Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘sexual assault’

Treated Like Meat

Monday, October 7th, 2019

Image result for Lauren Kaori GurleySmithfield Foods’ 2,000-employee bacon and sausage packaging plant in Smithfield, Va., sits a mile down the road from the company’s stately corporate headquarters and flagship restaurant, Taste of Smithfield, a tourist-friendly establishment known for its smoked pork brioche sandwich, Virginia craft beer and “piglets” menu for kids under 12.

Near the meatpacking plant on Church Street, the stench of bacon and hog excrement hangs in the air. Jenny (not her real name), a 37-year-old single mother with two young daughters, is lighting up a Marlboro before a 10-hour shift. “Everybody here is miserable as shit, unless you’re one of the higher-ups,” she tells me later over the phone.

Jenny describes the plant floor as having a “male-dominated atmosphere.” Her male coworkers joke that she needs “to get laid.” And behind closed doors, supervisors regularly make crude sexual jokes about her coworkers, says Jenny, who was a crew leader. Despite her urge to “raise hell,” she rarely reports the mistreatment she sees from supervisors.

“I’m not willing to put myself in a position to lose my job,” she says. Like many low-wage workers, Jenny lives paycheck to paycheck. She had to take out a personal loan to replace her car battery just so she could get to work. (Jenny quit her job at Smithfield in May, after we spoke, because her pay dropped from $17 to $15.20 an hour.)

“No one ever feels comfortable reporting stuff because it usually backfires,” Jenny wrote to In These Times. Workers are frequently disciplined and fired by supervisors who hold “grudges,” she says.

In late May 2018, nine other women at the plant where Jenny works sued Smithfield Foods, the largest pork processor in the world. Several of the lawsuits charged that plant supervisors had engaged in “the most extreme acts of sexual harassment.”

The women worked in the retail bacon division, the microwave bacon department and the kill floor. They alleged that, for years, supervisors brushed their genitals against them and grabbed their breasts and buttocks; promised a promotion and even a “cheap car” in exchange for sexual liaisons; and prodded the women for sexual favors such as fellatio and a lap dance.

One worker, Marquesses Foreman, alleged she was harassed on a weekly basis for more than a year, between 2014 and 2016, and that her supervisor showed her a photo of his penis, hit her with rolled-up paper and touched her breasts. He allegedly told Foreman, who is black, that he should fire all of the black workers and replace them with Mexicans who “could get the job done for less pay.” Because of her supervisor, Foreman suffered “significant mental anguish, pain, suffering, emotional distress, loss of sleep [and] humiliation,” according to lawsuits.

Another worker, Tamika Day, alleged that her supervisor called her a “whore,” “bitch” and “slut,” and told her “you slept your way to where you are,” and “you fucked in order to get your promotion.” Day said that after she complained to Smithfield’s human resources department in 2015, the slurs and insults multiplied, and human resources cut her hours.

In fact, four of the women claimed HR reduced their hours after they reported harassment. Foreman allegedly lost 20 percent of her income from the reduced schedule.

Three of the women were allegedly fired after reporting harassment. In four of the complaints, HR allegedly took no action to address the harassment, while in one case, it took months.

Like most other sexual harassment lawsuits filed under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, these lawsuits never came before a jury. Five months after filing, in late October, the nine women resolved their complaints with Smithfield outside of court—a route often pursued by large corporations to avoid negative publicity. No settlement amount was disclosed.

The women and their lawyers did not respond to In These Times’ interview requests, but 12 current and former Smithfield workers from two of the largest plants in the Southeast agreed to talk. The workers—women and men—ranged in age from 25 to 67. All but one requested pseudonyms for fear of retaliation by Smithfield or future employers.

A few of the workers at the Virginia plant said Smithfield initiated mandatory training about sexual harassment in the wake of the lawsuits. Jenny said her class was about 15 minutes and included a slideshow on how to report harassment. “It was really just so generic,” she said. “It was honestly so we could just get in there and sign a paper verifying we were at the training.”

Ten of the 12 said they had either experienced, witnessed or were aware of line supervisors perpetuating a toxic culture of harassment, including sexual comments, unwanted touching, coercion, retaliation or favoritism. Many workers interviewed believed complaining to the company would be useless. Management, they said, valued supervisors who could meet high production quotas, regardless of how they treated workers.

The Smithfield plant in Virginia is not the only one that has faced sexual harassment complaints. In the past decade, workers have filed at least 11 lawsuits against Smithfield alleging sexual harassment in both union and nonunion work sites in Virginia, California, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Dakota and Texas. Four of the cases were dismissed, six were settled and one is ongoing.

At Smithfield’s 4,400-worker plant in Tar Heel, N.C., the single largest pork plant in the world, a supervisor named Lisa Cooper alleged in a 2013 lawsuit that her boss sexually harassed her for four years and “threatened to kill” her if “she continued to report him to upper management.”

