A manager later threatened to fire Fowler for registering the complaint with human resources, she claims.

As #MeToo testimony shines new light on these industries’ cultures of rampant sexual violence, the complicity of human resources is a thread running throughout several stories of predation and retaliation. While some have presented HR departments as a solution, the above experiences make clear that HR is at best a distraction from the real solution to workplace abuse: collective organizing led by, and accountable to, workers themselves. As unions and worker organizations have long recognized, workplace abuse will not be corrected by benevolent management—it must be defeated by worker power.

Presented as neutral arbiters, human resources departments in fact report to management and function to shield bosses from repercussions. They emerged from early anti-union efforts and social-control initiatives implemented by notorious industry titans like the Ford Motor Company—and today often house top-down efforts to undermine worker solidarity and protect companies from lawsuits. Some labor historians and organizers tell In These Times that the present climate offers an opportunity to dispense of the falsehood that human resources departments exist to protect workers.

“Human resources departments exist primarily to keep the employer from being sued,” author and longtime labor organizer Jane McAlevey tells In These Times. “While they may play functional bureaucratic roles, the chief purpose of HR departments in my experience—after a lifetime in the labor movement—is to protect the company, not workers. Obviously they will be totally ineffective to address the sexual harassment crisis in this country.”

As Weinstein and others of his ilk now fall from grace, any effective postmortem must examine human resources among the structural foundations that uphold powerful men as they perpetrate large-scale harm.

“Treating labor as a commodity”

According to the anti-harassment policy of the Society for Human Resource Management, human resources departments are in place to help employers “prevent, correct and discipline behavior” that qualifies as “unlawful discrimination or harassment of any kind.”

Yet, the history of human resources departments tells a different story.

Elizabeth Anderson is a professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan and author of Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don’t Talk About It). She tells In These Times that the roots of modern-day human resources can be traced to initiatives like the Ford Motor Company’s “Sociological Department,” established in 1914. With its introduction of a $5-per-day pay rate, deemed a boost at the time, the company established codes of conduct to ensure that workers were sufficiently orderly and worthy of this sum. The Henry Ford, an organization that oversees a museum in Dearborn, Mich., describes this program:

The Sociological Department monitored employees at home, as well as on the job. Investigators made unannounced visits to employees’ homes and evaluated the cleanliness of the home, noted if the family had renters, checked with school attendance offices to determine if children were attending school and monitored bank records to verify that employees made regular deposits. Sociological Department investigators also assisted workers’ families by teaching wives about home care, cooking and hygiene.

“They really said they were going to govern workers’ lives,” says Anderson, explaining that such efforts were often aimed at “Americanizing European immigrants.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Australian sociologist Elton Mayo oversaw a series of experiments at Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory in Cicero, Ill. Researchers examined the impact that changes in conditions—for example, brightening and dimming lights—had on workers’ productivity. He concluded that workers perform better when researchers show interest in them—that the perception of attention and interest can itself boost output. The principle that attention is a key workplace motivator became the bedrock of the field of “human relations.” This field influenced companies to create human resources departments to give the appearance that workers are cared for and tended to.

But Peter Rachleff, a labor historian and executive director of the East Side Freedom Library in St. Paul, Minn., tells In These Times that there is a significant gap between appearance and reality.How can you get more of this commodity for less? How can you get more labor produced by that commodity? That’s the grounding of human resources,” he says.

“Where union busters set up camp”

Early human resources departments also had other aims. Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, tells In These Times that human resources departments emerged as “a more serious development with the rise of unions. Companies started to see them as a way of keeping unions out. They put in place practices that would buy out discontent.”

“These departments are not set up by the government, and their job is not to protect employees,” emphasizes Cappelli. “These are private organizations.”

With a spate of anti-workplace-discrimination laws and orders passed in the 1960s, including the Civil Rights Act, the focus of human resources shifted to protecting companies from lawsuits. “The idea was [companies] could shield themselves, and workers could be obliged to report their complaints to the internal process,” explains Anderson. “You get a huge incentive for larger corporations to set up human resources departments to shield themselves from liability.”

Today, human resources departments often operate in concert with efforts to undermine unions and other forms of worker organizing. In just one example, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Tesla in August 2017 charging that the company’s security guards and human resources personnel directly intimidated workers at a Fremont, Calif., factory for distributing pro-union materials—and ultimately forced them to leave the premises. The complaint states that a human-resources official “interrogated” an employee about “the employee’s Union and/or protected, concerted activities and/or the Union and/or protected, concerted activities of other employees.”

As McAlevey puts it, “The human resources department is the traditional place where union busters set up camp—the office out of which union-busting firms will run union-busting campaigns.”

Of course, the absence of a human resources department is not a good in itself, and abolishing HR wouldn’t fix the problem. As Aída Chávez reported January 5 for The Intercept, The New Republic, AlterNet and The Nation Institute “had no real HR when abuses occurred” (Full disclosure: This author is a prior employee of AlterNet and formerly received reporting funding from The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund.)

While noting that “such departments are no panacea,” Chávez argues that “the absence of any HR department at many small news outlets creates a unique vulnerability for employees, whose fates may rest entirely in the hands of their often charismatic leaders or founders.”

And indeed, the problem of retaliation and intimidation encompasses the vast majority of industries, with or without HR. A 2003 study referenced by the federal U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “found that 75 percent of U.S. workers who spoke out against workplace mistreatment faced some form of retaliation.”

Organizers have long argued that the solution to workplace harassment lies in building collective solidarity among workers—and tilting the balance of power away from institutions that are under the control of management, including but not limited to human resources.

There is no shortage of organizing efforts lighting the way. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) highlights its worker-led Fair Food Program as a bottom-up strategy to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in the United States from a plethora of workplace atrocities, including sexual violence and slavery. The program includes a 24-hour, independent worker-complaint hotline, and worker-led political education and organizing programs. Through broad-based campaigning, CIW has forced 14 food industry giants to join their labor agreement.

From the fields to the factories, union and worker center members engage in day-to-day efforts to protect each other, by staging direct actions, organizing and enforcing contracts, and extending support and solidarity, in the many forms that takes. As McAlevey puts it, “What changes is if you have a union.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on January 8, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sarah Lazare is web editor at In These Times. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Nation, Tom Dispatch, YES! Magazine, and Al Jazeera America. Her article about corporate exploitation of the refugee crisis was honored as a top censored story of 2016 by Project Censored. A former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War.

Hollywood stars donate millions to empower more women to speak out against sexual assault

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

A group of 300 powerful Hollywood women launched an anti-sexual harassment initiative on Monday. The effort is billed as an expansion of the “Me Too” movement, in which women are speaking out against sexual misconduct claims by men at high levels of entertainment, government and media.

The initiative, called Time’s Up, brings together “prominent actresses and female agents, writers, directors, producers and entertainment executives” to fight fight systemic gender inequality in both Hollywood and “blue-collar workplaces” nationwide, according to The New York Times. Its founding members include actresses America Ferrera, Natalie Portman, Rashida Jones, Emma Stone, Ashley Judd, Eva Longoria, Kerry Washington, and Reese Witherspoon; lawyer Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff; co-chairwoman of the Nike Foundation, Maria Eitel; and various other showrunners and industry lawyers.

In a letter on Monday — published as a full-page ad in both the Times and the Spanish-language paper La Opinion — the group’s leading members explained that such inequality “fosters an environment that is ripe for abuse and harassment” that can no longer be ignored.

“Unfortunately, too many centers of power — from legislatures to boardrooms to executive suites and management to academia — lack gender parity and women do not have equal decision-making authority,” they wrote. “…The struggle for women to break in, to rise up the ranks and to simply be heard and acknowledged in male-dominated workplaces must end; time’s up on this impenetrable monopoly.”

The group called for a “significant increase of women in positions of leadership and power” across various industries, “equal representation, opportunity, benefits, and pay”, and “greater representation” for women of color, immigrant women, and LGBTQ women.

Time’s Up has also established a legal defense fund, housed and administered by the National Women’s Law Center, which provides subsidized legal support to those “who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace.” According to the Times, the fund is backed by $13 million in donations and is intended for less-privileged women and men who may suffer retaliatory action as a result of coming forward about sexual harassment or assault.

The group has additionally partnered with several leading advocates in order to “improve laws, employment agreements, and corporate policies” and “enable more women and men to access our legal system to hold wrongdoers accountable.”

