SEIU Harassment Scandal Causes Shakeup In Leadership
Several leaders in the Fight for $15 effort led by SEIU were removed from their positions after allegations of harassment were brought forth by female staffers. According to Labor Pains and Buzzfeed, Executive Vice President Scott Courtney, who had led the union’s Fight for $15 minimum wage campaign, recently resigned from his post. The union had to fire the leader of its Fight for $15 campaign in Illinois, Caleb Jennings, as part of an investigation into misconduct and abusive behavior. Jennings allegedly grew violent toward his employees, and even reportedly shoved a female subordinate against a door frame. The SEIU also placed Mark Raleigh, the Detroit campaign’s top official, on administrative leave for similar reasons.
It’s not just an SEIU problem. Some union leaders say sexual harassment is a widespread problem within organized labor, just as it is in the rest of the workforce.
“Every woman that I know, whether they’re in management or punch the clock, has faced it,” including those working for unions, said Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO and former leader of the organization’s national LGBT group. “If it is a co-worker or a union brother or a union sister, it’s hard. You somehow feel the betrayal of trust.”
It’s been ten months since Mickey Kasparian, President of United Foodservice and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 135 was named in a complaint charging him with gender discrimination and retaliation by former union employee Sandy Naranjo.
A few days later, retired union employee Isabel Vasquez filed a complaint alleging approximately 13 years of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Anabel Arauz, another union employee, went through several months of harassment and was eventually fired for speaking out in support of Vasquez.
Some unions are talking about harassment and how they can help employees who face these problems in the workplace when their employers won’t. “There is stuff going on in restaurants that people are afraid to talk about” regarding employers, managers, and co-workers, says Nicole Battle, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild. “Some women are concerned that if they come forward and speak out, they will be blacklisted and they won’t get a job.” Restaurant worker advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United has reported that over 30 percent of sexual harassment complaints filed with the EEOC come from the restaurant industry.
It’s clear that one pillar of your positive employee relations program has got to be a robust strategy for preventing and correcting any form of harassment in the workplace.