Using the Trade Union

last updated September 20, 2005

The book Stopping Sexual Harassment: A handbook for Union and Workplace Activities, by Camille Colatosi and Elissa Karg, 1992, provides excellent guidance for the role of unions in sexual harassment cases in chapter 3:

Some of its suggestions for individual victims and unions are:

  • Individual victims should prepare their cases assuming that they are in for a long battle, so they will be better prepared if they cannot resolve the problem on their own.  The book discusses how to collect evidence and document a case for a lawsuit or investigation.
  • In non-unionized workplaces, there might also be complaint procedures that victims can pursue.  Other options to consider are filing a claim with an enforcement agency, taking the case to court, and/or organizing women against sexual harassment.
  • Know your union contract and employer’s policies on sexual harassment and sex discrimination.
  • Don’t ignore the harassment and let the harasser know unequivocally that you object to the harassment.  This will avoid misunderstandings and the victim may be required to show that she has asked the harasser to stop the harassment.  Many women may be harassed by the same harasser and not know it if no one speaks out.
  • Seek support from someone in the workplace.  Consider contacting women’s workers’ organizations or rape crisis centers for advice and support. 
  • Don’t wait until you cannot tolerate the harassment any more and quit your job.  Once you are no longer in the workplace, the employer has little pressure to resolve the problem.  It may take years to resolve the case in court; meanwhile you have lost your job.
  • Consider taking a union representative with you when you ask the harasser to stop, or to observe the harasser’s interactions with you.
  • If your local union does not have a sexual harassment policy, find out if the national or international union, or women’s sections thereof, have sexual harassment policies or educational materials.
  • Find out your union’s record on dealing with sexual harassment, whether grievances have been filed, and what the result of the grievances was.
  • Contact your union representative but keep in mind that they may not know how to handle the issue.
  • A strategy checklist for how to approach the issue is: prepare yourself, research your options, confront the harasser, put it in writing, tape record the harasser [if legal in your jurisdiction], keep a record, get support, get witnesses, and find the harasser’s other targets.