Cooper nonetheless reported him to HR, then quit shortly after in fear of more harassment. In 2018, a federal appeals court dismissed her suit on the grounds that, in quitting, she failed to give Smithfield time to respond.

Sala Naambwe, a 46-year-old Congolese refugee working at a Smithfield subsidiary in Sioux Falls, S.D., alleged in a 2017 suit that management mocked her, isolated her and increased her workload after she told them that her coworkers called her a “monkey” and a “bitch,” and sexually harassed her. The case is ongoing.

THE MOST VULNERABLE WORKERS

Asked about allegations of sexual harassment at its plants, Smithfield’s executive vice president of corporate affairs and compliance, Keira Lombardo, pointed to Smithfield’s code of business ethics, which promises “the right to work free from harassment” including sexual advances and slurs.

“Each and every employee has pledged to uphold these standards upon joining the company, and violations of these standards are unacceptable and immediately dealt with,” wrote Lombardo. “We also provide employees with methods to report ethics concerns or violations, which are reviewed, investigated and responded to accordingly.” Lombardo described trainings on “legally protected rights” as “regular” and “substantive,” lasting longer than 15 minutes.

Of the lawsuits, she said, “Companies of our size do get sued. None of the litigation that you list has been determined to have merit. … We took the [May 2018] allegations very seriously and carefully investigated each of them. We did not find any of the allegations to be substantiated.”

It’s true that Smithfield Foods is not alone in facing sexual harassment suits. A survey of public records shows a number of suits against other industry giants like Tyson Foods, National Beef and Cargill Meat Solutions. The Koch Foods poultry plants in Morton, Miss., where about 680 workers were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in early August, settled a $3.75 million sexual and racial harassment lawsuit in 2018. The complaint alleged that supervisors “touched and/or made sexually suggestive comments to female Hispanic employees, hit Hispanic employees,” and then fired workers who complained.

But experts say that sexual harassment is typically underreported, not overreported. Across all industries, workers tend to stay silent because the risks of reporting often outweigh the benefits. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) estimates that three out of four women who speak out about sexual harassment at work face punishment. According to Bernice Yeung, author of In a Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers, workers like those in the meatpacking industry, who are disproportionately immigrants and tend to work for subsistence wages, are especially unlikely to report.

Undocumented workers are also especially likely to be harassed, Yeung says, and studies have found that workplaces with a high ratio of men to women have higher rates of harassment. Four in 10 U.S. meatpacking workers are women.

To date, there has been only one study of sexual harassment in the U.S. meatpacking industry, which employs 180,000 workers. In an informal 2009 survey of women in Iowa’s meatpacking plants by ASISTA Immigration Assistance and Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 85 percent said they had experienced or witnessed sexual violence at work.

GOBBLING UP THE PORK INDUSTRY

If you’ve ever purchased pork from a major super market, chances are good that it came from Smithfield. Smithfield owns 12 brands of bacon, ham, sausage, salami, chorizo, bologna, prosciutto, ribs, pepperoni and meatballs, which come labeled or whitelabeled (overlaid with the supermarket’s brand) at grocery stores in all 50 states, including Walmart, Sam’s Club and Target. Smithfield also supplies the pork for the McDonald’s McRib sandwich and Nathan’s hot dogs. With 40,000 workers in the United States, and more than 40 pork-packing plants across 20 states, Smithfield controls 26 percent of the U.S. porkprocessing market.

Founded in Virginia in 1936, Smithfield came to dominate the pork industry in the 1990s by mimicking what Tyson Foods did to the chicken industry in the 1980s. Smithfield bought up competitors and streamlined its production lines, driving small hog farmers out of business, writes journalist Christopher Leonard in The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business. Smithfield similarly devastated small hog farms in Mexico, according to Chad Broughton’s Boom, Bust, Exodus: The Rust Belt, the Maquilas and a Tale of Two Cities. Between 1990 and 2005, Smithfield grew by 1,200 percent.

By the 1990s, the face of pork-packing in the United States had already shifted from the northern union strongholds of Milwaukee and Chicago (famously depicted in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle) to the Southeast, where wages remained low and anti-union sentiment ran deep among conservative lawmakers. (North Carolina and South Carolina are tied for the lowest unionization rate in the country, at 2.7 percent.) In the mid-1990s, meatpacking companies actively recruited peasants in Veracruz, Mexico, driven off their land following the passage of NAFTA, to work without visas in North Carolina. Hundreds of migrants from Veracruz found work in Smithfield’s Tar Heel plant, according to a 2012 report in The Nation.

