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What would a union be without solidarity?

To work, union members have to help each other, advocate for their peers, and use their collective power to build a better experience on the job — for everyone.

Workplace harassment is unfortunately still incredibly rampant in the United States: 70 percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC) reports that 26 percent of all cases involve racial discrimination and harassment against Black workers, who make up 13 percent of the workforce.

We could go on and on, but you get it: It’s apparent that when it comes to making workplaces safer, there’s much to be done.

But what can a union do to solve workplace harassment?

A lot, actually. With the proper systems in place, workers don’t have to go through a lengthy EEOC process to prove harassment has taken place. Unions can provide a quicker and more effective response by fighting for better workplace policies to address unwanted attention.

Those policies can be written at — you guessed it — the bargaining table.

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Get it in writing

There’s a lot your union can bargain for in a contract, and if you think you can’t include something as tricky as harassment, think again!

During contract negotiations, a union can fight to include language that solidifies management's commitment to squashing harassment before it starts, or bargain for mandatory training to combat discrimination and implicit bias. Even if your employer already has a great policy in place, these topics are worth including for several reasons:

  • Your contract will give workers more leverage and support if an incident occurs.
  • It places both your union and your employer as the caretakers of employee wellbeing, instead of relying solely on the employer.
  • Having a detailed set of processes can create a safe, fair way for workers to report bad behavior.  

By adding dignity and respect clauses into your contract, workers gain access to quicker resolution through on-site arbitration, which can be less traumatic than other legal pathways (although that’s still an option if workers want to pursue it). Make sure that when outlining these grievance and arbitration processes, all workers have a say in what they look like — especially those from marginalized communities.  

You don’t have to stop there! There’s more you can do to protect yourself and your coworkers.

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Let’s look at what happens after a complaint has been filed. 75 percent of people who’ve reported sexual harassment at work have faced retaliation. It’s the same story with 42 percent of LGBTQ+ discrimination cases filed with the EEOC.

Turn to the power of your contract to shut this behavior down!

Include specific language in your union contract that forbids any kind of retaliatory behavior against those who have filed charges of harassment in your workplace. Because many people experience harassment by a superior, addressing the power imbalance in your contract can hold leaders accountable, and protect workers who come forward. Of course, not all harassment comes from the top down. Some of it might come from your fellow coworkers.

When your union takes a hard stance against inappropriate behavior, it signals that your union is looking out for its people and has no tolerance for ugliness. Aside from being a generally uh, good outlook to have, enacting these policies can help discourage further harassment and build a healthier culture.

Collective bargaining can accomplish a lot, but to work, unions need the strength of every member! That solidarity is best achieved by building a coalition that demonstrates it has its members back — and will put that in writing.