“It’s very hard for us to speak righteously about the rest of anything if we haven’t cleaned our own house,” TV producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes, one of the leaders of the initiative, said in an interview with the Times. “If this group of women can’t fight for a model for other women who don’t have as much power and privilege, then who can?”

Time’s Up comes as a response to criticism levied against Hollywood for not doing more to address victims’ voices and concerns. In December, a call for Golden Globe attendees to wear all black in protest of sexual misconduct was criticized as empty symbolism.

Actress Rose McGowan, who has been at the forefront of the #MeToo movement, blasted the decision in a tweet, calling it hypocritical.

“Actresses, like Meryl Streep, who happily worked for The Pig Monster [Harvey Weinstein], are wearing black @GoldenGlobes in a silent protest. YOUR SILENCE is THE problem,” she wrote. “You’ll accept a fake award breathlessly & affect no real change. I despise your hypocrisy. Maybe you should all wear Marchesa.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 1, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Melanie Schmitz is Associate Editor at ThinkProgress, and previously worked for Bustle and Romper. 

What #MeToo Can Teach the Labor Movement

Friday, December 29th, 2017

My first #MeToo memory is from the kitchen of the Red Eagle Diner on Route 59 in Rockland County, N.Y. I was 16 years old, had moved out of my home, and was financially on my own. The senior waitresses in this classic Greek-owned diner schooled me fast. They explained that my best route to maximum cash was the weekend graveyard shift. “People are hungry and drunk after the bars close, and the tips are great,” one said.

That first waitressing job would be short-lived, because I didn’t heed a crucial warning. Watch out for Christos, a hot-headed cook and relative of the owner. The night I physically rebuffed his obnoxious and forceful groping, it took all the busboys holding him back as he waved a cleaver at me, red-faced and screaming in Greek that he was going to kill me. The other waitress held the door open as I fled to my car and sped off without even getting my last paycheck. I was trembling.

Although there were plenty of other incidents in between, the next time I found myself that shaken by a sexual assault threat, I was 33 and in a Manhattan cab with a high-up official in the national AFL-CIO. He had structural power over me, as well as my paycheck and the campaign I was running. He was nearly twice my age and size. After offering to give me a lift in the cab so I could avoid the pelting rain walking to the subway, he quickly slid all the way over to my side, pinned me to the door, grabbed me with both arms and began forcibly kissing me on the lips. After a determined push, and before getting the driver to stop and let me out, I told the AFL-CIO official that if he ever did it again I’d call his wife in a nanosecond.

These two examples underscore that behind today’s harassment headlines is a deeper crisis: pernicious sexism, misogyny and contempt for women. Whether in in our movement or not, serious sexual harassment isn’t really about sex. It’s about a disregard for women, and it shows itself numerous ways.

For the #MeToo moment to become a meaningful movement, it has to focus on actual gender equality. Lewd stories about this or that man’s behavior might make compelling reading, but they sidetrack the real crisis—and they are being easily manipulated to distract us from the solutions women desperately need. Until we effectively challenge the ideological underpinnings beneath social policies that hem women in at every turn in this country, we won’t get at the root cause of the harassment. This requires examining the total devaluation of “women’s work,” including raising and educating children, running a home and caring for the elderly and the sick.

It’s time to dust off the documents from the nearly 50-year-old Wages for Housework Campaign. The union movement must step in now and connect the dots to real solutions, such as income supports like universal high-quality childcare, free healthcare, free university and paid maternity and paternity leave. We need social policies that allow women to be meaningful participants in the labor force—more of a norm in Western Europe where unionization rates are high.

Sexist thought is holding our movement back

Sexist male leadership inside the labor movement is a barrier to getting at these very solutions This assertion is sure to generate a round of, “She shouldn’t write that, the bosses will use it against us.” Let’s clear that bullshit out of the way: We aren’t losing unionization elections, strikes and union density because of truth-telling about some men in leadership who should be forced to spend out their years cleaning toilets in a shelter for battered women. And besides, we all know the bosses are far, far worse—and have structural power over tens of millions of women in the United States and beyond.