In 1993, Tar Heel workers launched a union campaign often described as one of the bitterest in modern U.S. history. Police in riot gear lined the entrance of the plant during a failed 1997 union election. Smithfield made “conscious efforts to pit African-American workers against Latinos and undocumented workers against those with legal status” to derail the drive, according to a Tufts University policy brief. (Smithfield’s Lombardo says that the company does not knowingly employ undocumented workers and “would never ‘pit’ any of our workers against one another.”) In 2008—after 15 years and two failed attempts—Smithfield workers in Tar Heel voted to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

By 2005, one in four meat-processing workers were undocumented, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and the Tar Heel plant was no longer majority African American and Native American, but predominantly Latinx. Following a series of ICE raids in the late 2000s, African Americans came to outnumber Latinxs once again in Tar Heel. Despite the industry’s reputation for grueling, male-dominated work, women make up nearly half the workers in departments at certain Smithfield plants, including bacon slice, cut floor and loin boning.

“TIME IS MONEY”

If Smithfield has failed to protect women from sexual harassment on its meatpacking lines, the reasons are closely linked to the demands of mass production. Plants that slaughter and process up to 35,000 hogs a day, like the Tar Heel plant, require a sophisticated level of coordination and worker control. Smithfield supervisors—typically men—face intense pressure and scrutiny from plant managers and superintendents (higher-level supervisors) to meet production quotas. One worker, Anna (who is a union steward and was comfortable using her real first name), says she is expected to cut a sirloin about every seven seconds on the loin-boning line.

Keith Ludlum, the former union president of the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, tells me at his father’s chicken farm several miles down the highway that, “If a supervisor doesn’t meet their quota or they’re having issues, the superintendent takes them behind closed doors and reams them.”

Given the mediocre pay—roughly $56,000 a year, according to Glassdoor—and high pressure of supervisor jobs, Ludlum says, it’s difficult to retain people willing and capable of supervising production at Smithfield plants. (A college degree is preferred but not required for supervisors.) Because of this, he says, Smithfield’s human resources department often looks the other way when supervisors and superintendents harass or abuse workers on their lines. “The management is all about production—numbers,” he says. “They understand that they can’t have supervisors doing certain things, but if it’s something they can overlook because it’s a good superintendent who gets everything done, then they will do it.”

Monica (a pseudonym) is 47 and has worked at Smithfield since the late 1990s. Talking to HR “is like talking to that door,” she says, gesturing at the front door of an Arby’s and shaking her head as she sips a strawberry milkshake.

Monica measures out 12- and 16-ounce stacks of bacon moving down the assembly line for $16 an hour, and takes a daily cocktail of medications to ease the physical and emotional toll.

Monica says HR has repeatedly ignored complaints from her and her coworkers about their supervisor in the retail bacon department—one of the departments named in the 2018 lawsuits against the Virginia plant. The supervisor harasses new hires, especially young women, she says, asking them for their numbers and to go on dates, and telling them if they report it to upper management, he will deny it. He also gives “women he wants to sleep with” special perks like more approved absences, Monica says. Since our initial interview, Monica says this supervisor has been moved out of her department. Things have gotten better, she says.

Bathroom breaks are a point of tension between workers and supervisors. In October 2018, a video of a Smithfield worker unzipping his pants and peeing on the production line in Virginia went viral, sending the internet into brief outrage over Smithfield’s health standards. Anna, the shop steward, says Smithfield asks line workers at the Tar Heel plant to request bathroom breaks 30 minutes in advance. “Since we’re in production, time is money,” she says. “It’s ridiculous. How am I supposed to know if I need to go to the bathroom in 30 minutes?”

As for absences, meatpackers at the Virginia plant are only allowed six each year. Workers are fired for missing work due to unavoidable circumstances such as extreme weather conditions or illness, even if documented with a doctor’s note, according to testimony from several workers.

“I’m so sick of that place; I don’t know what to do,” says Monica. Her friend, who also works at Smithfield, nods along. Smithfield denies all of the workers’ allegations of harassment and unfair bathroom break and leave policies, saying the company complies with OSHA and FMLA regulations.

A few workers said they are happy with their jobs at Smithfield. For those who were not, such as Monica, the thing keeping them there was, of course, money. The union plants pay line workers between $14 and $18 an hour with benefits, an improvement from the $7.25 minimum wage offered at many of the fast-food restaurants and dollar stores prevalent in the rural Southeast that hire workers out of high school.

“BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS”

Beyond sexual harassment and strict break and leave policies, the demands of meeting production quotas and keeping up the line speed have physical implications.

Several of the women interviewed by In These Times had undergone hand surgeries. Anna began working at a Smithfield plant two-and-a-half years ago, after divorcing her husband on the West Coast, where she worked on an Army base. Anna cuts pork sirloins on the loin-boning line and has had her hands operated on twice for carpal tunnel and once for trigger finger, surgeries that were covered by workers’ compensation. She soaked her hands in Epsom salts at night to ease the pain. Before the surgeries, “my pain was excruciating,” she told me, running her fingers over a long scar on the palm of her hand at her apartment on the edge of a sprawling city in North Carolina.

Some Smithfield injuries have been fatal.

On Oct. 9, 2018, Michael Jessup, a 55-year-old mechanic at the Tar Heel plant, was repairing a conveyor belt when he died from “a puncture wound to the sternum area,” according to a report from the local sheriff’s office. Smithfield’s Lombardo called this description “inaccurate” (but was unable to provide further detail) and stressed that Smithfield has “consistently outperformed our industry peers” on safety.

