• Role of the Union in Handling Cases
    Jun 16, 2015

    Sexual harassment can come from several sources: management, co- workers, or even customers. When manage personnel engage in sexual harassment, file a grievance to stop it.


    Sexual harassment between co- workers also must be stopped. Only by ending sexual harassment and discrimination among workers can the union build the solidarity we need to win at the bargaining table.

    There are two important guidelines to consider:

    1. Even when the harassment is caused by a union member, it remains the employer's responsibility as long as it knows or should know of the harassment.

    2. Union members who engage in sexual harassment are violating the Teamster International Union Constitution [Article II, Sec. 2 (a)I. They have destroyed worker solidarity.

    If possible, these situations should be addressed informally. Often, a serious warning to the accused harasser is all that's needed to stop the harassment. They can also be brought up on internal union charges. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to file a grievance.

    Locals that shy away from the issue of sexual harassment may find themselves facing increased problems. If the union has never spoken out on this issue, or has no clear procedures for handling these cases, harassment victims may turn to management-something they would not do if they had a health and safety complaint, a problem with overtime pay, or even another kind of harassment problem.

    In addition, the union and its representatives have a legal obligation to represent all workers fairly. A worker who believes the union has not met its "duty of fair representation" may file "unfair labor practice" charges with the National Labor Relations Board. If a labor union discriminates, it may be required to share in providing relief to the victim. Therefore, stewards and all union representatives must be sure to do their best to handle each problem fairly.

    Teamsters can be sure that everyone in the bargaining unit is represented fairly by becoming strong advocates against sexual harassment. Then sexual harassment victims will go to the local for help, and all members will see the union as a consistent opponent of all forms of harassment. Below are strategies to help Teamsters fight sexual harassment while building union solidarity.

    RESPONDING TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT COMPLAINTS

    Workers who experience sexual harassment should be encouraged to speak with their steward, business agent or other union representative. The victim should tell the representative exactly what happened.

    Sometimes an inquiry from the union representative to the harasser is all it takes to stop the harassment. Other times, more action is necessary.

    It's important that officials conduct a thorough and sensitive investigation, especially when the sexual harassment complaint involves two union members. It's equally essential that union representatives maintain confidentiality. Sexual harassment cases feed the rumor mill. Be careful. All discussion regarding the charges should be held in private and on a need-to-know basis.

    Talking with the Victim

    Workers who experience sexual harassment should be encouraged to speak with their steward, business agent or other union representative. The victim should tell the representative exactly what happened.

    Sometimes an inquiry from the union representative to the harasser is all it takes to stop the harassment. Other times, more action is necessary.

    It's important that officials conduct a thorough and sensitive investigation, especially when the sexual harassment complaint involves two union members. It's equally essential that union representatives maintain confidentiality. Sexual harassment cases feed the rumor mill. Be careful. All discussion regarding the charges should be held in private and on a need-to-know basis.

    Talking with the Victim

    The union representative should work closely with the victim of sexual harassment to determine the appropriate resolution. During the investigation, the union representative should be sensitive to the fact that she is likely to be upset by her experience.

    The representative might even begin by acknowledging that while discussing the incident is uncomfortable, sexual harassment is not simply a personal matter. It is a wide spread workplace problem that affects everyone. The representative should also say that she or he is confident that the incident can be discussed objectively.

    In general, avoid asking 'why" questions, or questions that imply that the woman did something wrong. For example, don't ask her why she didn't do something about this sooner.

    Guidelines for Talking with Victims:

    • Tell the victim you are glad she came forward and that you want the union to represent her properly
    • Make sure the member feels comfortable with the union official who is representing her.
    • Encourage the victim to talk specifically
    • Ask the member to tell you what happened.
    • Determine if the harasser is a supervisor or another bar gaining unit member. If the latter, ask another steward or representative to work with the other union member.
    • Ask how long the harassment has been going on.
    • Ask if the member has evidence of or witnesses to the harassment. Evidence can include notes from the harasser; answering machine messages; or even the victim's own journal. Be broad in gathering evidence. Encourage the victim to document everything that occurs.
    • Ask the victim if she has told anyone about the harassment.
    • Gather as much information as possible about the case and keep thorough records.
    • Encourage the victim to keep a record of the harassment experiences.
    • Tell the member what you plan to do to investigate the charge. Assure her that you will keep all information confidential, and inform her that you will question the accused. Be sure that she agrees to this.

