Bill empowers women to stand up against abuse and change the culture of rape in the janitorial industry

It’s no surprise that our the least protected workers are the most vulnerable to abuse, assault, and harassment. The stakes are higher for those who choose to speak up on their own behalf. The bravery shown by the participants in last weeks 5-Day Fast, peacefully and selflessly protesting at the state capital has many levels of impact. Their inspiring stand came to a joyful conclusion as Governor Brown signed in AB1978 which, now as law, mandates that workers, supervisors, and managers alike must demonstrate having completed anti-harassment training, by law.

Thanks to the bold efforts by United Service Workers Western (www.usww.org), members of our State Assembly and our State Senate, and finally, by Governor Brown, the seven month journey of this law brings years of vulnerability and silent suffering to an end. Workers finally have a voice and a means to bring to light, inappropriate treatment on the job site; regardless of citizenship status. Here’s how this is stated in the law: “

PART 4.2. Property Service Workers Protection

Chapter 1420 (a) (1) “Covered worker” means a janitor, including any individual predominantly working, whether as an employee, independent contractor, or a franchisee, as a janitor, as that term is defined in the Service Contract Act Directory of Occupations maintained by the United State Department of Labor.”

The most wide reaching is that workers and now and going forward, the generations of workers in the future, have legal recourse for mistreatment. For thousands of property maintenance workers, this puts to rest their enduring fear of retaliation for reporting abuse on the job.

USWW’s website has video testimony from participants at this rally/fasting event.

The specifics of this legislation are available to the public at:
http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1978

Under the text section of the page URL referenced above, the excerpt which best summarizes what this update to California’s labor code means is: “…The bill would require the division, by January 1, 2019, to establish a biennial in-person sexual violence and harassment prevention training requirement for employees and employers with the assistance of a prescribed advisory committee to be convened by the director. The bill would require employers, as of July 1, 2018, and until the division establishes that training requirement, to provide employees with a pamphlet of the Department of Fair Employment and Housing on sexual harassment…”

Documented, undocumented and natural citizens alike now enjoy rightful protection under the law from harassment and abuse. AB1978 further requires training of line workers, supervisors, and management to undergo training to prevent, monitor, and be held accountable for reporting acts of abuse toward employees and contractors.

SEIU Nurse Alliance of California salutes and congratulates the efforts (and sacrifices) if its sisters and brothers from USWW who bravely spoke out in support of this bill as it made its way through state legislature.

An abundance of event coverage can be seen on the USWW website and readers should beware that the contents of the site included disturbing testimonial about the abuses endured by night shift maintenance and

Social media lit up over the past five days as workers stood together in anticipation of the Governor signing into law, AB1978. Twitter featured videos and tweets under

This is what justice tastes like. #AB1978 #JusticeForJanitors

Here’s a copy of the press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Sept. 12, 2016

  

BRAVE WOMEN JANITORS WHO SURVIVED RAPE LAUNCH FIVE-DAY FAST, CALL ON GOV. BROWN TO STOP “RAPE ON THE NIGHT SHIFT” BY SIGNING AB 1978

Bill empowers women to stand up against abuse 

and change the culture of rape in the janitorial industry 

Sacramento, CA –  Janitors who have survived rape in the workplace launched a five-day fast Monday to spotlight the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment they face on the job and call on Governor Jerry Brown to sign AB 1978 (Gonzalez).  The bill would strengthen protections for women who are at risk of sexual exploitation each time they go to work.

Survivor Annabella Aguirre said she is going without food in honor of women living in the shadows of an industry that preys on fear: “For every single one of us who is here today to tell our story of harassment, assault, or rape, there are tens of thousands who are holding their pain inside and who haven’t told a single person, not even their own family,” she said. “I’m fasting so women will gain the power to hold abusive bosses accountable.”

The survivors plan to hold fast outside the State Capitol through Friday.  The fast will grow each day as the women are joined by clergy, elected officials, brothers and sisters in the labor movement, and their family members.

There are between 5,000 and 17,000 sexual assaults in the workplace in California each year. Immigrant women who work alone, at night, in empty buildings are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. PBS Frontline profiled their stories in “Rape on the Night Shift,” and in a report from UC Berkeley earlier this year detailed the conditions in the janitorial industry that contribute to a widespread culture of sexual abuse: “Perfect Storm: How Supervisors Get Away with Sexually Harassing Workers Who Work Alone at Night.”   

“When my boss raped me, he told me to stay silent or I’d lose the job.  I thought I needed to live with shame in order to feed my kids, but now I know that telling my story takes the power away from the abuser,” saidLeticia Soto, a janitor from Los Angeles who is also committed to the fast.  “AB 1978 gives women the protections they need to come forward to report assault, and end this culture of fear and silence. I’m asking Governor Brown to sign AB 1978 because I don’t want my daughter to ever feel afraid when she goes to work.”  

AB 1978, the Property Services Worker Protection Act would enhance the Department of Industrial Relations’ authority to prevent assault by requiring employer training and prevention plans, and toughening enforcement for employers who leave workers at risk.

“Thousands of women have worked through their unions to win stronger protections against rape and harassment, but many more are still working in the shadows of unscrupulous employers.  AB 1978 is crucial to the safety of every woman who works the night shift doing janitorial work,” said bill author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

Since “Rape on the Night Shift,” Immigrant Women Rising – a movement of janitors and allies mobilized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Service Workers West (USWW) has led a new campaign to end sexual harassment and workplace sexual assault.  In addition to advancing AB 1978, the movement was successful in securing protections for property service workers in new industry-wide contracts negotiated in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Orange County.

“Women who are undocumented, women who live and work in the shadows, and women who work in isolation are being targeted every day and every night. Where is the outrage?” said Alejandra Valles, Secretary Treasurer of the SEIU-USWW.

Gov. Brown has until September 30 to sign the bill.

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