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Cassandra Waters

Ending gender-based violence on the job

People living paycheck-to-paycheck cannot afford to lose their jobs and are less likely to report abuse.

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, 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.

Working women face violence at work on a daily basis. Here are some alarming facts about violence at work:

  • Fifty-eight percent of hotel workers and 77 percent 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 himself. 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 percent 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 by the AFL-CIO and the Solidarity Center, “Futures Without Violence,” 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 are 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 jobs and are less likely to report abuse.

Unionized workers 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 industry wide collective bargaining agreement that requires panic buttons for all hotel housekeepers.

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.

Cassandra Waters is a Global Worker Rights Specialist at the AFL-CIO.