“One thing I have learned in dealing with all of this is no one actually gives a fuck, and no matter how hard we work, no matter the blood, sweat and tears, no one cares,” Jenny wrote to In These Times. “The buck will always be passed and the poor person will always lose.”

Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory and a feminist scholar who has written extensively on the meat industry, sees the devaluation of lives at Smithfield—both those of hogs and those of workers—as closely linked forms of capitalist exploitation. “There’s a numbing effect in meatpacking work that benefits the producer,” Adams says. “The entire plant is about not caring. It’s the industrial model of alienation from yourself and your coworkers, so you can do that work.”

Ludlum, the former union president at the Tar Heel plant, agrees: “When you’re used to seeing dead animals, animals killed, animals coming in mutilated, crippled, blood, guts, meat—when you see this every day, you become somewhat numb, even to your coworkers. It amazes me what the human mind will accept.”

A KAFKAESQUE COMPLAINT SYSTEM

To get around unresponsive HR departments, workers can file complaints with the EEOC, the federal agency tasked with enforcing sexual harassment laws in the workplace, as the nine women at the Smithfield, Va., plant did.

But workers in low-wage industries often decide that the emotional and logistical costs of filing a complaint with the EEOC outweigh the potential gains.

“It’s a big commitment of time,” says Anna Park, the lead EEOC lawyer in the Los Angeles area who represents low-wage workers in sexual harassment cases. “If you’re worried about your next paycheck and feeding your family, this is not your priority. Low-skilled workers are less likely to come forward. They feel like they won’t be believed, or that they’ll be retaliated against.”

“Bureaucracy is the key word with the EEOC,” says Bernice Yeung. “The EEOC is really dedicated to working with low-wage workers. They’ve done lots of training with employers who hire low-wage workers, but attorneys and workers have been frustrated with how long the legal process takes.”

Since 2016, sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC have increased by 12 percent, largely in response to the #MeToo movement. But more than half of these cases are dismissed by the EEOC for lacking “reasonable cause”—sufficient evidence for the agency to take on a case. That determination can take months. The EEOC requires evidence that harassment occurred, which can include formal complaints or testimony from witnesses. The agency also assesses the credibility of the accuser and the witnesses. At the same time, it investigates whether an employer properly handled a case— whether it kept records and interviewed the alleged abuser and other witnesses. Of cases the EEOC does take, most settle without going to trial.

Critics complain that the EEOC deters victims of sexual harassment from filing lawsuits and puts pressure on workers to settle out of court—which nearly always involves nondisclosure agreements that some argue protect employers and silence victims.

Yeung says that some women in low-wage industries initially felt left out of the #MeToo movement despite their own decades of struggle against sexual harassment. “When #MeToo started, it was women in glamorous professions, and there was a sense of frustration especially among [lowwage workers],” she says.

Over time, #MeToo has become more inclusive and picked up traction among unions and worker centers representing low-wage workers, Yeung says. “We’re seeing an expansion of the conversation. We’re seeing hotel workers, domestic workers, janitors and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers taking the initiative to demand change.”

POWER IN A UNION

Unions can provide an important mechanism for defending workers who are sexually harassed by their supervisors. Contracts can include language protecting workers from sexual harassment, allow workers to file grievances, mandate sexual harassment training for supervisors and require that employers create antiharassment policies. Union stewards can then be selected and trained to handle sexual harassment grievances and encourage workers to speak out.

But whether sexual harassment policies and protections are effective in protecting workers varies by union local and is largely determined by the local’s culture.

“The biggest challenge is in traditionally male industries,” says KC Wagner, director of workplace issues at Cornell University’s labor school, who leads sexual harassment trainings around the country. “Unions are just a microcosm of our culture, and even if women are in leadership positions, the cultural norm is such that these traditions of harassment are not being taken seriously.”

Ludlum says that, when he was president of his local in Tar Heel, he would receive complaints about supervisors inappropriately touching women and bring them before management, at least once resulting in a supervisor being moved out of the department. (Ludlum, a leader of the initial union drive, was removed from the presidency in 2015 after a UFCW audit found that he had embezzled $216,344 from the union. Ludlum disputes the charges and has sued UFCW for defamation.)

Leadership at the UFCW and Teamsters locals representing Smithfield workers in North Carolina and Virginia, respectively, did not return calls to speak about sexual harassment at their plants. A press spokesperson for the International Brotherhood of the Teamsters said only that the Smithfield local “works closely with our members … to ensure a safe, harassment-free work environment.” The current UFCW contract at the Tar Heel plant does not have a clause about sexual harassment; In These Times was unable to obtain a copy of the Teamsters contract.