Some of the sexual harassers who see women as their playthings are men on “our side” with decision-making roles in unions. This mindset rejects real organizing, instead embracing shallow mobilizing and advocacy. It rejects the possibility that a future labor movement led by women in the service economy can be as powerful as the one led by men in the last century who could shut down machines. Factories, where material goods are produced by blue collar men are fetishized. Yet, today’s factories—the schools, universities, nursing homes and hospitals where large numbers of workers regularly toil side by side—are disregarded, even though they are the key to most local economies. Educators and healthcare workers who build, develop and repair humans’ minds and bodies are considered white and pink collar. This workforce is deemed less valuable to the labor movement, because the labor it performs is considered women’s work.

While presenting on big healthcare campaign wins at conferences, I’ve had men who identify as leftists repeatedly drill me with skeptical questions such as, “We thought all nurses saw themselves as professionals; you’re saying they can have class solidarity?” I wonder if these leftists missed which workers got behind the Bernie Sanders campaign first and most aggressively. I’ve hardly ever met a nurse who didn’t believe healthcare is a right that everyone deserves, regardless of ability to pay.

When I began negotiating hospital-worker contracts, which often included the nurses, I routinely had men in the movement say things like, “It’s great you love working with nurses. They are such a pain in the ass at the bargaining table.” These derogatory comments came from men who can’t stand empowered women who actually might have an opinion, let alone good ideas, about what’s in the final contract settlement. Many hold a related but distinct assumption: that the so-called private sector is more manly—and therefore, important—than the so-called public sector, which is majority-women. This belief also contributes to the devaluation of feminized labor.

Capitalism is one economic system, period. The fiction of these seemingly distinct sectors is primarily a strategy to allow corporations to feed off the trough of tax-payer money and pretend they don’t. This master lie enables austerity, which is turning into a tsunami post-tax bill. And yet white, male, highly educated labor strategists routinely say that we need totally different strategies for the public and private sectors. Hogwash.

This deeply inculcated sexist thought—conscious or not—is holding back our movement and contributing to the absurd notion that unions are a thing of the past. These themes are discussed in my book No Shortcuts, Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age (Oxford, 2016).

The union movement has increased the number of women and people of color in publicly visible leadership positions. But the labor movement’s research and strategy backrooms are still dominated by white men who propagate the idea that organizing once worked, yet not anymore. This assertion is presented as fact rather than what it is: a structuralist argument. The erosion of labor law, relocation of factories to regions with few or no unions, and automation are the common reasons put forth. The argument omits the devastating failure of business unionism, and its successor—the mobilizing approach, where decision-making is left in the hands of mostly white male strategists while telegenic women of color with “good stories” are trotted out as props by communications staffers.

If you think these men are smarter than the millions of women of color who dominate today’s workforce, then an organizing approach—which rests the agency for change in the hands of women—is definitely not your preferred choice. Mobilizing, or worse, advocacy, obscures the core question of agency: Whose is central to the strategy war room and future movement? As for loud liberal voices—union and nonunion—that declare unions as a thing of the past, the forthcoming SCOTUS ruling on NLRB v Murphy Oil will prove most of the nonunion “innovations” moot. Murphy Oil is a complicated legal case that boils down to removing what are called the Section 7 protections under the National Labor Relations Act, and preventing class action lawsuits.

Murphy Oil blows a hole through the legal safeguards that non-union workers have enjoyed for decades, eviscerating much of the tactical repertoire of so-called Alt Labor, such as class-action wage-theft cases, and workers participating in protests called by nonunion community groups in front of their workplaces. The timing is horrific and uncanny: As women are finally finding their voices about sexual harassment at work, mostly in nonunion workplaces (as the majority are), Murphy Oil will prevent class action sexual harassment lawsuits.

Unions can’t win without reckoning with sexism and racism

The central lesson the labor movement should take from the #MeToo movement is that now is the time to reverse the deeply held notion that women, especially women of color, can’t build a powerful labor movement. Corporate America and the rightwing are out to destroy unions, in part, so that they can decimate the few public services that do serve working-class families, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and public schools. Movements won these programs when unions were much stronger. It makes sense that unions, and the women’s movement, should throw down hardest to defend and grow these sectors, largely made up of women, mostly women of color, who are brilliant strategists and fighters.

The labor movement should also dispense of the belief that organizing and strikes can’t work. It’s self-defeating. Unions led by Chicago teachers and Philadelphia and Boston nurses, to name a few, prove this notion wrong. The growing economic sectors of education and healthcare are key. These workers have structural power and extraordinary social power. Each worker can bring along hundreds more in their communities.

