FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Housemaid, Her Union and Strauss-Kahn

One very important fact has been largely absent from the coverage of the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and leading candidate to be the next president of France. The hotel housekeeper who he allegedly assaulted was represented by a union.

The reason that this is an important part of the story is that it is likely that Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s victim likely would not have felt confident enough to pursue the issue with either her supervisors or law enforcement, if she had not been protected by a union contract. The vast majority of hotel workers in the United States, like most workers in the private sector, do not enjoy this protection.

This matters because under the law in the United States, an employer can fire a worker at any time for almost any reason. It is illegal for an employer to fire a worker for reporting a sexual assault. If any worker can prove that this is reason they were fired, they would get their job back and probably back pay. (The penalties tend to be trivial, so the back pay is unfortunately not a joke.)

However, it is completely legal for an employer to fire a worker who reports a sexual assault for having been late to work last Tuesday or any other transgression. Since employers know the law, they don’t ever say that they are firing a worker for reporting a sexual assault. They might fire workers who report sexual assaults for other on-the-job failings, real or invented.

In this way the United States stands out from most other wealthy countries. For example, all the countries of Western Europe afford workers some measure of employment protection, where employers must give a reason for firing workers. Workers can contest their dismissal if they think the reason is not valid, unlike the United States where there is no recourse.

Imagine the situation of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s victim had she not been protected by a union contract. She is a young immigrant mother who needs this job to support her family. It seems that she did not know Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s identity at the time she reported the assault, but she undoubtedly understood that the person staying in the $3,000 a night suite was a wealthy and important person.

In these circumstances, how likely would it be that she would make an issue of a sexual assault to her supervisors? Housekeepers are generally among the lowest paid workers at hotels, often earning little more than the minimum wage. It is a high turnover job, meaning that any individual housekeeper is likely to be viewed as easily replaceable by the management.

If this housekeeper did not enjoy the protection of a union contract, is it likely that she would have counted on her supervisors taking her side against an important guest at the hotel? Would she be prepared to risk her job to pursue the case?

We can never know how this particular woman would have responded; fortunately she did have the protection of the union. However, it is likely that many similar assaults go unreported because the victims do not feel they can risk their jobs to pursue the case. They have to simply accept an attack like this as part of the job.

There is a special irony to this situation given Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s position. The IMF, along with other pillars of the economic establishment, has long pushed for reducing the rights of workers at their workplace. Specifically, they have pushed countries around the world to adopt measures that would weaken the power of unions.

They have also urged the Western European countries to eliminate or weaken the laws that prevent employers from firing workers at will. These laws, along with unions, are seen as labor market rigidities that prevent labor markets from operating efficiently.

In the dream world of the economists’ textbook policies, all employers would have the ability to fire employees at will. There would be no protective legislation and no unions to get in the way.

In that economist’s dream world, Mr. Strauss-Kahn and any other powerful individual would be fairly certain that they could sexually assault hotel workers with impunity. Maybe the IMF will adopt a new policy of putting up its top male managers in non-union hotels.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian.

 

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail