As a steward faces many challenges daily, there is an important topic that they must learn to handle in a professional manner: it’s called sexual harassment in the workplace. And the responsibility falls not only on stewards but all of the members of the union, as well.
Incidents involving sexual harassment are particularly challenging. The incidents involve strong emotions, misuse of power, and the tension that historically surrounds men and women in our society. Our union has an obligation to insure that its members are sensitive to the issues of sexual harassment. Additionally, it must create an environment where victims are comfortable turning to someone in the union for assistance. This means we must build an educated membership on this topic. Also, we need stewards who know how to investigate for possible follow up grievances.
So first off, here’s a brief definition of Sexual Harassment:
“Any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors, or any verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”1 Sexual Harassment, a form of gender discrimination, includes “lewd proposals, sexual jokes, and unwanted physical contact.”2 So in some cases this falls under legal heading of civil rights laws.
As good brothers and sisters we must be sensitive to the victim’s concerns. Victims, most of whom are women, can feel powerless, anxious, or even guilty. Standing by them sends a powerful message of unity. Stewards need to listen, record, and document all the details of any incident, and other members should immediately report these situations to their steward. As members we must show support to all victims and create a discrimination free environment.
If the supervisor is the offender, he may deny he made advances. He may blame the employee’s poor work performance or make other excuses. If it’s by a co-worker, he may claim their behavior was “in good fun,” or she “just can’t take it.”
Here you might remind them that if it was his daughter, wife, mother, or sister, he wouldn’t want her treated like that. Sometimes members are just ignorant about the issue of harassment. I say ignorant, not stupid. Ignorant means lack of knowledge.
The best strategy for dealing with this issue is a proactive one: we must educate ourselves on this subject before incidents occur. Legally the employer is responsible for the atmosphere we work in. However, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves and our brothers and sisters to stand up against this offending conduct.
Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.
Jim Ford, Chair, 205 Stewards’ Committee
1 Legal Rights of Union Stewards, 4th edition, Robert M. Schwartz
2 The Union Steward’s Complete Guide, 2nd edition, David Prosten