Why is Domestic Violence a Labor Union issue?

SOAR for Justice's Founder & Director, Dovie Yoana King, was recently featured at the "Unions in the Legal Profession" event held by Harvard Law School's Labor and Employment Action Project (LEAP). She is a former member and steward of attorney unions in New York and California, and a passionate domestic violence advocate committed to raising awareness about labor's role in addressing intimate partner abuse in the workplace. 

"Labor unions have an obligation to fight for women's rights, including equal pay equity, family leave and problems faced by battered women and victims of sexual harassment," Dovie King says. "As a former union employee, I experienced domestic violence in the workplace, which greatly inhibited my ability to engage in productive work activities." She adds, "No one deserves to be hurt by an intimate partner at work, yet domestic violence is a serious problem affecting worker safety and productivity every day in the United States." 

Why is Domestic Violence a Labor Union Issue?

Domestic violence is a major problem that affects employees every day and is a leading cause of death for women on the job. Workplace abuse frequently includes preventing a victim from attending a job or interview, demanding that the victim quit her job, harassing or stalking the victim at work and physically or emotionally harming the victim in the workplace. Additionally, the following statistics illustrate the seriousness of violence at work:

  • More than 5,000 cases of workplace violence are reported every day in the United States. 
  • Over 70 percent of United States workplaces have no formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence. 
  • Over 75% of domestic violence offenders have used workplace resources to prey on the victim.
  • Up to 60% of victims of domestic violence lose their jobs due to reasons stemming from the abuse.
  • Victims of domestic violence lose a total of 8 million days of paid work each year.
  • The health-related costs of rape, physical assault, stalking, and homicide by intimate partners exceed $5.8 billion each year.
  • 21% of full-time employed adults said they were victims of domestic violence and 74 percent say they were harassed at work.

What Can Unions Do to Help Victims of Domestic Violence?

There are a number of things labor unions can do to help victims, such as:

  • Take complaints of domestic violence seriously and provide non-judgmental assistance to victims reporting abuse.
  • Disseminate domestic violence resources to workers, such as contact information for free hotlines, local shelters, police departments and mental health and legal services.
  • Engage in public awareness campaigns, including supporting domestic violence programs in the community and planning activities for national domestic violence awareness month each October.
  • Make abuse an issue. Invite speakers, show films, and have workshops or seminars at general union meetings. Create an environment where honest, open discussion about abuse is possible and survivors are not shunned.
  • Publish union newsletters on the issue of intimate partner abuse, including information on how to get help at local community-based organizations. 
  • Help women become more confident by running workshops and forming a union women's committee or task force.
  • Encourage workers to strategize with the union about how to get their ideas about workplace safety implemented.
  • Include information about domestic violence as part of the union's leadership training, annual retreats and membership meetings. 
  • Negotiate employer-paid legal assistance for abused women as part of a collective bargaining agreement.
  • If the union has an Employee Assistance Program, include legal services for victims of domestic violence.
  • Work with the human resources department to ensure procedures are in place to prevent a victim's personal information from being given out to an estranged partner.  
  • Ensure the union has a comprehensive domestic violence policy in place that addresses off-duty conduct, security concerns, violations of an employment agreement or other condition of employment, and other concerns causing disruption of the work environment.
  • Lobby federal, state and local government officials for increased funding for domestic violence services and greater legal protections for victims in the workplace.

Dovie Yoana King's Labor Union Background

Dovie Yoana King is a first-generation college and law school graduate and the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Costa Rica. Her mother was a domestic worker and her father was a restaurant employee in San Diego.

As a law student, Dovie clerked at a California union-side labor law firm as a participant of the AFL-CIO’s Minority Outreach Program. Upon graduating law school, she was an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Legal Aid Society in New York City, where she joined the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325, AFL-CIO- the largest union of public defenders, civil and juvenile attorneys in the country. Dovie served as a union steward and represented fellow members in grievance proceedings. She also participated in lobbying.

Dovie moved to California after 9/11, joining the staff of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. There, she was actively involved in the National Organization of Legal Services Workers, UAW Local 2320, AFL-CIO- the labor union representing the majority of those who work in federally-funded legal services programs in the U.S. Dovie helped draft and implement an employer-sponsored Loan Repayment Assistance Program for workers. She also co-directed workers' rights clinic in the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys.

Since 2010, Dovie teaches legal courses at the community college level as a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 1931. Some courses include Labor Law, Employment Law, Legal Research, Grievance Handling and Bankruptcy Law. She has successfully represented numerous adjunct professors in unemployment insurance benefit appeals, earning the “Pride of the Union Award” for her legal advocacy.  She has also published numerous articles about domestic violence in the workplace. 

Dovie is currently the Assistant Director of JD Advising at the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising at Harvard Law School. She is a graduate of Brown University and Northeastern University School of Law, and is licensed to practice law in California, Massachusetts and formerly in New York (retired).  She is a member of the Lawyers Club of San Diego, Women's Law Association of Massachusetts, San Diego Domestic Violence Council, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and San Diego County Bar Association. Formerly, she served on the Board of the ABA Immigration Justice Project, American Constitution Society, La Raza Lawyers Association  and Affordable Housing Advocates.

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