CA: Groups Help Female Janitors with Workplace Safety Improvements

Liz Carey

Los Angeles, CA (WorkersCompensation.com) – Amid concerns that Latina women may not be reporting assaults at work, groups in Southern California are taking steps to protect female janitors working the night shift.

According to a report by the LA Times, groups like Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund (MCTF) are providing Latina janitorial workers with self-defense training so women may protect themselves from sexual assault on the job.

Lilia Garcia-Brower, executive director for MCTF, and founder of the group Ya Basta, said female janitors who work the night shift are more likely to be victims of sexual assault on the job, and less likely to report it, due to concerns about deportation.

“We have to figure out how to bring their voices together and speak explicitly about the abuse of power… and how it plays out in the workplace,” Garcia-Brower said, according to the LA Times.

Sexual assault on the night shift is not a new concern. In 2015, Frontline aired a report, “Rape on the Night Shift” that looked at the widespread incidents of violence toward women in janitorial services. The report led to sweeping reforms, including a law in California that will require janitors and their supervisors to begin sexual harassment training in 2019.

Added to that, said Anna Park, regional attorney for the Los Angeles District office of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is the fear many Latina women have that reporting crimes will increase their chances of deportation.

“Immigration status is irrelevant when we do our investigations, but we know for sure people are very much afraid of being deported and the repercussions of that,” Park said. “That’s not unique just to this industry, but that fear is heightened.”

In response, organizations like the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, and Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West, came together to form Ya Basta. Roughly translated as “Enough is Enough,” Ya Basta works to teach women not only how to protect themselves, but also how to deal with the mindset that encourages violence against women.

“That the woman is less, that she can’t defend herself, that she needs to rely on a man,” Garcia-Brower said. “We’re completely opposed to that idea. It’s a lie.”

CalCASA, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, is working with the organizations to provide more support for the women janitors who may find themselves in sexual assault situations. Recently, the organization hosted a national sexual assault workshop where organizers with Ya Basta spoke, said Lorena Campos, communications coordinator with CalCASA, in an interview with WorkersCompensation.com.

The organization is working to study how prevalent the trend of not reporting sexual assault among the Latina community is.

“We’re trying to take a survey to capture from our partner rape crisis centers, whether or not there has been a change in the numbers of those reporting sexual assault,” Campos said. “We don’t yet have the data captured, but we do have anecdotal evidence from our advocates who are telling us that the numbers are decreasing in areas where there are more immigrants in the community.”

In 2015, after the Frontline report, the Service Employees International Union survey members about sexual harassment. Of the more than 5,000 responses, more than half said they had experienced sexual violence or harassment.

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