The #MeToo Movement and Everyday Industries, Part 2

by September 19, 2018

The #MeToo movement has shed light on different service industries. Here are some ideas to cover this important topic on the business beat. (Photo credit to Pixabay user vespaburoks)

This is a continuation of last week’s post

Retail Workers

Compared to other industries, the Center for American Progress found that retail workers filed 13.44 percent of sexual harassment charges in 2015. It was the second-highest percentage.  

Retail is one of the busiest industries in the United States, employing one in eight workers in the private sector alone, according to the New York Times. It includes jobs in fast food, department stores, big-box stores, etc.

The Center for Popular Democracy reports that 18 percent of women have upper-management positions, even though they make up 60 percent of first-line supervisors. People of color, namely black and Latino, are also delegated to low-level, low-paying positions, such as cashiering. Older, experienced employees often do not receive benefits or long-term rewards, according to The Washington Post.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that the annual mean of retail workers’ wages totals around $27 thousand as of 2017. Minimum wage is not the norm, and as a result, the wages are in a fairly low-income level.

In addition, workers are often not allowed to sit and have few government assistance, raises, paid leave, union representation, or health insurance, many working part-time. Like restaurant workers, these conditions set retail workers at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating with higher-ups and customers.

The Fight for $15 movement, a call for minimum wage and fair treatment by employers, is prevalent in California and New York. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents retail workers.

Awareness and strikes are on the rise. Recently, Barnes & Noble recently fired its chief executive over sexual harassment claims, while big-box businesses, such as WalMart and Target, are dealing with employee allegations.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing work at factories as production line workers, cutters, brazers, solderers, and welders. Welding and other related jobs are expected to grow “six percent from 2016 to 2026,” but much of the population is in the cusp of retiring, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women make up one-third of the industry’s workforce, a figure unchanged since 2010. The Women Who Weld nonprofit is seeking to increase education about sexual harassment in the industry in the wake of the #MeToo era.

This education is necessary, as the manufacturing industry filed 11.72 percent of the national sexual harassment charges, according to the Center for American Progress. In 2017, the Ford Motor Company faced a lawsuit over harrasment and settled for $10 million. The New York Times examined the class action lawsuit, filed by four female employees from the Chicago Assembly Plant and the Chicago Stamping Plant, showing the toxic working environment at the plants.

Catcalling, sexist and racist comments, sexting, and sexual innuendos occurred, as well as propositions and sexual favors in exchange for promotions or work shifts. Bosses also ignored complaints and encouraged workers to hide them. Both plants have a majority of women and black employees, who feared retaliation from their close-knit peers and bosses. There was also no clear sexual harassment policy or actions taken against the harassers.

As a result, Ford was ordered to conduct and continue sexual harassment training for new and returning employees, report incidents to the EEOC, and watch over their workforce as part of their settlement. Ford’s president and chief executive released an open letter to the employees following the lawsuit, apologizing for what they experienced and promising change.

Janitors

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were over 2 million janitorial jobs in 2017. There are around 787,ooo women in the industry. Seventy percent of all workers are undocumented, according to the Equal Rights Advocates. 

There was a suit filed in 2010 against AMB Industries, Inc., but awareness spread in more recent years. In 2016, PBS aired “Rape on the Night Shift,” which is about female immigrant janitors who have experienced sexual assault and harassment. This was a collaborative project among KQED, FRONTLINE, Univision, the University of California Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program, and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.  

This documentary set in motion calls for change within the janitorial union and industry itself. This included street and billboard protests in California, along with hunger strikes, self-defense classes, and calls for comprehensive protective legislation.

San Diego Assemblymember Lorena Gonzales Fletcher backed such a bill. Shortly after she saw the “Rape on the Night Shift,” Fletcher proposed the Property Services Workers Protection Act, AB1978, in 2016. She then later proposed AB 2079 in 2018. It stipulated that the California Department of Industrial Relations (CDIR) must provide a toll-free hotline, sexual harassment prevention materials, and a registry that will “increase accountability.” Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law, which will take effect in 2020.

The California-based Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund is one of the watchdog groups that investigate abuse, including sexual assault, within the industry. The Service Employees International Union also represents 2 million service workers, according to their website. Under this union, Justice for Janitors focuses on the rights of caretakers and custodians in North America.