NOT UNCOMMON BUT ONE FOR THE RECORD BOOKS
July thirteenth hits the record books for the state attorney general’s office’s first sexual harassment agreement in the construction industry. Survey results from Engineering News-Record reflect 66% of respondents reporting have faced sexual harassment or gender bias in the workplace, and almost 60% have witnessed it. State Attorney General Letitia James' office found over four years ago, many female employees, predominantly Black, experienced severe sexual harassment at TradeOff LLC, also known as TradeOff Plus. James stated in a Northern New York Newspapers interview, “TradeOff Construction Services did nothing to help employees when they complained about various sexual, physical and verbal assault. Every employee has the right to report harassment or misconduct.” In October 2018, the attorney general’s office started its investigation into TradeOff, a company that provides non-union, general labor. The Long Island-based firm housed a discriminatory workplace where women endured hostile situations while working as general laborers.
“THE BODY SHOP”
According to Commercial Observer, Union representatives from Local 79 referred to TradeOff as a “body shop” because it recruits most of its workers through prison reentry programs and pays them a fraction of what union laborers earn. “They also overwhelmingly don’t receive health benefits, proper safety training or adequate protection from the kinds of sexual violence and abuse uncovered in the New York Attorney General’s investigation. TradeOff is provided with predominantly Black and Latino construction laborers which account for a substantial amount of its employees, who were formerly incarcerated New Yorkers that must maintain employment as a condition of their parole.
BRAVELY SPEAKING OUT ABOUT SEXUAL DEMANDS AND ASSAULT
The investigation found that the women were victims of harassment by management, who demanded sex for pay and overtime opportunities, sexual, physical, and verbal assault by male employees, and subjected to sexually explicit photos and videos.
Jaleesa McCrimmon and Tierra Williams spoke out about their experiences at TradeOff. NNY360 reports:
“This is the one thing in life you think would never happen,” she said. “I quickly found out things are different for females in this industry. I didn’t realize how much I had to protect myself from prying eyes and discouraging words. ... They made me feel I was not cut out for this industry and I should be grateful for what I have. You have to expect the unexpected, but these situations should not happen to anyone. Women deserve much more.” Women working in the construction industry are assaulted daily, McCrimmon said. “I was not going to be silent about what happened to me,” she added. “I needed to speak up and take a stand. Enough is enough. ... Women in this industry should be treated equally and as members of the construction family, because they are mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. Men and women in this industry should take a stand.” Williams was followed and humiliated at various job sites, she recalled. “Everyday, I worked late hours and risked being at work at night with some of these men,” Williams said. “Although I was not harassed by all of them, even being harassed by one makes you look at all of them the same. It took me months to really tell my story.” Both workers started at TradeOff making about $15 per hour without benefits. Williams encouraged women in construction experiencing sexual harassment at work to report it, but to quit if managers do nothing or conditions do not improve. “To have mental peace is better than anything,” she said. “It’s a major relief to let them know this is not a game. If you’re not playing fair, we don’t want to play anymore. I’m hoping this opens the door for many other women just to come forth.”
In addition to 18 women receiving settlements ranging from $10,000 to $110,000, TradeOff entered into a three year agreement to employ a third party to proctor interactions, in addition to creating a new and finalized sexual harassment policy, subject to review by the State Attorney's office. They are required to regularly report the implementation of policies and investigation of any future sexual harassment complaints.