But Anna, the UFCW steward at the Tar Heel plant, did tell In These Times that women stewards at the plant have begun monthly meetings to discuss sexual harassment prevention. She also says she recently assisted in a sexual harassment complaint. Smithfield Foods’ Lombardo says that it has received no “recent or pending” sexual harassment grievances from unions at any of its plants.

Some of the Tar Heel workers interviewed were grateful for UFCW’s work fighting for fired workers. Thanks to the union, one worker said, she was rehired with 3.5 months back pay after a wrongful termination.

Several workers interviewed at the Virginia plant, however, complained that their Teamsters union only served to drain their paychecks. Monica doubts the union leadership’s willingness to fight for workers on sexual harassment issues, or any other concerns. “They don’t pick up the phone, and half the time they don’t call you back,” she says. Monica and another worker interviewed had opted out of the union entirely, which was possible because of Virginia’s right-to-work law.

The union “don’t do too much of nothing,” says Michelle (a pseudonym), a 47-year-old with chronic health issues. She says she was fired from the Virginia plant in November 2018 after leaving early during a vertigo spell. She cites her frustration over the six-day absence policy, saying she had been written up for arriving late to work after her nephew’s funeral. She says the union did not help her get her job back. Getting written up for an absence is “at the discretion of the supervisor,” she says. “If you’re not chummy with the supervisor, you really don’t have a job. … But life happens. … People get sick.”

KC Wagner says that many unions across the country are making enormous strides to educate workers about sexual harassment, beginning to treat it as a “breadand-butter issue” alongside wages, benefits and job security. In the wake of #MeToo, the AFL-CIO led the way with a wealth of resources, workshops and campaigns for members to implement at the local level.

“In an anti-union climate, it’s incredibly important for unions to seize this [#MeToo] moment,” Wagner says.

Esther Lopez, a former secretary treasurer of UFCW International, says the union offers sexual harassment trainings to locals across the country, including workshops for union stewards on how to handle sexual harassment grievances. But they remain optional for locals, which have autonomy over their membership policies. Lopez says that bringing women into leadership roles is critical to shifting union culture around sexual harassment. She also stresses that making workers aware of their rights and writing stronger sexual harassment clauses into contracts can protect workers.

“There’s no question some local unions do it better than others,” says Lopez. “But frankly, we applaud exposing sexual harassment in the workplace. We are very clear that the contract should be used to the fullest extent to prevent against sexual harassment.”

Michelle, who worked on a bacon slicer, checking for stray pieces of bone, says, “The union gets your money and they don’t help you out. It’s a load of hogwash.”

She says that, due to health issues, she hasn’t been able to find a job since she was fired. “It’s a ‘good old boys’ system in there,” she says of Smithfield. “If you’re not young and cute and shapely and you don’t grin in their face, then they don’t like you.

“You got Harvey Weinstein up there, but you also got Smithfield, and that’s a billion-dollar industry,” she said during a conversation with In These Times in early 2019. “They kept a supervisor there who’s a harasser because he was turning out the numbers. Come on now. That’s a shame.”

This blog was originally published by the InTheseTimes on October 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author:Lauren Gurley is a contributing writer to Rural America In These Times. She has previously contributed to the American Prospect, Quartz, and the South Side Weekly.  She graduated from the University of Chicago in June 2015 with a degree in Comparative Literature. You can follow her on Twitter: @laurenkgurley.

Governor Murphy Signs ‘Panic Button’ Bill to Protect Hotel Workers from Assaults, Harassment

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

Hundreds of hotel workers, union leaders and elected officials gathered at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City today to witness the signing of a bill requiring hotels to equip certain employees with “panic buttons” for their protection against inappropriate conduct by guests.

“We must protect the safety of workers in the hospitality industry,” Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said. “I am proud to sign panic button legislation that Bob [McDevitt] and the working men and women of UNITE HERE, Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, Charlie [Wowkanech] and Laurel [Brennan], Senator Loretta Weinberg and so many others have fought for to give hotel workers greater security and the ability to immediately call for help should they need it on the job.”

The portable safety device, known as a panic button, will allow hotel workers to alert security personnel if they feel they are in danger or a compromising position while performing housekeeping duties. Today’s signing makes New Jersey the first in the nation to have a statewide law requiring hotels to provide their employees with such devices.

Hotels that do not comply can be fined up to $5,000 for the first violation and $10,000 for each additional violation, according to the legislation.

“The safety of women in the hospitality industry has been overlooked,” said Bob McDevitt, president of UNITE HERE Local 54. “I’m proud that my state is the first to pass and sign into law real protections for housekeepers in the hotel industry.”

The harassment of hotel workers, especially housekeepers, has been a longstanding issue the hotel industry has struggled to address. Unite Here Local 54, a union representing nearly one-third of casino and hospitality workers in Atlantic City, was a driving force behind this legislation, which will provide an additional measure of security for thousands of hotel workers across the state.

“Whenever I go into a room, I wonder what is going to happen,” said Miriam Ramos, a housekeeper at Bally’s in Atlantic City. “Most guests are nice and respectful, but every housekeeper has either been sexually assaulted or harassed doing her job, or knows someone who has.”