    Make sure you follow any formal procedures, so that the employer is on notice about the problem.
    Meet all time limits and check in with the member daily
    Spell out all the procedures that are available to the victim and explain that filing a grievance does not prevent her from filing an EEOC complaint or a private lawsuit. (See Appendix 1 for EEOC procedures.)
    Review the Strategy Checklist (at the end of this chapter) to be sure that the member understands what she needs to do to help you prepare her case.
    Remember that every situation is different, and these are only suggested guidelines. They may not be appropriate in every situation. If you are unsure of how to handle a specific situation, you may want to seek advice from your local union attorney or the International Union's Legal Department.

    Talking with the Alleged Harasser

    This can be difficult, especially if the accused is also a Teamster. Remember to be serious and to the point. You might begin by saying, "The purpose of this conversation is to talk about an allegation of sexual harassment." In addition, you should:

    • Focus on the effect of the behavior on the victim, not the intention of the alleged harasser.
    • Be unbiased. Stay on the topic.
    • Ask the accused to respond to each allegation separately


    If the accused admits to the behavior, tell him it must stop immediately no matter if his intentions were harmless or misunderstood.

    If he states that the incident never occurred or denies that it was sexual harassment, explain that you have two sides of the story and that you will take both seriously Let him know that you will handle this situation like other grievances, and will be conducting additional fact finding before making a determination.

    When Should the Union Grieve Sexual Harassment Complaints?

    It is important to know when a sexual harassment problem includes grounds for a grievance. In general, the grounds are the same for sexual harassment grievances as they are for other union grievances. These include violations of:

    1. THE CONTRACT. Does your local contract include sexual harassment language?
    2. A FEDERAL, STATE, PROVINCIAL OR MUNICIPAL LAW.
    Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination, and it is against the law. Legally, it is management's responsibility to provide a work environment free of harassment. Therefore, any union representative can grieve sexual harassment under the general anti-discrimination clause found in most Teamster contracts.
    3. FAIR TREATMENT. By definition, sexual harassment is a form of discrimination and, therefore, a violation of fair treatment.

    WHEN THE ACCUSED IS A SUPERVISOR

    If the harasser is in management and his behavior persists once he is confronted, the union should file a grievance to stop the harassment. Bear in mind that most contractual grievance procedures require filing a grievance within 10 days of the alleged incident, so it is important to act quickly

    The union also must be sure that any formal procedures the employer has set up to handle sexual harassment plaints or workplace problems are followed.

    Keep records detailing when management officials were spoken to, and the outcome of each of these discussions.

    Remember, record keeping is key to winning the grievance. The steward should document every step of the grievance process-when, where, witnesses, what complaint you made, every response from management. Write down the exact words.

    The steward should also encourage the victim to document every incident of harassment that she experiences.

    Be sure that the remedy the union asks for does not punish the victim. For example, she should not be the one who has to change departments or shifts, unless it is her preference.

    WHEN THE ACCUSED IS A FELLOW UNION MEMBER

    Many union members are subjected to insults, abusive language, or other harassment from co- workers.

    Informal Resolution

    Every effort should be made to stop the harassment with out involving management, if this can be done to the victim's satisfaction. Efforts to find informal resolutions must be done quickly so the time limit on filing a grievance, if needed, does not expire.

    Union representatives should begin by telling the harasser in no uncertain terms to stop. If this doesn't work, the stew should inform the harasser that the behavior is inappropriate-and illegal.

    Like other harassment victims, those who experience sexual harassment simply want the offensive behavior to end. The punishment should fit the offense. Sometimes an apology from the harasser to the victim can resolve the problem. In other instances, the union may resolve the harass complaint by requiring that the harasser attend train on sexual harassment and how it affects workers.

    Filing a Grievance

    If, despite efforts to resolve the dispute informally, the harassment persists, the steward can file a grievance. The employer has the responsibility to provide a harassment-free workplace, so harassment from a union member is still the employer's fault. The grievance will claim that the employer has failed to provide a work environment free of sexual harassment.

    However, by writing a grievance, the union could lose control of the problem, enabling management to discipline- or fire-a union member. Often, supervisors choose to fire harassers rather than provide counseling, education or training. Over 80 percent of managers want to stop sexual harassment in order to avoid lawsuits, not to protect work rights.

    Remember that the employer has a responsibility to stop sexual harassment only if it is aware of the problem, so it is important to put management on notice about the sexual harassment. The victim also must go through the proper procedure under the contract for handling problems on the job.

    Sexual Harassment Violates the Teamster Constitution

    Sexual harassment, as a form of discrimination, violates our International Constitution. Article II, Section 2 (a) mandates that each person, in becoming a member of the Teamsters Union, pledges not to "knowingly discriminate against a fellow worker on account of race, color, religion, sex, age, physical disability or national origin."

    Additionally, each member pledges never to knowingly harm a fellow member. Article II, Section (g) specifically prohibits discrimination against fellow members in any way which would deprive any individual of employment opportunities.

