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San Diego Janitors March To Raise Awareness About Workplace Sexual Assault

March 8, 2016 1:33 p.m.

San Diego Janitors March To Raise Awareness About Workplace Sexual Assault


Helen Chen, coordinator of public programs at the Labor Occupational Health Program at University of California, Berkeley

Genoveva Aguilar, organizer, Service Employees International Union United Service Workers West

Rosa Lopez, janitor

Related Story: San Diego Janitors, Security Guards March Against Workplace Sexual Assault


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

A report released today by the UC Berkeley Center for the labor research and education agrees with many of the charges made by the service workers union SEIU. What does report find about the risk of sexual abuse women who work at as office cleaners.
Our key finding is that the property services industry is structured in a way that isolates workers who are uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment. And forces those who have been her last to be silent. We broke down different risk factors for what increases sexual harassment in this industry and the very first one is that janitors and security officers tend to work alone at night and in empty buildings and are isolated from almost everyone except their immediate supervisors and isolation is a risk factor for sexual harassment particularly when the harasser is their supervisor which is a common occurrence in this industry.
Did you find out how widespread problem this is in California?
Unfortunately there are not great numbers out there for pinpointing the exact prevalence of sexual harassment in the janitorial or the security industry. We know from the literature that something like a third to one half of women are sexually harassed. That is the baseline. For the janitorial and security industry workers are particularly vulnerable we are talking about a workforce that is female, Latina, immigrant, often undocumented, if you have any of these characteristics working in this industry, then it's very unlikely that that's worker will report any harassment that does occur. That is because the workers fear that they will be fired or punished if they speak up.
Earlier today I spoke with Rosa Lopez who is taking part in today's protest in San Diego. She talked about the vulnerability of will women in these jobs.
A lot of workers -- the supervisors cause sexual harassment. It's difficult because the woman with -- work at night. Me I work over 15 years at night. Sometimes one woman working alone in the building, it's very difficult.
Helen you say that one of the things that you found on this kind of assault and harassment often does go unreported.
It does. Underreporting occurs for a variety of different reasons. Women and sometimes men who are harassed, there is a feeling of shame, despair, like of support, they have a fear of not being believed. It's also -- particularly the workers and immigrant. There's also a lack of awareness about Lasix workplace rights and all the resources that might be available to survivors. And just overall, just that consuming fear of retaliation. These are workers whose top concern is to keep their jobs if that means that they have to shoulder the burden of harassment or other injustices at work they take it because they have to take home a paycheck to feed their families. -- Their children or aging parents. They need to keep that job.
I spoke with Genoveva Aguilar with the service employees Union in San Diego who told me something that many janitors just don't want to talk about.
The fear of losing their jobs. The fear of because their immigrants that they don't want to report it. It's also hard topic to talk about is the woman.
Why are these problems cropping up so often without site cleaning contractors, Helen?
One of the risk factors for sexual harassment in this industry is just the various layers of contracting and subcontracting in the industry. One workers work for contractors or subcontractors, there does tend to be less accountability than if they were working in-house. The size of the company tends to be smaller and there are fewer resources available on the part of the employer to prevent harassment or correct harassment. That's not to say that every small company is harassing its workers or that every large company is giving its best to protect workers. There are good and bad examples in every category. Once you have these smaller fragments in companies with fewer resources Limited profit margins, it's more likely that sexual harassment will not receive the attention that it deserves.
Helen, I was going to ask you what the claim contractor set up allegations? Do cleaning companies admit that this is happening on job?
We are connecting -- we're actually doing to parts of her report. This is a description of the problem that is happening and we are actually working on recommendations and I can get a snapshot of those. As part of that second part of our work, we will be talking to employers to try to figure out what are some of the best practices that they are implementing. There are some employers out there who are trying to prevent sexual harassment before it happens and to take actions if there is harassment. For the most part, employers don't have sexual-harassment policies in place. If they are in place, those policies are in attic wit or they are not enforced. Or there is not adequate training for supervisors. That is one of the things we want to look at is whether or not there should be better training for supervisors and also training not just for supervisors but for employees to let employees know what is harassment and what to do about it when it happens to them X and that is in the second half of your report that you're still working on.
I've been speaking with Helen Chen coordinator of public programs at the labor of occupation health programs at University of California Berkeley. Helen, thank you very much.