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Harassment: A workers’ rights issue

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, December 22, 2017

By Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou, President,
Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation

An astonishing number of reports of sexual harassment have dominated the news headlines and social media feeds over the last several months —from Hollywood and newsrooms to our state capital and the halls of Congress.

The powerful #metoo movement is bringing forth for the world to see what many of us already know to be true.

So many women have written very powerfully about what this movement means to them personally and what it means as a national cultural shift — particularly women who find themselves at the intersection of gender and race. As these stories and events unfold, it is clear the ground is shifting under us.

And that ground is shifting not just for Hollywood elites and elected officials — our own workplaces and our own unions are feeling it, too. No corner of our world is immune to this problem.

The ground is shifting not just for Hollywood elites and elected officials — our own workplaces and our own unions are feeling it, too.

While it’s easy to say harassment and discrimination are wrong and to point out the obvious problems, it’s much more difficult to address the system that allows this to happen and to point out the not-so-obvious problems. Legal channels exist, but the data shows that they are generally woefully ineffective for a majority of victims of harassment and discrimination. 

As a new leader in this movement, I quickly felt that my toolbox was far too small to handle the complaints that were being brought before me. We at the MRLF have had a long-standing harassment policy that we have been reviewing and improving upon over this last year. This moment only fuels the significance of those efforts.

While we have a massive undertaking in front of us to address our own organizations, we also have our collective bargaining power to help lead the way for anyone touched by our labor movement.

I very much welcome the due-process resources that are coming forward from unions, experts and victims to help handle situations that involve reports of discrimination and harassment. These best practices, policies and due-process guidelines are helping to build out that toolbox and give voice to victims.

But many people who are on the receiving end of both passive and intentional harassing or discriminatory behavior don’t want to resort to formal complaints and legal processes, no matter how great those processes are. They just don’t want it to happen in the first place.

From grievance processes to retaliation protection, our collective bargaining agreements contain very powerful tools. Our stewards and business agents can be trained in trauma-informed practices. Our leaders can speak out against harassment and discrimination and lead by example. We can demand better policies in our workplaces. We can recognize that harassment of all types is a workers’ rights issue.

Changing the culture of our workplaces, unions and communities will go so much further than improving our systems for dealing with problems. Thankfully, we are the keepers of an institution designed to protect and promote dignity and respect for our members.

Contact MRLF president Chelsie Glaubitz Gabiou at 612-321-5670 or chelsie@minneapolisunions.org.


1) Recognize that sexual harassment is a workers’ rights issue.
2) Make sure that the union’s constitution and collectively bargained agreements contain guarantees against sexual harassment and retaliation.
3) Address member-on-member harassment.
4) Create a union culture that connects union values and behavior.
5) Focus on prevention.
6) Encourage men — especially male leaders —to step up, speak out, and work to change the culture.
7) Create channels for members, union staff and others to report harassment quickly before it escalates.
8) Train stewards in trauma-informed practices on handling claims of harassment.
9) Protect victims who file charges of harassment against retaliation.
10) Give women a voice in the grievance process.

— Condensed from “Top 10 Things Unions Can Do Right Now to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” by Ana Avendano of the United Way and Linda A. Seabrook of Futures Without Violence. For full text: https://onlabor.org/top-10-things-unions-can-do-right-now-to-address-sexual-harassment-in-the-workplace/


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