Around the time I was thinking about what to write in this issue of 99Report, my 15-year-old son came to me with some questions about the high-profile cases of sexual harassment that have been in the news.
I explained that sometimes people in power — especially men, but not always men — forget their obligations to treat others with respect and decency. Sooner or later, the truth comes out and it leads to their downfall.
I am also the father of two girls. My oldest is 18 and has already entered the workforce. My youngest is 8 and she has a way to go. It’s difficult to imagine anyone harassing them and getting away with it.
As their father, I hope that I have shown them how to be strong and provided them with good examples of what is and isn’t acceptable.
But what if the situation they find themselves in is more intimidating than they are prepared for?
Throughout my career I have seen the effects of harassment and witnessed the power and strength of our members as they make the difficult first step to bring it up. It’s difficult but it’s also empowering.
The #MeToo movement that has gained attention over the last couple of months is a wake-up call about what must not be tolerated.
At its root is sexual harassment and assaults against women — women who have been put in threatening and even dangerous situations by powerful men.
But this isn’t just about women. The #MeToo campaign includes men, people of color, LGBTQ people and those who are challenged physically and mentally. People from all walks of life have been abused verbally, physically and psychologically, and it needs to stop.
We as decent working people need to see this as a call to action against those who abuse their power to hurt those who are unable to fight back.
For too long we have allowed some of these things to occur right in front of us — in our stores, our schools, our community and even our homes — and chosen to do nothing.
We must not simply observe this movement as bystanders to history and fail to recognize that we have a role in putting an end to this kind of behavior. We have a responsibility to stand up for and stand by people who need our support wherever they may be.
The #MeToo campaign also can inspire us to act on other important issues, including pay disparity and discrimination on the job.
‘An injury to one…’
Unions exist to end unequal and unfair practices in the workplace. Our union-negotiated contracts set firm rules to ensure respect, dignity, wage equality and more, and our union representatives are dedicated to enforcing these rules.
One of the historic slogans of the Labor Movement is “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
We say it and we mean it.
An assault on the weakest among us is an assault on all good people.
Some of us have endured abuse personally. Others, like me, are close to people who may have to deal with such issues at some point in their lives. It’s either #MeToo or #MineToo.
We can never forget about the people who are affected by harassment. They include domestic workers, farm workers and teachers. They work in factories, warehouses, restaurants and in our schools.
We can never forget faces of the brave victims who stand up for justice and against assault. They are Olympic athletes, mothers and soldiers in the military. They are the bravest people we know.
We must stand unified and arm in arm with them not only to support them but to amplify their voices as they speak out against some of the most powerful people in our society. We must remind the offenders that good people will not stand for their bullying or their threats. Their behavior is an affront to decency and decent people everywhere.
It occurred to me when my son was questioning me about #MeToo that he was asking because he had heard something, probably from school friends or teammates, that caused him some skepticism about this.
I realized in that moment that the examples I set and the advice I give and the teaching I provide to my child can be undermined by opinions provided by his peers.
I am proud of the young man he is, and I want to continue to nurture him with the information, confidence and tools that I provide his sisters so that he will become one of those phenomenal men who will fight hard to make sure he becomes a leader who will take us to the time when nobody ever has to say #MeToo again.
Or, for that matter, #MineToo.