Adventures in Sexual Harassment

As union president I dealt with dozens of alleged sexual harassment accusations. Most of these were presented informally.  For example, a woman reports an incident to a shop steward, who tells the chief steward, who tells the standing committee chairman, who (if deemed serious enough, or if he wants to ruin my day) tells me.  Other incidents, usually the more serious ones, were reported directly to a department supervisor or Human Resources.

Even though I was familiar with the issue, I still, to this day, can’t come up with an ironclad definition of harassment.  I once innocently suggested to HR that a good way of defining it was to ask ourselves if the behavior in question was something we’d want our wives, sisters or daughters to witness.  I must have hit a nerve, because I was berated, scolded, for uttering so stupid a comment.  The HR rep made it clear that this “wasn’t about me or my family.”  It was about the women on the floor.

The following are some actual incidents.

A young engineer, an Asian woman fresh out of college, and a 60-year old mechanic were discussing how best to rebuild a machine. As the discussion grew more heated, the mechanic blurted out, “Listen, girlie, if you think blah, blah, blah….”  The woman reported him to her boss, and the boss approached us instead of HR.  Without naming names I went to HR and asked, hypothetically, if addressing a woman as “girlie” constituted sexual harassment.  I was told it did.  Although first-time use of the word wouldn’t result in discipline, it would result in a written warning being placed in the employee’s personnel file.

A man returning from a medical leave due to a back injury was casually asked by a female co-worker, “How’s your back?”  Being a comedian, he stared directly at her breasts and said, “Fine….how’s your front?”  The woman to whom this was addressed said nothing and simply walked away, but another woman (God help us, a former steward) overheard the exchange and reported it to the union standing committee chairman. He basically told her to mind her own business.  She went ahead and reported the incident to HR.  As far as I know, nothing came of it.

A middle-aged man went around the department asking women if they’d ever smelled mothballs.  When they answered yes, he asked them, “How’d you hold him….by his legs or his wings?”  While no one thought this lame joke was particularly funny, to my knowledge none of the women ever formally complained about it either—not to the union, not to the company.  It was viewed for what it was—a case of a pathetic middle-aged man acting like an adolescent, hoping to shock the ladies.

A production supervisor continued to hit on a female worker (whom he used to date), cornering her at work, calling her at home, telling her he still had feelings, asking her to renew the relationship.  Even though she made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him, he persisted.  She finally went to HR and reported him. The supervisor was fired.  The key factor was that this man was a boss, not just a fellow employee.  When a boss (someone with power) applies sexual pressure, it’s a whole other deal (as it should be).

It should also be noted that there were, literally, hundreds of other incidents (some serious, some trivial) that went unreported, incidents that we heard about through the grapevine.  They happened, they were absorbed, and they were forgotten.  Why?  Because the overwhelming majority of the women in that facility were too classy and mature to want to see some silly post-adolescent man get in trouble for making a fool of himself.  I admired these women for that, even though, in their shoes, I might have behaved less charitably.

I once took a man outside the cafeteria and screamed in his face after hearing him tell a filthy joke to a sweet, older woman.  I was at the table when he told the joke.  Not in her wildest dreams would this woman have reported the incident to management—even though she had cringed and blushed in embarrassment at hearing it.   She was too much of a trooper to rat on anyone.  Unfortunately, this clueless fellow didn’t get it.  After I gave him the standard spiel about “inappropriate language,” etc., he shook his head in disgust and smirked, “I can remember when America was a free country.”

Thankfully, over the years workplace sensibilities and expectations have changed.  They’ve improved.  While I’ve never been offended by coarse language, I’m happier that things today are more genteel and respectful.  In 1980, I heard a woman supervisor, after having had a rough production night, say to our oncoming crew, “I feel like I’ve been shot at and missed, and shit at and hit.”  We all laughed.  If she said the same thing today, she’d be sat down and given a Dutch Uncle talk by HR.

DAVID MACARAY, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.   He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.  He can be reached atdmacaray@earthlink.net



More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations