In Nevada and around the nation, there’s an especially vulnerable group of workers often toiling out-of-site - alone - cleaning homes, offices, and in Las Vegas in particular - hotel rooms.
The Culinary Workers Union, Local 226, last summer, surveyed 10,000 Las Vegas casino workers and found 27 percent of hotel housekeepers said they had been sexually harassed by guests, managers, or others, while on the job.
And when it comes to cocktail servers the numbers were worse, 72 percent of cocktail servers said a guest had done something to make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
The issue was so important for the Culinary Union it pushed to have it addressed in its latest contract with casino companies.
Geoconda Arguello Kline with the Culinary Union said the contract adds a layer of protection they didn't have before.
"Now, we have a language where if we have this issue the company will take steps right away," she said.
She said workers in unionized casinos can now go to managers and have a right to file a grievance. They also have safety devices they carry with them to call for help immediately.
In addition, the sexual harassment training will be done in Spanish as well as English. The contract also requires companies to put up information about the harassment hotline and other information about their policies on bulletin boards in employee areas.
While it seems as though sexual harassment and sexual violence at work has just recently come into focus, Ann McGinley, a professor at Boyd School of Law at UNLV, says it has been recognized as illegal under federal law since 1986.
McGinley said in Las Vegas the problem for cocktail servers is it is the customers who don't think about the person serving them drinks.
"These are not women who are prostitutes," she said, "These are women who are working at good jobs and they don't deserve to be treated that way."
She said many of her students are either former servers or currently working their way through school as a server and they have experienced the kind of harassment they are studying in class.
McGinley said those students at first believed that kind of treatment was just part of the job but now many understand that "you can have dignity and work in a little, tiny, skimpy outfit."
Bernice Yeung is the author “In a Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers.” Yeung is a reporter with ProPublica covering labor and employment issues around California farm labor, domestic workers and night shift janitors.
While Yeung's work didn't specifically address issues at Las Vegas casinos, she said that some of the same problems that fuel harassment at the jobs she looked at can fuel problems here.
Things like tenuous immigration status, isolation, a language barrier and fear of losing an important job all contribute to people not being able to report something that has happened to them.
Yeung said that some of the workers she talked with have come up with novel approaches to preventing harassment like creating a peer-to-peer training model where individuals train others on what harassment is and how to report it.
She also said that a movement out farm workers in Florida has established a strict code of conduct that if not followed will keep growers from being picked up by important buyers.
"There's a culture shift that starts to happen where workers feel empowered to say, 'I don't think that's acceptable.' Or 'I'm going to stand here and be an ally,' or 'I'm going to serve as a witness,'" she said.
Bernice Yeung, investigative reporter, ProPublica; Geoconda Arguello Kline, Culinary Union; Ann McGinley, professor, Boyd School of Law at UNLV
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