“I’m glad that the legislature and the governor are making it safer for us,” Ramos said.

Assemblyman John Armato (D-2) introduced the “panic button” bill in the General Assembly in September. Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-2) also sponsored the bill. Sens. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Linda Greenstein (D-14) proposed it in the Senate.

“The New Jersey State AFL-CIO thanks the sponsors of the panic button bill for recognizing that hotel workers deserve to feel safe while on the job,” said Charles Wowkanech, president of the state federation. “We are proud to have lobbied on behalf of this important legislation, which will no doubt help create a safer working environment for all of New Jersey’s hotel workers.”

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on June 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Gillis is a writer at AFL-CIO.

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.

Forced Arbitration Protects Sexual Predators and Corporate Wrongdoing

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Fox News.  Sterling Jewelers.  Wells Fargo. 

What do they all have in common?  For years, they successfully kept corporate wrongdoing secret, through forced arbitration.

Buried in the fine print of employment contracts and consumer agreements, forced arbitration clauses prohibit you from going to court to enforce your rights.  Instead, employees who experience harassment and discrimination, or consumers who are the victims of financial fraud or illegal fees, are sent to a private arbitration forum.  Frequently designed, chosen, and paid for by the employer or corporation, in arbitration everything is conducted in secret. People who suffered the same abuses often can’t join together to show how rampant a problem is and confront a powerful adversary—and people are less likely to come forward at all, because they have no idea they aren’t alone.

When Gretchen Carlson sought her day in court over sexual harassment allegations against Roger Ailes, her former boss at Fox News, Mr. Ailes’s lawyers had a quick response: send the case to forced arbitration.  After she filed suit, he also invoked a clause that reportedly required absolute secrecy: “all filings, evidence and testimony connected with arbitration, and all relevant allegations and events leading up to the arbitration, shall be held in strict confidence.” It was only because she resisted that clause through a creative legal theory that her allegations were made public—unleashing a tsunami of claims of sexual harassment by Ailes and others at Fox News.

Hundreds and maybe thousands of former employees of Sterling Jewelers, the multibillion-dollar conglomerate behind Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and Kay Jewelers, known for advertising slogans such as “Every kiss begins with Kay,” were allegedly groped, demeaned, and urged to sexually cater to their bosses to stay employed.  The evidence of apparent rampant sexual assault was kept secret for years from other survivors and the general public through gag orders imposed in forced arbitration.

The same thing happened at American Apparel, where employees and models were forced to arbitrate sexual harassment claims and keep the details secret, and the proceedings were reportedly a sham.

We don’t yet know if Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein used forced arbitration to suppress allegations of his decades-long campaign of sexually harassing, abusing, and assaulting young assistants, temps, employees and executives at the Weinstein Company and Miramax.  But the clauses may well have played a role, and his nondisclosure agreements and secret one-by-one settlements worked to the same effect.

And forced arbitration clauses do not only hide wrongdoing in sexual harassment cases.  Corporations also use forced arbitration to isolate victims and cover up massive, widespread wrongdoing in the financial sector.

For example, forced arbitration clauses found in legitimate customer accounts let Wells Fargo block lawsuits related to the 3.5 million sham accounts it opened; as a result it kept its massive scandal secret for years, and then lied to Congress about it.  People began trying to sue Wells Fargo in 2013, but cases were pushed out of our public courts into secret arbitrations, and Wells Fargo continued creating fake accounts.

KeyBank, like Wells Fargo, has also used forced arbitration to keep disputes secret and block relief for people charged overdraft fees when their accounts weren’t overdrawn.  A court recently ruled “unconscionable” KeyBank’s provision requiring a customer to “keep confidential any decision of an arbitrator.”  But the court allowed KeyBank to force the plaintiff to arbitrate his case individually, despite the fact that thousands or millions of KeyBank customers were subject to the same abuses. These customers were not permitted to come together to challenge these abuses as a group in court, because of forced arbitration.

By imposing secrecy and isolating victims, forced arbitration shields corporate wrongdoing and leaves it more difficult for those harmed to hold the wrongdoers accountable.  That’s why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a rule earlier this year prohibiting banks, payday lenders and other financial companies from using forced arbitration to cover up widespread frauds, scams and abuses.  This is a first step in the right direction of restoring Americans’ rights to challenge predatory practices.  But some in Congress have threatened to block this important protection. 

Earlier this year, Congress and President Trump overturned rules that prohibited employers with federal contracts from forcing employees to arbitrate sexual harassment or sexual assault claims, or claims alleging discrimination on the basis of sex, race, or religion.  In so doing, they took power away from women facing sexual harassment and returned it to those trying desperately to keep that harassment under wraps.

We cannot tolerate another blow against Americans seeking to hold the wealthy and powerful accountable.  The CFPB’s rule must be permitted to go forward. 

