Sexual Harassment Common, Little Recourse

Marta* couldn’t take it anymore.

She picked up the phone and called her company’s human resources hotline. She had endured several years of sexual harassment from her supervisor at the processing plant in southeast Alabama where she was a sanitation worker.

He had repeatedly pressured the 48-year-old Latina to have sex with him, telling her that she could have any job she wanted – if she gave in to his advances.

She was finally reporting him.

But Marta’s phone call didn’t end her ordeal. In fact, it made matters worse.

She was accused of inventing the story and was transferred to a lower-paying job. Her two sons, who also worked at the plant, received job transfers that cut their pay as well.

A year later, Marta was fired.

She was told she was fired over her immigration status – after seven years at the company. Her harasser, who kept his job, made it clear that immigration wasn’t the real issue: He told her that if she had agreed to sleep with him, she’d still have her job.

Sadly, sexual harassment isn’t uncommon in this industry.

One-fifth (20 percent) of workers in our survey said they or someone they knew was subjected to unwelcome touching of a sexual nature. Thirty-four percent said they or someone they knew had been subjected to unwelcome sexual comments. Among the 48 percent of those incidents reported to management, the harasser was disciplined in only 24 percent of those cases.

Patricia, who worked for seven years in two different Alabama poultry plants, said her supervisor offered her an easier job in exchange for sex. She refused.

Patricia knew this supervisor was harassing one of her friends as well. She wanted to report him, but he told her the manager would not listen to her. He said she would be fired if she spoke up. Patricia knew the supervisor was friends with the human resources manager. She simply kept working until she moved away from Alabama.

Patricia and Marta’s stories exemplify how women at poultry processing plants often find they are powerless to fight back against sexual harassment. Typically, speaking out only puts their jobs at risk. Too often, the only remedy, as Marta discovered, is to find new work.

She and her family found new jobs separating rubber worms sold as fishing lures. The work pays far below minimum wage, but she no longer endures the sexual harassment she experienced at the processing plant.

* Not her real name