May Day: an unfinished agenda

May Day—or International Workers Day— marks an important day for workers to reflect and continue the fight for better employment standards and safer jobs. Workers have courageously fought for an eight-hour work day, fair labor practices and improved workplace protections. Yet there is an unfinished agenda. The labor movement should be doing much more to protect workers in education, retail, construction, hospitality, agriculture, janitorial and all other sectors from the effects of sexual and domestic violence. 

Approximately one-quarter of workplace violence is related to domestic violence, but more than 70% of U.S. workpla​ces do not have a formal policy and program in place that addresses violence in the workplace. More workplaces need to begin discussing and implementing policies aimed at supporting workers experiencing sexual and domestic violence so there is a coordinated and effective workplace response to violence. 

Another important piece of unfinished business is responding to union members, representatives, agents and employees who perpetrate violence. No one should be immune from scrutiny, not even the union's highest officials, stewards and legal counsel. When a person perpetrates domestic violence against another union member or employee, it negatively affects the workplace at-large and diminishes employee morale. Therefore, unions should not be caught unaware. The following 10 basic steps can be taken to implement an effective approach to responding to members who perpetrate violence.*


1. Consider the safety of all members first.

2. Ascertain if the member who is a victim feels threatened. After consulting the victim, take action to protect the member or employee and other coworkers.

3. Don’t rely on the perpetrating member's account of events People who perpetrate violence tend to deny the violence and even if they intend to stop, they may still act violently nonetheless.

4. Refer the member who is a victim to local domestic and/or sexual violence resources for assistance in dealing with the violence. Community domestic and sexual violence services can assist the member in making a personal safety plan and collaborate on workplace safety plans. Make sure to honor any court order issued against the perpetrator. 

5. Remember that the member who is a victim has a right to be free from violence, abuse and harassment at work.

6. Check to see if the victim needs workplace advocacy. For example, does she need time to go to court to get a restraining order or to meet with a lawyer, doctor, or counselor? Does she need a reasonable accommodation to perform her work? Has the member’s work performance been affected and is advocacy needed? Is she being blamed for the situation and discriminated against as a result?

7. Remember that domestic or sexual violence or stalking is not just a “fight” between two members. Although both members deserve representation, the perpetrator needs to know that his or her behavior is wrong and will not be tolerated.

8. Contact the member’s steward and offer whatever support is needed to help stabilize that person’s situation.

9. Refer the perpetrating member to appropriate services to learn how to stop being violent, such as a court-approved batterer-intervention program. Fulfill the DFR responsibilities, while emphasizing the need for the perpetrator to get help.

10. Make a clear statement that the union does not support any type of violence.

If you are facing violence, or suspect a co-worker might be a victim of violence, free help is available. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

* Source: Workplaces Respond to Domestic and Sexual Violence

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