This blog was originally published at Public Citizen Litigation Group’s Consumer Law & Policy Blog on October 23, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Emily Martin is General Counsel and Vice President for Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. She oversees the Center’s advocacy, policy, and education efforts to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunity for women at work and to achieve the workplace standards that allow all women to achieve and succeed, with a particular focus on the obstacles that confront women in low-wage jobs and women of color.

The National Park Service has a serious workplace harassment problem

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

In a week that has exposed the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in Hollywood, a new federal survey released Friday by the Department of the Interior points to a similar culture within the agency’s National Park Service (NPS).

According to the survey, some 39 percent of NPS employees say they have experienced harassment or discrimination on the job. “In the last year, over 10 percent of NPS employees experienced sexual harassment, almost 20 percent reported experiencing gender-based harassment, and 0.95 percent reported experiencing sexual assault,” Buzzfeed reported.

The survey also shows a lack of faith in the federal agency to take care of their employees whenever they experience any kind of harassment. Seventy-five percent of National Park Service employees who said they had been harassed said they did not report the incidents, with half of that group citing their concerns that it wouldn’t have made difference anyway. Thirty-three percent explicitly stated that they “did not trust the process.”

In January of 2016 the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General reported that it had “found evidence of a long-term pattern of sexual harassment and hostile work environment” in multiple national parks, including the Grand Canyon National Park’s River District, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Georgia, and De Soto National Memorial in Florida.

As with any occupation that is rooted in “outdoors culture,” an emphasis is placed on masculinity in the Park Service, often resulting in a lack of female park rangers.

In Texas, where only 8 percent of the state’s 500 game wardens were women, some members of the Parks and Wildlife Department complained to the state in 2012 about a “legacy” of racial and gender intolerance, according to in-depth reporting by HuffPost. Similarly, female employees of the U.S. Forest Service in California filed a class-action lawsuit in 2014 over the same issues women in the Texas parks service were facing.

The Department of the Interior has begun to take steps to address the numerous allegations of harassment and discrimination that have seemingly flown under the radar or been ignored for decades. Ahead of the release of the survey, the agency said it would add more staff to the NPS Employee Relations and Labor Relations team, in addition to backing employee support groups and training sessions.

In a Friday news conference at the Grand Canyon, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke addressed his commitment to ending the culture of harassment at the NPS.

“In the past, ‘zero tolerance’ has been an empty phrase — instead of taking action, our leadership fell back and took no action at all,” said Zinke. “That’s over. We’re going to root out this virus, and it begins with putting a new culture in place that embraces the best of the Park Service’s values.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on October 12, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant and social media coordinator at NPR, where she covered presidential conflicts of interest and ethics coverage. Before moving to Washington, she was an intern reporter at NPR member stations WLRN in Miami and WFSU in Tallahassee, Florida. She holds a B.A in Editing, Writing, and Media with a minor in political science from Florida State University.

Stop asking women to change to make men feel comfortable in the workplace

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Numerous women have said that film producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed or raped them. But rather than blaming the man responsible for the sexual assault, conservative commentators, former White House officials, and journalists alike are turning their focus on eliminating interaction between men and women.

Last week, the New York Times published an investigation on the experiences of actresses who were alone with Weinstein and the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault against Weinstein, which occurred over the span of three decades. On Tuesday, The New Yorker published an article detailing the experiences of multiple women in excruciating detail. It also exposed the ways in which the industry protected Weinstein and how his employees helped him meet women, despite their discomfort in doing so.

Weinstein has been fired from the company he co-founded, and A-list celebrities, such as Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Judy Dench, George Clooney, and Jennifer Lawrence, have spoken out against him and his treatment of women he worked with. On Tuesday, Weinstein’s wife of a decade, Georgina Chapman, said she’s leaving him. On the surface level, it seems that Weinstein’s career is over and that his accusers have found justice. But the response to the Weinstein sexual harassment reports proves that instead of putting blame where it belongs — on sexual predators — some men are still interested in blaming women and their presence in the office for their own abuse.

Former deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, Sebastian Gorka, tweeted that all of these sexual assaults could have been avoided if Weinstein simply didn’t meet with women one-on-one. He referred to Vice President Mike Pence’s rule of not eating alone with any woman other than his wife, Karen, and suggested if Weinstein simply hadn’t met with women alone, he wouldn’t have assaulted them.

Gorka’s tweet laid bare the real argument that is being made when men say they can’t be alone with women. It perpetuates the cultural pretense that when men are sexually violent, it is simply an impulsive mistake, a part of their nature that they can’t control, instead of a decision they made to prey on particular women they know they can control or whose reports won’t later be believed. The New Yorker’s investigation into Weinstein’s alleged sexual assaults clearly shows that his decisions were calculated and followed a pattern. For example, Weinstein reportedly used female executives to give the women he harassed a false sense of security before he met with them alone. The New Yorker piece read:

Some employees said that they were enlisted in subterfuge to make the victims feel safe. A female executive with the company described how Weinstein assistants and others served as a ‘honeypot’—they would initially join a meeting, but then Weinstein would dismiss them, leaving him alone with the woman.

