Labor Has a Special Responsibility to Stop Sexual Harassment

by Richard Trumka via California Labor Federation

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at a labor movement convening on sexual harassment:

Good morning, everybody. And thank you for being here.

I want to start by reading the AFL-CIO Code of Conduct, which is also printed out on the cards in front of you. It is as follows:

The AFL-CIO is committed to providing an environment free from discrimination and harassment, regardless of an individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity or expression, ancestry, pregnancy, or any other characteristic prohibited by law.

As such, the AFL-CIO will not tolerate discriminatory, harassing or otherwise unacceptable behavior in the workplace or at any of its activities, events or meetings. It adopts the following code of conduct and expects everyone in the workplace—and those who participate in any of its activities, events or meetings—to abide by it.

Our designee for this meeting is Chris Neff, executive assistant to the secretary-treasurer. If you see or experience something that you think is prohibited by the code, please let Chris know.

Long before Harvey Weinstein became a household name, we adopted this comprehensive Code of Conduct that goes beyond the law of the land and is read at every AFL-CIO event throughout the country.

When we begin our union events with these important words, it’s a powerful signal that harassment, retaliation and discrimination won’t be tolerated; and it helps move the cultural change we need at work and in our unions.

This conversation we are about to have is long overdue. I am extremely proud of and humbled by the courage of women who are bringing the issue of sexual harassment to the forefront, including my sister and partner AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler.

I also want to recognize and thank the labor leaders who have joined us today, along with the incredible allies and partners who are leading this work and strengthening the important intersection of workers’, women’s and civil rights.

Together, we can create an America where every single person can work free from sexual harassment.

This meeting is so important. We need men and women working together to end sexual harassment in the workplace. And some of us are in positions of power to influence the culture in our organizations and workplaces. That’s right. I want to acknowledge my privilege.

I came from humble beginnings. And I’ve worked hard to get where I am today. But there is no denying I am a white man in a position of power. Social and cultural norms have been specifically enforced to benefit people like me.

When I go to work, I don’t have to worry about someone touching me inappropriately or judging me by what I’m wearing. I don’t have to live in fear of harassment or reprisal. When I speak with passion and conviction, no one calls me bossy.

Let me assert another hard truth.

Labor has been part of the problem.

The sexism and misogyny in our ranks has been tolerated for far too long. Some of you have personally experienced it. The looks. The comments. The innuendo.

This old boys’ club mentality must die, and it must die today.

Here is the good news: Labor is part of the solution.

We are still the greatest force for social change in America.

We can combat sexism with solidarity. We can tear down misogyny with movement building. We can use our contracts to discourage bad behavior and punish bad actors.

That’s exactly what we are focused on here today.

Let me leave you with this.

No worker should be treated like a piece of property.

No one should be touched, bullied, harassed, assaulted or discriminated against on the job.

We must do everything in our power to protect working people from sexism, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, transphobia and homophobia. And we must hold abusers accountable.

Every single person who lives and works in America has the right to do so safely.

And we have a special responsibility to make that happen.

I’m here today as the leader of the AFL-CIO because stopping sexual harassment is both an institutional priority and a moral necessity. But our conscience on this issue is my friend and partner Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler. I am committed to listening to her and working with all of you to make the needed changes to end sexual harassment once and for all.

Thank you.

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