Encouraged by the #metoo movement, hundreds of activists in farm labor and domestic work met in front of the Capitol yesterday to demand protection from sexual harassment. Members of the National Farm Workers Women’s Alliance and the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance were present to demand an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Currently, the federal employment law prohibits discrimination, including harassment at work, but only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
The women visited Congress to raise awareness of the dangers of working in isolated fields and in private homes where women become easy targets of sexual harassment and abuse. Many do not know what rights they have to protect themselves. The isolation of their workplaces and the people who harass them-including, bosses, and coworkers, make going to work unsafe and stressful. In addition to the fear of harassment, many of the women are single mothers and have the added worries of residency status, lack of information protection measures, and language barriers.
Teresa Arredondo, a field worker from Bakersfield, who is a single mother of 2, and a member of the National Alliance of Field Workers, attended the event wearing a black T-Shirt with the word, Unstoppable. In an interview with Univision outside the Capitol, she told her story.
“I come to Washington from Bakersfield, California. I have been working there for 32 years. Throughout the years we, farm workers, have suffered sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of farm owners, supervisors, and even male coworkers. Thanks to meeting women in farm workers rights organizations, I learned that we do have rights to fight these injustices. I also learned that our sisters in the domestic services are equally abused at work. So we came here, the women who work in the fields and in domestic labor, to ask for our rights to be upheld and for help in fighting these abuses. We want the people who abuse us on a daily basis to be sanctioned and to be held accountable.
This is no way to live to go to the fields where we work so hard to earn our daily bread for our families only to be met with men who taunt us:
“I like this one; I don’t like that one.” It’s not fair. We work very hard and we go there to work, not to provide sexual favors for the supervisors who demand them.
Today, I’m crying because I go to work to sustain my family, not be treated as a sexual object. I am a single mother and a provider. I cry because I feel impotent. I’m hurt. I’m mad. I’m frustrated. We do hard labor to feed the wold. Our job is important. We feed the mouths of the United States and yet we endure harassment without protection. This is not right.
Thankfully, we have met many supporters, like Senator Kamala Harris.”
Democratic legislator Pramila Jayapal, was also present. Her office is looking into several options to strengthen labor protections, particularly for the case of farm and domestic workers so that they can be included and protected in laws against sexual harassment.
Activists seek the amendment of “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Rachel Micah-Jones, the founder of the Migrant Rights Center who was also at the demonstration, explained that the current law only covers businesses that have more than 15 employees. Many farm workers work in small businesses. As do domestic workers who work in private residences.
Politicians and actors have also extended support for the cause and for the amendment of Title VII. Meryl Streep video-messaged the domestic worker activists yesterday with the following message of support:
The women feel supported and encouraged that changes will come:
“We are so happy that they are supporting us now. We have hope. They have power and can do more than we can. People in the White House may not know what we live through every day. That’s why we are here. We brought it to them.”
“Title VII is flawed law and it must be corrected so that the millions of men and women who are currently unprotected from sexual harassment, assault, and abuse in the workplace can reclaim their rights under the Constitution of the United States. So I stand with you and I applaud you. Let’s go!” Merry Streep.
“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the federal employment law that prohibits discrimination, including harassment at work currently only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. This makes many domestic workers and farm workers, along with millions of other workers, vulnerable to harassment and retaliation with little to no remedies. One case of sexual harassment is one too many.” National Domestic Workers’ Alliance.
Congress can do something to help end sexual harassment for all of us. Send your Congressperson a letter today. Let them know that everyone deserves to be safe at work – no matter what they do or where they work.
Tell Congress, Extend Title VII