Sexism in our local and workplace, and four things we can do to challenge it

December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, commemorating a man’s 1989 murder of fourteen women at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique simply because they were women.

What do we mean when we say “violence against women”?

In our workplace and movement, violence against women takes many forms, from our learned and unconscious beliefs about women’s inferiority to the devaluing of work traditionally done by women, transphobia and exclusion endured by trans women, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming people, lack of respect for women in leadership roles, to overt acts of harassment and violence. For Indigenous, Black, and Racialized women and femmes, this intersects with the violence they also face due to the racist and colonial systems and attitudes that persist in our society and therefore in our workplace and movement.

The Local 2025 executive would like to address two important situations related to violence against women in our local and workplace and share resources that we believe will be of interest to members.

1. History of sexist harm within our local executive

The Local 2025 executive is aware that there is a history of harassment and sexist harm within the executive. Our executive members are elected to represent all of us. Oppressive behaviour within the executive harms not only those who directly experience it but also the entire membership. Harassment and sexist harm permeate the labour movement and our unions do not have clear, victim-centred processes for supporting victims, stopping the harassment, and holding members accountable for their oppressive behaviour.

The executive is deeply concerned by this. It is a priority for us to determine the safest and most effective way to address this history of harm. In the new year, we hope to create space for women who have experienced this harm to inform how the local will address it and move forward to build a local culture that is more trauma-informed and based on mutual respect and accountability.

2. Ongoing mediation on sexual harassment in the workplace

In the spring of 2020, members of our local who were impacted by sexual harassment in the workplace and the employer’s handling of the ensuing investigation raised concerns with Local 2025.  The local filed a policy grievance and presented it at Step 2 to National President Chris Aylward.
In our hearing, we argued that our employer violated its own guidelines for investigating sexual harassment and  underestimated the severity of the behaviour in question. We argued that our employer failed to protect witnesses from retaliation and didn’t involve experts in workplace sexual harassment. We also challenged the employer for designating a man with no experience dealing with sexual harassment as the authorized manager in charge of handling the complaint. We finally argued that the employer’s policy and procedures for investigating sexual harassment are inadequate and can make it unsafe for women to come forward.

The Employer agreed to engage in a mediated discussion to try and reach an agreement and a process for an expert in trauma-informed practices to review and make recommendations on PSAC’s current policies and procedures and how they are enacted.

We want members to know that this mediation is ongoing with five Unifor 2025 members representing our local in the discussions.

3. Four things we can all do to challenge violence against women

1. Notice - Practice noticing sexist behaviours and attitudes in yourself and others. Consider questions like:

a) Are some people’s comments and voices being ignored or minimized?
b) Is it considered acceptable to talk over others in my team/workplace/union? 
c) Are men and/or people with sexist attitudes talking more than others?
d) Am I just waiting for my turn to talk instead of listening to what others are saying?
e) What work and characteristics are most valued in my workplace, union, home, community - and which are less valued?

2. Believe - When women mention experiences of sexism, do I believe them? Do I say anything? Saying something like “I’m sorry that you experienced that. What can I do to support you?” is a good way to show understanding and solidarity.

3. Challenge - If a union sibling makes a sexist remark or assumption or behaves in a sexist way, name it and question it in the moment, or follow up with the person. Let them know that you don’t agree with their remark/behaviour and that sexism divides us as workers - we need to be united in fighting for our rights when facing management.

4. Use your union power - Support bargaining for and expanding key measures like pay equity, employment equity, anti-harassment language, family leave, paid domestic violence leave, and workplace rights that contribute to economic security. This is all part of preventing gender-based violence.

4. Resources

• Unifor December 6 Poster - I speak out to end men’s violence against women. Do you?
How Men Can Confront Other Men About Sexist Behaviour, Harvard Business Review, October 2020
• Unifor National - Men speak out to end gender-based violence, December 6 2021
Interrupting Sexism at Work, Catalyst, June 2020
From "Me Too" to "All of Us": Organizing to End Sexual Violence, Without Prisons, Sarah Jaffe
Challenging Men Changing Communities: Reflections on Male Supremacy and Transformative Justice, The Challenging Male Supremacy Project (CMS): Gaurav Jashnani, RJ Maccani, and Alan Greig
Moosehide Campaign - Indigenous men and boys against violence against women and children

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