    Internal Union Charges

    The rights of union membership come with responsibilities ties. The backbone of unionism remains solidarity and mutual respect among all members. Members who violate those responsibilities can be disciplined under the International Union Constitution.

    At the same time, another steward should represent the accused and ensure that his rights are protected through the process. If the company disciplines the harasser, the union may need to a grievance for him. This is tricky but it is possible to find a solution acceptable to both parties.

    Filing An EEOC Charge

    Filing a grievance does not prevent victims from taking other action against the harasser. In addition to the steps outlined above, victims of sexual harassment can file a formal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Filing a charge with federal or state anti-discrimination agencies may even provide employers the pressure they need to settle a sex harassment grievance.

    Under federal anti-discrimination laws, an EEOC complaint must be filed within 180 days of the incident. Victims of sexual harassment cannot usually take their complaints to court until after they have exhausted the EEOC option.

    In addition to federal anti-discrimination laws, many states have civil rights legislation that provides protection against harassment. Generally, state laws
    cover all employers who fall under federal laws, as well as employers who are too small to be covered by Title VII.
    Some state laws have longer statutes of limitations than the federal guidelines, and they may have other advantages as well. Both the Michigan and New York state laws, for instance, allowed recovery of damages before the 1991 Civil Rights Act was enacted. It may also be easier and faster to get into state court than it is to get a federal hearing.

    Working with the EEOC is a long process, so victims need to have patience. In addition, the Commission emphasizes mediation. Often, this means that an EEOC investigator will meet with the victim and the employer and urge them to find a solution that they can both accept.

    Appendix 1 at the back of this booklet has more information on EEOC procedures and timelines.

    THE BEST DEFENSE IS A GOOD OFFENSE

    As with any workplace problem, the strongest grievances are the best prepared. Victims of sexual harassment need to take the offensive against their harasser. Keep notes, get witnesses, and find other victims. By following this outline, workers may be able to end the harassment. At the same time, workers will also prepare the grievance they may need if it doesn't stop.

    A Strategy Checklist

    Don't quit.
    Victims of harassment shouldn't quit their jobs. Many women wait until they truly cannot stand it any more. Then they quit and file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    Once the victim is out of the workplace, there is little pressure on the employer to resolve the complaint. It will be to the boss' advantage to procrastinate. Time will work against the victim and her grievance may drag on. In the meantime, she will have no income or be forced to take other employment.

    Find support.
    Many victims of sexual harassment feel isolated. They feel that they are the only ones to feel the way that they do. Victims can break this isolation by seeking help from their union representative and by talking to others-union members, co-workers, relatives and friends. If the local has a women's or human rights committee, sexual harassment victims will find support there.

    Be prepared.
    Before workers begin to fight harassment, they should gain copies of anything in writing about the quality of their work. When embroiled in an investigation, the employer may claim that the victim's work was poor.

    Confront the harasser.
    Victims of harassment must inform the harasser that his behavior is unwelcome. They should look the man straight in the eyes, stand up, and firmly say, "No." Most harassers want to be discreet. The man may turn and run if the victim-or the union representative- says in a loud voice, that the behavior is called sexual harassment, it is against the law, and it can result in charges being filed against him.

    Put it in writing.
    If the harassment continues, the victim should write a letter to the harasser, telling him to stop. The letter can be sent by the union representative to the harasser at his home address. Or it can be sent to the harasser at work.

    Either way, the letter should be sent by certified, return- receipt mail so that there is evidence that the harasser has received it. Be sure to date it. The union should keep a copy.

    Keep a record.
    Harassment victims, just like all workers experiencing workplace problems, should document each incident. The date, time, place and witnesses should be included. As usual, notes should be recorded as soon after the incident occurs as possible.

    Victims should record the conversation, including their response, word for word. For example: "January 4, 1994-Harasser asked me out to dinner. I said, 'No.' At my desk. Mary overheard."

    It's best to keep this record in a bound or spiral note book. This demonstrates a continuous account of harassment. However, victims can jot down notes on whatever is handy. A box crammed with notes written on napkins and match covers may, in the end, serve as important evidence of the harassment claim.
    Victims also can use their answering machines to tape phone calls from the harasser. Likewise, they should remember to save taped phone messages that the harasser may leave them.

    Find witnesses.
    If incidents of harassment occur when someone else is near, workers should ask that person to write down what she or he observed and sign the statement. This can be added to the union's grievance file. The union representative can also serve as a witness.

    Find the harasser's other targets.
    Harassers often go after more than one victim. Workers should try to locate others who have been harassed by the same person. This will help build a strong case and enhance the victim's credibility.


  • IBT Local 340

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