What Working People in Their Unions Are Doing to End Gender-Based Violence on the Job

What Working People in Their Unions Are Doing to End Gender-Based Violence on the Job

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a time to educate our communities about the prevalence of sexual assault and ways to prevent it. The labor movement is committed to ending sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence, especially when it occurs in the workplace.

Gender-based violence in the workplace refers to sexual violence in all of its forms that occurs at work, or on the way to and from work, including sexual harassment, stalking behaviors, assault and rape, trafficking, coercion, and restrictions on movement. Gender-based violence in the world of work encompasses both the impact of intimate partner violence on a survivor’s working life and abuse that occurs within the context of employment involving co-workers, managers, clients or patients.

Working women face violence at work on a daily basis. Did you know:

  • Fifty-eight percent of hotel workers and 77% of casino workers surveyed in Chicago have been sexually harassed by a guest. Almost half of all hotel workers have had a guest answer the door naked or expose themselves. Most said they did not feel safe at work afterward.
  • Sixty percent of women restaurant workers surveyed said they have been sexually harassed on the job, most on at least a weekly basis. Managers encouraged women workers to wear revealing clothes, creating a climate where objectification by both clientele and supervisors is normalized.
  • Eighty-eight percent of women construction workers reported being sexually harassed at work.
  • Forty-one percent of women meatpackers in Iowa reported unwanted touching on the job, and an additional 30% reported verbal harassment. After rejecting an aggressor’s advances, many respondents were threatened with termination or assigned work that was more difficult .

These shocking figures come from a new report from the AFL-CIO, Futures Without Violence and the Solidarity Center, which highlights the urgent need to end gender-based violence in the workplace in the United States.

Economic insecurity, particularly precarious employment, where people perform the duties required of a permanent job but are denied full-time job rights and are paid low wages, greatly contributes to vulnerability to gender-based violence. Women comprise the majority of part-time and temporary workers in the United States, as well as the majority of low-paid workers. People living paycheck to paycheck cannot afford to lose their job and are less likely to report abuse. The structure of the workplace also can create opportunities for abuse, particularly informal working arrangements, such as multiple levels of subcontracting, which decrease oversight and accountability. For example, property service workers like janitors are isolated in empty buildings at night, hired through layers of subcontractors, and managed by an attenuated chain of overwhelmingly male supervisors, all of which contributes to a higher risk of experiencing gender-based violence.

Working people in their unions have a critical role to play in confronting and eliminating gender-based violence at work. Working people come together and negotiate in collective bargaining agreements that can include measures to identify and address gender-based violence. For example, the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council negotiated language into an industrywide collective bargaining agreement that required panic buttons for all hotel housekeepers, and university graduate employees negotiated protections in their contract, including the ability to represent working people through grievance procedures. UNITE HERE Local 1’s #ComeForward campaign encouraged women to report incidents and end the culture of silence surrounding gender-based violence in the hospitality industry.

In June 2018, governments, unions and employers will meet at the International Labor Organization to develop an agreement on violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work. This is the first time that the ILO will develop an international agreement on the issue, and it is critical that we win a strong standard. 

Learn more about the campaign here. As the report demonstrates, there are many areas where the United States needs to improve. Having an international framework will provide critical guidance on how to eliminate gender-based violence, at home and throughout the world.


Jackie Tortora
Wed, 04/05/2017 – 09:22

Updated: April 19, 2017 — 1:52 am