ERA, Partners Stand with Janitors Saying ‘Ya Basta!’ to Sexual Harassment & Violence at Work
Equal Rights Advocates, SEIU-USWW, and Futures Without Violence submit comments to guide sexual harassment training for CA janitorial workers
On May 20, 2019, Equal Rights Advocates and Futures Without Violence joined with other members of the Ya Basta! Coalition, including SEIU United Service Workers West (SEIU-USWW), to submit comments on proposed regulations for implementing the Property Service Workers Protection Act of 2016 (California Assembly Bill 1978, Gonzalez), which aims to address rampant wage theft and sexual harassment in the janitorial industry. The law requires janitorial employers to complete two actions by the end of this year: register with the state Department of Industrial Relations (DIR); and provide in-person sexual harassment and violence prevention training to all employees, including front-line cleaners.
The DIR issued proposed regulations on April 5 implementing training and contractor registry provisions of AB 1978. The public comment period on these regulations closed on May 20, 2019. Equal Rights Advocates, Futures Without Violence, SEIU-USWW, and other members of the Ya Basta! Coalition submitted comments generally supporting the proposed regulations on sexual harassment and violence prevention training and urging DIR to issue final regulations that would:
- Clarify that training must be conducted in person;
- Provide guidance on trauma-informed content to be included in the training;
- Specify that the model training developed by Ya Basta! Coalition member U.C. Berkeley Labor & Occupational Health Program fully satisfies the requirements of AB 1978 and ensuring that it will be made available by DIR to all those tasked with training workers and supervisors under the law.
“For many workers in the janitorial industry facing dangerous and abusive working conditions, the heightened protections and accountability that AB 1978 is meant to provide could not come soon enough,” said Jennifer Reisch, Legal Director of Equal Rights Advocates. “We are pleased to see this administration moving forward with implementation of this important law. The proposed regulations mark a significant step toward realizing the transformative goals of the Ya Basta! campaign.”
The effort to pass AB 1978 in 2016 was led by fearless women janitorial workers and their allies, who rose up to say, “Ya basta!” (Enough is enough!) to sexual violence and abuse in the workplace. Leaders of the Ya Basta! campaign are fighting to change the culture of their industry from within, healing from experiences as survivors of sexual assault and other forms of harassment on the job by mobilizing and training other workers.
“Due to isolated working conditions, invisible employers, and low wages, janitorial workers are especially vulnerable to experiencing sexual harassment and violence on the job,” said Linda A. Seabrook, General Counsel and Director of Workplace Safety & Equity for Futures Without Violence. “AB 1978, which mandates sexual harassment prevention training and provides greater accountability and oversight, was informed by the workers themselves, the promotoras, to begin to address these vulnerabilities. This law is a critical first step in cleaning up an industry that has left janitorial workers susceptible to experiencing workplace sexual violence and abuse for far too long. FUTURES joins the promotoras in declaring, ‘Ya Basta!’”
When the law took effect in 2017, members of the Ya Basta! Coalition collaborated with janitors involved in the promotora and compadre peer-to-peer education programs coordinated by SEIU-USWW and Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund to develop an innovative model training program that is industry-specific, culturally relevant, worker centered, prevention focused, trauma informed, and available in both English and Spanish. The organizations also made recommendations about what rules and guidelines should govern the mandatory training by participating in the DIR’s AB 1978 Advisory Committee.
Anabella Aguirre, a janitor survivor of rape on the job who is now a promotora, said sexual violence is widespread problem in the industry:
“I began this work because I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what I did,” she said. “I and hundreds of other janitors have been trained to teach courses on rape and sexual assault prevention and to provide trauma-informed crisis response that treats the whole person, taking into account past trauma and the resulting coping mechanisms. AB 1978 gives us the opportunity to meet in person with tens of thousands of janitors in California to pass on this critical information and change the industry.”
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