D017 Reducing Sexual Harassment, Assault and Exploitation in the Workplace

Original version

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church recognize that sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation in the workplace occur in situations of specific vulnerabilities, such as financial precarity, job insecurity, lack of immigration status, and physical isolation on the job; and that these vulnerabilities often occur together, such that many of the workers most vulnerable to sexual harassment, assault and exploitation are low-income women, immigrants and/or women of color; and be it further

Resolved, That The Episcopal Church support public policies and other efforts to reduce sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation in the workplace, including:

  • Elimination of a separate minimum wage for tipped workers (set in the United States since 1991, and at the time of this resolution, at $2.13/hour on the federal level; 42 states have a lower minimum wage for tipped workers than for non-tipped workers), recognizing that wait staff and other tipped workers are effectively working for tips given their extremely low wage, and therefore often feel unable to risk their potential tips by complaining to or about customers who are harassing them;
  • Policies to reduce low-road subcontracting in public sector contracts, and to strengthen enforcement of labor and harassment laws for contracted workers, recognizing that workers for low-bid firms report higher levels of on-the-job sexual harassment than those who work for high-road contractors or who are direct employees;
  • Provision of adequate funding for labor standards enforcement offices at local, state, and federal levels to strengthen enforcement of equal opportunity, sexual harassment, and whistleblower laws;
  • Policies and laws at federal, state, and local levels that assure workers of protection from immigration enforcement when they report workplace violations, including sexual harassment, assault and exploitation;
  • Policies and laws at federal, state, and local levels to protect and strengthen the rights of agricultural and domestic workers, including the right to organize, the right to take adequate breaks, the right to reasonable working hours and overtime pay, and the development of mechanisms for reporting and enforcing laws against sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation;
  • Efforts by unions and other worker associations, and employers, to enact workplace standards, trainings, safety measures, and reporting systems to reduce sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation; and be it further

Resolved, That The Episcopal Church support the rights of workers everywhere to organize, whether in traditional labor unions or new forms of worker organization, in order to have a voice in their workplaces, including on issues related to sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation.

Explanation

Sexual harassment is all too common in the workplace, and workers with multiple vulnerabilities, such as low-wage jobs or undocumented immigration status experience sexual harassment at higher rates than most. Workers in certain industries especially report high levels of harassment, notably hospitality workers (hotel and restaurant), domestic workers, agricultural workers, and custodial workers on the night shift—all industries with high numbers of female, immigrant workers.

Common factors in making workers in these industries more vulnerable to sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation include low wages, especially for those who are mostly working for customer tips due to the extremely low tipped wage rate of $2.13 in many states; isolation on the job, notably for domestic and in-home care workers; lack of labor protections, especially for agricultural and domestic workers, who were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act during the New Deal, in part because lawmakers resisted offering protections to what was, at the time, a mostly African American workforce (and is now a mostly immigrant workforce); “low-road” subcontracted labor, in industries such as custodial services, where companies seek out low bids from companies with dodgy employment practices; high numbers of undocumented workers, who are afraid to report workplace violations, often under specific threat by a supervisor of being reported to ICE; a general lack of worker/union organization in these industries; and a lack of enforcement of workplace laws in many states and localities, especially in these industries, whose workers lack union and/or political clout.

For a more in-depth (and harrowing) look at the experience of immigrant women in the agricultural and custodial industries, it is worth watching two PBS Frontline documentaries, “Rape on the Night Shift” (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/rape-on-the-night-shift/) and “Rape in the Fields” (https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/rape-in-the-fields/whats-happened-since-rape-in-the-fields/).

There are many efforts underway to change these working conditions. The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), which organizes restaurant workers, has launched the One Fair Wage campaign (http://onefairwage.com/) to fight for an end to a two-tier wage system that leaves many restaurant workers, mostly women, vulnerable to customer harassment because they are relying on those customers for the vast majority of their pay. As a recent New York Times investigative article (https://nyti.ms/2GiJbuO) put it, “at restaurants across America, servers calculate how far is too far, weighing harassing behavior against tips they need to make a living wage.” Eliminating a separate tipped wage—and restructuring how tips are distributed, and perhaps even eliminating tipping as a form of pay—would remove the disincentive to put up with harassing behavior as a feature of the job.

In the hotel industry, the UNITE-HERE union, which organizes hotel workers, is engaged in a campaign in many cities to reduce workplace harassment. The Chicago local produced this video to inform union members of the extent of harassment faced by hotel housekeepers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixhFOcfA1ZY&feature=youtu.be. That same union local fought successfully for a local ordinance requiring that hotel workers be given a panic button that they can press in case of dangerous situation. As this NPR story reports, similar efforts are underway in other cities as well: https://www.npr.org/2017/12/11/569815324/pushing-for-protections-for-hotel-employees.

Even farmworkers, who lack many of the legal protections for organizing that other workers enjoy, have been able to make headway. The Coalition of Immolokee Workers in Florida, through a worker organizing and corporate pressure campaign, were able to win their Fair Food Program agreement with growers, which includes human rights provisions including a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy—in an industry in which 80% of female workers report sexual harassment on the job. Under the Fair Food Program, “unwanted touching” means immediate firing—with economic consequences for the grower if this rule is not enforced. This excellent article details the policy: https://www.thenation.com/article/what-farmworkers-can-teach-hollywood-about-ending-sexual-harassment/.

The National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, and local groups such as Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), have worked for policy changes and laws to enforce a “domestic worker bill of rights,” including the right not to be sexually harassed on the job. They also work to train their mostly female and immigrant members to know their rights, and to establish mechanisms for reporting violations and for supporting each other—despite the tremendous difficulties in organizing in this sector.

This resolution would put The Episcopal Church, through our Office of Government Relations, the Episcopal Public Policy Network, and through our many members who advocate for justice, behind the efforts that are being led by workers who are coming together to fight workplace harassment, assault, and exploitation.
https://www.npr.org/2017/11/25/566438853/hospitality-workers-and-sexual-harassment
https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/11/sexual-harassment-and-tipped-wage-workers/546314/
https://www.npr.org/2017/11/05/562188700/sexual-assault-and-farmworkers
http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu/pdf/2016/Race-to-the-Bottom.pdf, p. 16
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/11/29/sexual-assault-endured-by-domestic-workers-overlooked-in-national-conversation/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.35fd1483efdf


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