Another key lesson for labor is to start taking smart risks, such as challenging the inept leadership in the Democratic Party by running its own pro-union rank-and-file sisters in primaries against the pro-corporate Democrats in safe Democratic seats, a target-rich environment. As obvious as it might sound, this strategy is heresy in the labor movement. Women who marched last January should demand that gender-focused political action committees, such as EMILY’s list, use support for unionization as a litmus test for whether politicians running for office will get their support. No more faux feminist Sheryl Sandberg types.

It’s time for unions to raise expectations for real gender equality, to channel the new battle cry to rid ourselves of today’s sexual harassers into a movement for the gender justice that women in Scandinavian countries and much of Western Europe enjoy. To think of winning what has become almost normal gains in many countries—year-long paid maternity and paternity leave, free childcare, healthcare and universities, six weeks’ annual paid vacation—is not pie-in-the-sky. To fight for it, people have to be able to imagine it.

The percentage of workers covered by union-negotiated collective agreements in much of Western Europe, the countries with benefits women in this country desperately need, is between 80 percent and 98 percent of all workers. This compares to a paltry 11.9 percent in the United States, as of 2013. This is far beyond a phased-in raise to $15 and hour—still basically poverty, and a wage that most women with structural power in strategic sectors already earn.

Women can’t win without building workplace power

There’s enough wealth in this country to allow the rich to be rich and still eradicate most barriers to a genuine women’s liberation, which starts with economic justice in the workplace. Upper-class mostly white women drowned out working-class women, many of color, in the 1960s and 1970s. The results of second-wave feminism are clear: Even though some women broke corporate and political glass ceilings and won a few favorable laws, individual rights will not truly empower women. Unions—warts and all—are central to a more equal society, because they bring structural power and collective solutions to problems that are fundamentally societal, not individual.

Women in the United States are stuck with bosses who abuse them, because to walk out could mean living in their cars or on the streets—or taking two fulltime jobs and never spending a minute with their kids. Similarly, women are stuck in abusive marriages, because the decision to stop the beating means living on the streets. European women from countries where union contracts cover the vast majority of workers don’t, to the same extent, face the decision of losing their husband’s healthcare plan, or not having money to pay for childcare or so many of the challenges faced by women here. This country is seriously broken, and to fix it we must build the kind of power that comes with high unionization rates, which translate into political—not just economic—power.

Naming and shaming is not sufficient. Women need to translate the passion of this moment into winning the solution that will help end workplace harassment. A good union radically changes workplace culture for the better. The entire concept of a human resources office changes when a union is present. For example, when entering the human resources office, women aren’t alone: They’ve got their union steward. Union contracts effectively allow women to challenge bosses without being fired. Good unions do change workplace culture on these and many issues. Why else would the men who control corporations, and now the federal and most state governments, spend lavishly on professional union busters and fight so damn hard to destroy unions?

It’s going to take a massive expansion of unions again—like what happened in the 1930s, the last time unions were declared dead—before we can translate #MeToo into a demand that raises all workers’ expectations that this country can be a far more equal society. If we commit to this goal, we can achieve it. This time, the people leading the unions will be the same people who saved the nation from Roy Moore, because women of color are already at the center of the future labor force.

I went from sexual harassment in male-heavy restaurant kitchens to sexual harassment as a rare woman allowed into the kitchen cabinet of many successful campaigns. Whether it is union leaders ignoring the experience and genius of workers in today’s strategic employment sectors of education and healthcare, politicians following the corporate line or individual bad bosses harassing their employees, all of it comes down to a disrespect and disregard for women, especially women of color. If we focus on the power analysis, the answer is staring us in the face. There is no time to waste. Everyone has to be all-in for rebuilding unions.

This article was originally published at In These Times on December 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
Jane McAlevey is an organizer, author and scholar. Her first book, Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell), published by Verso Press, was named the “most valuable book of 2012” by The Nation Magazine. Her second book, No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age, published by Oxford University Press, was released late in 2016. She is a regular commentator on radio and TV. She continues to work as an organizer on union campaigns, lead contract negotiations, and train and develop organizers. She spent the past two years as a Post Doc at the Harvard Law School, and is presently writing her third book—Striking Back—about organizing, power and strategy, forthcoming from Verso.
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