Stopping Harassment Before It Can Take Off

June 14, 2018

When Worker Center Director Milagros Barreto addressed the media at a press conference across from the State House on May 14, it was proof just how multifaceted the fight for good, safe jobs really is.

MassCOSH, 32BJ SEIU District 615 (32BJ), US Representative Katherine Clark, and others had gathered to support Rosa Morban, 22, a former cleaner for a JetBlue subcontractor ReadyJet, as she spoke out against the harassment she and three of her co-workers experienced on the job. The event integrated two campaigns MassCOSH has worked on for years: supporting low-wage airport workers and ending the harassment low-wage women face on the job.

“I'm here to talk about the importance of workers receiving training in workplace harassment and violence at work,” said Barreto. “Unfortunately, the immigrant community is being made more vulnerable by our national leaders, and many times they are afraid to speak of what happens to them in their places of work because they do not want to lose their job. We need to give workers the necessary tools so they can defend themselves and fight for their rights.”

MassCOSH has worked with low-wage workers at Logan Airport for years to help them document dangerous work to secure higher wages and better job security. More recently, through a participatory research project, MassCOSH has begun to document and expose the harassment, bullying, and violence Latina women face on the job. Unfortunately, not all women have benefitted from the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement.

With generous funding from the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace, Latina MassCOSH members were trained to interview women on their experiences with sexual harassment on the job. By creating an environment where sensitive questions can be answered honestly and deeply, these women were able to glean important information from the 58 workers interviewed that will inform MassCOSH’s work in this area moving forward. This summer, MassCOSH will release a report with its findings and recommendations.  It promises to shine a bright spotlight on the fact that Morban is not alone in her experiences.

“The way [my boss] looked at us, made us feel uncomfortable and sexually abused through words he used,” recalled one MassCOSH interviewee. “He also invited us to go out and made comments about my physical appearance and also about the way I dressed.”

“[A co-worker] told my co-worker and I that he liked us a lot and if we wanted to be part of a threesome with him,” reported a housekeeping worker on the unchecked harassment she faced while working.

Morban reported that her supervisor showed her his genitals several times during the roughly eight months she worked for ReadyJet. He also touched her, solicited unwanted dates, and called her fat and ugly. Knowing this behavior was most likely continuing, MassCOSH’s Worker Center trained ReadyJet workers on their rights, and then worked directly with Morban to file a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint regarding the behavior in order to seek restitution.

“We are here today because when women have the support to share their stories, it empowers others and can make our workplace and society more safe for all of us,” said Roxana Rivera, Vice President of 32BJ to the conference attendees.

32BJ has been working alongside MassCOSH to unionize the subcontracted workers at Logan, using this press conference, a two-day strike in February, and worker interviews regarding workplace conditions to help promote the organizing effort.

“The #MeToo movement extends to everyone, and whatever race, income level, or job you have, you have a right to have a safe working environment,” said Representative Clark. She also stated that it’s time to stop employers who continue to exploit, harass, and isolate their employees.