Other men noted that women shouldn’t have met with Weinstein in hotel rooms, as if Weinstein didn’t also sexually assault women in his own place of business.

Weinstein used every tool available to him to manipulate women into meeting with him, including his colleagues and the impunity he enjoyed at his workplace. One of Weinstein’s producers told a woman that she was meeting several people for a Miramax party at a hotel, but when the woman arrived and the producer led her to the room, Weinstein was the only person there, according to the New Yorker. Weinstein also reportedly sexually assaulted a woman during daylight hours inside his Miramax office. He expected that some of the women he harassed and assaulted would speak out, and he made the consequences clear to them. The reporting on Weinstein shows that he is a man who knew how to intimidate and control women to force himself on them and keep them silent. There is nothing accidental about it. He was inventive, cunning, and powerful enough that a formal workplace culture never would have stopped him from sexually assaulting women.

Still, none of these details have stopped people from suggesting that a different kind of workplace would have solved the Harvey Weinstein problem and magically stop men from sexually harassing women. Josh Barro, a senior editor at Business Insider, wrote that the real problem is fun office cultures. Barro wrote for Business Insider:

But there are industries with cultures that involve after-hours social activities that blur the lines between business and leisure and can easily appear inappropriate for colleagues who could be suspected of sexual involvement.

Barro doesn’t think that getting rid of after-hours socializing will hurt women. He thinks it will break up all-male networks. To that, I laugh heartily. Men may not go to official after-hours events that their boss encourages them to attend, but such a ban certainly doesn’t prevent men from meeting with each other after work (and why should it?). The only result is that there isn’t an official employer-endorsed space for both men and women to gather. If women already feel shamed for meeting with men alone, it certainly won’t help for employers to make mixed-gender socializing seem strange, or even harmful.

In response to the Times piece detailing men’s concerns about accusations of sexual harassment or the “appearance of impropriety,” Barro wrote that instead of dismissing these men’s fears, the whole office culture must adapt to them and their concerns. He said it requires more than “just the hand wave of ‘don’t harass women, it’s simple.’”

But it is that simple. The office culture that needs to be destroyed is not one that has happy hours. It’s one that has no real system of accountability for powerful men who could easily crush the careers of their subordinates. The reports about Weinstein follow a series of high-profile sexual harassment cases across a range of industries over the last year, including Fox News personalitiesactorsmusicians, and Silicon Valley investors and executives.

Still, Barro isn’t alone. The flurry of reports of sexual harassment have caused some men to decide to avoid one-on-one interactions with women altogether. As one orthopedic surgeon told the New York Times, “I’m very cautious about it because my livelihood is on the line. If someone in your hospital says you had inappropriate contact with this woman, you get suspended for an investigation, and your life is over. Does that ever leave you?”

The men interviewed didn’t mention the effects sexual harassment has on the career of the women who come forward, nor did they appear to understand the career risks women take to report sexual harassment. If they did, they might understand that it is not a flippant choice. By saying they’re not interested in interacting with women because they’re scared of sexual harassment allegations, these men demonstrate one of the main reasons why women don’t come forward with allegations sooner: they don’t want to be shut out of career opportunities.

Unfortunately, this view is all too common. A 2010 Center for Talent Innovation study found that almost two-thirds of male executives said they stopped having one-on-one meetings with junior female employees because they feared that people would think they were having an affair. Nearly two-thirds of people interviewed for a May poll by Morning Consult said people should take caution when meeting with people of the opposite sex at work. Fears that other people may view their meetings as improper stop the majority of senior men from meeting with women, even though women’s careers benefit from having sponsors.

Demanding that entire industries that revolve around evening cocktails and building relationships with colleagues outside of work hours stop all off-hours socialization is unrealistic, but even if it were possible, it still wouldn’t prevent sexual harassment. Weinstein himself met with women in a variety of settings, but he also found ways to cleverly shift where and when meetings would take place. The former assistants and executives mentioned in the New Yorker piece, some of whom facilitated the meetings, said there was a “culture of silence” around sexual assault.

Other sexual harassment allegations show that men don’t need social events or “fun” workplace atmospheres to harass women. Regarding a sexual harassment case at SoFi, an online personal finance company, the plaintiff said that he saw his manager put “explicit sexual innuendo and statements into normal workplace communications.” A former Fox News host, Eric Bolling, was accused of sending lewd photos to his female colleagues via text message in August. Should male colleagues no longer send professional communication to all co-workers or have their female colleagues’ phone numbers? That would be ludicrous. The best solution is for men to be as considerate to their female colleagues as they are to their male colleagues, to no longer shut them out of business meetings for the sake of “appearances,” and to work to create an environment that supports their female colleagues when they do come forward with harassment allegations.

Here’s another thought: They could also stop sexual harassing women.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on October 11, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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

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