Teamsters can strengthen our union on the shop floor if we can recognize sexual harassment and deal with it swiftly at our workplaces. By educating women about their right to a safe workplace free of sexual harassment and educating all members about this topic, our locals can gain the trust and participation of women members, and show management we insist on respect for all members.
“I just want to be able to work like anyone else.” This is what a Teamster member told TDU when she described the sexual harassment she has endured from a co-worker at UPS. What victims want is for the harassing behavior to end and to be able to perform their jobs like everyone else.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment involves behavior that is explicitly sexual in nature and considered offensive and unwanted by the victim.
Sexual harassment is against Federal law, many state and local laws, and the Teamster Constitution. The Federal Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991 prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace and allow for reinstatement, back pay and the right to sue for compensatory and punitive damages.
There are two main types of workplace sexual harassment as defined by law.
Quid pro quo
This is when something is demanded in exchange for something else. You must comply with certain conduct as a condition of employment or advancement. It involves someone who has power over your job, like the boss or a supervisor. An example is when a boss insists or implies that he must have an intimate get-together or you’ll have no chance for a promotion or, only the women who flirt with the supervisor get the choice shifts or lighter-duty work.
This is when a co-worker, supervisor or someone else harasses you because of your gender, affecting your ability to perform your job or creating an intimidating or offensive working environment. The employer is responsible for the actions of contractors, vendors and customers, too. This is the most common form of unlawful harassment.
Conduct that has been defined by courts as sexual harassment includes (but is not limited to):
- Persistent requests for a date or sexual “favors” (even when joking).
- Touching, stalking, sexual gestures.
- Sexually explicit jokes or other lewd or abusive and demeaning comments with sexual content, spreading sexual rumors.
- “Checking out” or staring, or sexual comments about someone’s clothing or anatomy.
- Pinups (bikinis or nude), sexual graffiti, displaying sexual objects.
- Sexual actions or assault.
Some actions are severe enough that once is all it takes to be sexual harassment, like touching oneself or others in a sexual way or showing one’s body. Other conduct is considered unlawful harassment if it is repeated or persistent, and the victim has let the offender know it is unwanted.
Health and Safety Issue
Sexual harassment is a health and safety issue. Sexually harassed women often dread and fear being at work or are prevented from performing their jobs. This can t can cause stress-related illnesses.
Women in the workplace are still not valued equally. On average, women make much less than men for similar or even the same work, especially in nonunion positions. Women often feel they have to take what is dished out by the boss, or must go along with sexually offensive behavior in order to get along at work. The union’s job is to let them know that’s not the case, and to fight all forms of sexual harassment.
The employer is ultimately responsible for maintaining the work environment free from sexual harassment. The company may be liable for damages to the victim caused by its agents, supervisors and employees.The union is responsible for investigating all incidents of sexual harassment and for representing the victim against the company in order to resolve any problems. If the harassment has been perpetrated by a fellow union member, and if management disciplines that person, the union must also represent that person to be sure that discipline was handled in accordance with the contract.
It’s in the union’s best interest to educate all members about sexual harassment. Stewards and other members should speak up and put a stop to offensive behavior whenever they see it.
What Stewards, Officers, and Members Should Do
Report the offensive conduct to management. Follow the reporting requirements of the company’s sexual harassment policy. If you don’t tell the company, you risk losing any court case.
- Listen to and support the victim; speak out against problems.
- Investigate and seek resolution acceptable to victim. Make sure the resolution does not punish the victim for speaking out (example: don’t require the victim to move to another department away from the harasser).
- Educate the membership—use newsletters, workshops, union meetings, shopfloor action.
- Add language to your contract and bylaws.
- Never make jokes about sexual harassment.
What Stewards and Grievants Should Do
If you decide to file a grievance or take legal action, try to be as thorough as possible. The list below provides suggestions for you and your steward.
- Prepare Yourself. Get copies of anything in writing about the quality of your work, especially if you are being harassed by a supervisor. He may try to claim your work was poor.
- Say No to the Harasser. Be public about rejecting the offensive sexual conduct when possible. Ask a steward to accompany you to confront the harasser.
- Keep records. Always write down incidents and ask any witnesses to sign your statement.
- Go to the union right away. Find out internal union procedures and file a grievance. Remember, the company is responsible for co-worker harassment. By not telling the company, you risk losing any court case.
- Get support. Seek out supportive co-workers and alert them to look out for offending behavior, to be your witness.
- Get legal advice. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Civil Rights Commission can help. Filing a charge with the EEOC is necessary before going to Federal Court. Know the deadlines under the laws.
Help Available from TDU
Workshops available. Hold a workshop at a union meeting or with a small group of members. Request a workshop as part of the remedy to your case. Topics include: Fighting Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination, Building Women’s Participation in the Union, Organizing a Women’s or Education Committee, and Legal Rights.
Call TDU at 313-842-2600.
Note: This article is introductory. To deal with an actual case of sexual harassment, you should consult further resources.