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Labor Groups Highlight Harassment, Working Conditions Women Face On International Women's Day

By aaroncynic in News on Mar 8, 2017 8:31PM

Fast food workers and others got an early start to several events happening in Chicago to mark Wednesday’s International Women’s Day.

Workers who are part of the Fight For 15 movement held a demonstration and press conference outside a Burger King in the Loop to highlight several disturbing charges of sexual harassment by employees at several of the fast food giant’s locations in Chicago.

“As you know there’s sexual harassment happening in the fast food industry, and it’s happening right here in Chicago’s restaurants,” said Aiesha Meadows McLaurin, a fast food worker with Fight For 15. “We experience physical and verbal abuse and intimidation at our jobs from the managers we work with everyday.”

McLaurin was one of six fast food workers who filed Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints against two Burger King locations and one McDonald’s location in Chicago. The complaints, copies of which were given to Chicagoist by organizers with Fight For 15, describe several incidents in which supervisors made inappropriate sexual advances, comments about their bodies, asked employees to leave their partners, touched them and in at least one case, asked for a worker to perform a sex act.

“I shouldn’t have to feel violated at work,” said McLaurin, who was among those who filed complaints. “I’m speaking out today because it has to stop.”

According to a memo by Hart Research Associates provided to Chicagoist, a nationwide survey conducted online published in October of 2016, of the 1,217 women over the age 16 who work in non-managerial positions at fast food restaurants, some 40 percent experienced unwanted sexual behaviors on the job, 28 percent of which experience multiple forms of harassment.

“Today thousands of women are taking action across the country to demand women’s work of all form is honored, well compensated and to end sexual and gender violence women face that impacts their economic power,” said Karla Altmayer of Healing To Action, a Chicago non-profit that works with survivors and others to combat sexual exploitation. “Sexual assault and solicitation are criminal acts that should not be happening at the hands of an employer. Companies like Burger King have the responsibility to hire and train managers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and take corrective action to ensure a dignified workplace.”

The late morning demonstration was the first of several actions taking place in Chicago to mark the day. At 5:00 p.m., a group of child care providers, caregivers and housecleaners are planning a press conference to speak about their experiences in their work.

“As a survivor of sexual harassment, I would not want any of my peers to feel the way that I do,” says Diane Grissett, a Latino Union member who worked to pass the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which was passed in August of 2016 to provide extra protections to domestic workers. “It is hard to face it day after day. We need training on how to respond when things like this occur.”

Early in the morning, members of the Chicago chapter of Democratic Socialists of America flyered multiple L stops to support transit workers that are part of the Amalgamated Transit Union who have been fighting for better working conditions.

“We have members in unions throughout the city and one of our members is an organizer who said that ATU and CTA workers are going through various rough contract negotiations. They have porta potty’s they use at night that are out in the middle of nowhere with no lights, completely unsanitary and unsafe,” said John Kaderbeck, who was passing out flyers at the Halsted Orange Line stop.

Transit workers held a demonstration in early February regarding the bathroom conditions at CTA headquarters. In a statement given to CBS, the CTA said permanent facilities were a “logistical and financial challenge,” but it was working to address the issue.

“CTA always focuses on the comfort and safety of its bus and rail operators, and we share the union’s desire to improve these facilities. In fact, some older, smaller portable units are already being replaced, and CTA is exploring other possible improvements.”

The flyers allege that the CTA is pushing for what would amount to an 18 percent cost on health insurance premiums, an elimination of two holidays per year, and an increase in part time employees with no paid leave.

“We think it’s important to help out with actions across the city,” said Kaderbeck. “A significant number of ATU workers are women of color, so it seems an appropriate day for a labor action in conjunction with others.”

Two other demonstrations will take place Wednesday evening. At 6:00 p.m., the Chicago Socialist Party will hold a rally at the Thompson Center, and at 7:00 p.m., a host of community and labor organizations will rally at the headquarters of the Chicago Teachers Union.