California Assembly passes a bill to protect women from rape in the job

The California General Assembly on June 2 passed a bill designed to protect female janitors from rape on the job.

AB 1978, the Property Services Worker Protection Act introduced by Rep. Lorena Gonzalez, was drafted after a Frontline documentary on PBS detailed the prevalence of rape on the job suffered by women who work at night cleaning offices, stores, banks, and other commercial property.

Two days before the bill passed the General Assembly, hundreds of members of SEIU’s United Service Workers West (USWW) demonstrated in front of the State Capitol in Sacramento.

In an act of civil disobedience, nine women who are USWW members sat down in the street to block traffic and were arrested in order to demonstrate the importance of AB 1978, which was pending before the legislature, and to demand that lawmakers take immediate action on the bill.

“Our action today says we won’t be silent about rape on the job,” said Maria Carrillo, a 16 year-old janitor from Sacramento who was arrested. “We are taking our fight to the halls of the State Capitol – and to the streets if necessary – because no woman should ever be in fear of rape when she goes to work.”

The Frontline documentary “Rape on the Night Shift” documented the perils that female janitors, many of whom in California are immigrant workers, face when they go to work.

USWW in a statement about the May 31 demonstration said that,

The structure of property services industry makes janitors and security officers uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment. What’s more, the nature of the industry presents unique barriers to workers coming forward to report their abuse. Key factors include: working alone at night, a largely female, Latina workforce, layers of contracting and subcontracting that obscure accountability, a workplace culture that emboldens harassers.

Rep. Gonzalez said that AB 1978, which now heads to the state senate for consideration, would require the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) to create sexual harassment prevention training materials, establish a toll-free hotline for reporting complaints, and require employers to post and display a notice with information regarding the laws.

“DIR (also would be required) to create a contractor registry which will add transparency and increase accountability, similar to garment manufacturers/contractors, farm laborer contractors, and the car washing and polishing industry,” added Gonzalez.

USWW has worked with Rep. Gonzalez to introduce AB 1978 and to build public support for the bill.

“It’s no coincidence that the same property services industry notorious for cheating workers of wages also puts women at risk, but immigrant women are rising up to demand a stop to rape on the night shift and a stop to economic and other abuses,” said SEIU-USWW Secretary Alejandra Valles. “Immigrant women are uniting to transform the property services industry and restore dignity to the people who do the tough jobs of cleaning our buildings and keeping us safe.”

USWW was able to secure some protections against rape on the job in contracts that it recently negotiated with building service firms in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Orange County.

The union has also organized a group called Immigrant Women Rising, which has played a key role in the fight to protect female janitors from rape on the job.

Women workers in the janitorial services industry aren’t the only ones who are threatened by sexual harassment on the job.

A recent report by the University of California Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program finds that between one-third and one-half of women workers have been subjected to sexual harassment on the job during their careers.

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