Role of Trade Unions in Educating Workers and Other Community Members on Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Issues

last updated September 20, 2005

It is important for unions to approach sexual harassment as more than a problem of an individual man or woman.  Instead the union as a whole, according to Camille Colatosi and Elissa Karg, Stopping Sexual Harassment, A Handbook for Union and Workplace Activities,” 1992, 39-40, can support the fight against sexual harassment in general by publicizing information about sexual harassment in the union’s newsletter, providing training on sexual harassment, and organizing actions against harassment.

For example, articles can be written about sexual harassment in general or a particular case in the union newspaper.  Such information helps to educate members about harassment, let women know that the union will support them, and let potential abusers know that their acts may be publicized (if the woman agrees).  Articles could discuss what sexual harassment is, what people’s rights are, and what steps they should take if they are harassed.  Unions could reprint the sexual harassment provisions of the local contract.  If there is no union newspaper, a leaflet on sexual harassment could be prepared.

Unions and employers should hold trainings on sexual harassment.  If they are unwilling, individuals can encourage the union representative to write a group grievance, or a group can write a letter asking for training.  This tactic prevents management from acting as if though there are only single acts of harassment.  Group protests and demonstrations may also be effective in publicizing the severity of sexual harassment, as well as group petitions asking that individual perpetrators be fired or otherwise disciplined.  Rape crisis centers or other women’s centers may be able to help provide effective training.  According to Colatosi and Karg in chapter 4, for workplaces struggling with pornographic materials, it may be effective for management to conduct an unannounced tour of the work place to witness the extent of the problem.

Colatosti and Karg also include a sample survey in their book at Appendix 1, ideas for a union training class, suggestions for letters, leaflets, and written materials on sexual harassment, and recommendations on how to build support groups for women in non-traditional jobs.  The book also contains a bibliography on resources and organizations providing information on sexual harassment and other women’s issues.

Extensive materials also are available on this website, http://www.stopvaw.org/Training_Material.html, as well as from other resources to provide models for training in sexual harassment.  The training modules include a Pre-Test About Sexual Harassment (also includes a survey), What Is Sexual Harassment?, and Sexual Harassment Case Scenarios.

 

Many unions and union organizations also have developed many useful materials and models to alleviate sexual discrimination in the workplace.  See, for example, “Handbook on National Machinery to Promote Gender Equality and Action Plans: Guidelines for Establishing and Implementing National Machinery to Promote Equality with Examples of Good Practice,” 2001; http://stopvaw.org/By_Institution2.html (discussing models for creating equality plans in the workplace); see also ICFTU, “Equality—The Continuing Challenge,” 1995; http://www.icftu.org/www/PDF/manual-equality-1995.pdf (including educational materials on sexual harassment for unions).

 

For an excellent overview of sexual harassment strategies from the International Textile, Garment & Leather Workers’ Federation, see “Dealing with sexual harassment at work – Guidelines for representatives: Resources and Links;” http://www.itglwf.org/displaydocument.asp?DocType=Links&Index=80&Language=EN.  The documents included are: What is Sexual Harassment – Guidance for victims; Sexual Harassment - Membership Survey; Checklist for Union Action on Sexual Harassment;

 

Sample Policy on Sexual Harassment at Work; Dealing with Sexual Harassment at Work-Guidelines for Representatives; see also ICFTU, “Violence against Women: Action Programme on Sexual Harassment Within the Trade Union Movement,” 1991; http://www.icftu.org/displaydocument.asp?Index=990916288&Language=EN.

One local union of the United Auto Workers (UAW) put out a flyer asking, “How many times have you wondered if your union rights were being violated on the job?”  The flyer was put out to promote an educational skit the union had prepared and bring newer members to monthly membership meetings.  One of the issues the skit addressed was how management intentionally breaks union agreements by using such tactics as sexual harassment.  The skit also taught members how to follow up on such violations.  From http://www.uaw.org/solidarity/rnews/r1a/00/r1aq2_1.html.

In some countries, the government offers educational publications that help people better understand their rights, such as in sexual harassment cases.  For example, in the U.S., the EEOC offers publications in various languages.  Trade unions could order such publications or posters, from http://www.eeoc.gov/publications.html, to help educate their members on sexual harassment issues.  According to http://www.eeoc.gov/outreach/index.html, representatives of the agency may also be available for training and presentations, which trade unions could sponsor.