San Diego Janitors, Security Guards March Against Workplace Sexual Assault

Hundreds of people, mostly immigrant women,marched in downtown San Diego for International Women’s Day on Tuesday. They sought to raise awareness about workplace harassment and sexual assault of female janitors and security guards who work alone overnight in empty buildings.

One of the women was Maria Amaya, a 43-year-old janitor who came to San Diego from Mexico about 16 years ago. She said she was harassed on the job.

“I had a supervisor who was a very despotic person. He talked dirty, and he wanted to touch everyone,” she said.

Amaya said she confronted him. When he threatened to get her fired, she and other women talked to their human resources representative and got the supervisor fired.

“We hope to help people know their rights, rather than thinking that because they’re immigrants they don’t have rights. Here in the United States you have many rights,” she said.

Amaya’s experience of being harassed is not uncommon among women with these jobs, according to a report released Tuesday by theUniversity of California, Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

Analyzing research statistics and conducting in-depth interviews, study authors found women janitors are at risk of sexual harassment and violence because they often work in isolation.

For the study, UC Berkeley researchers interviewed Lilia Garcia-Brower, executive director of the Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund.

“In the janitorial industry, it’s the perfect storm of conditions that come together: extreme vulnerability of a female workforce, a chain-of-command that’s traditionally male, and a workplace where workers are isolated and alone. It’s set up for abuse to happen,” Garcia-Brower said.

The march, which started at the Symphony Tower at noon, was organized by the Service Employees International Union in San Diego.

The rally also coincides with the beginning of labor contract negotiations between the union and property service contract companies.

Unlike Amaya, most of the women who experience sexual assault in these jobs are reluctant to speak out because they fear losing their job, said organizer Beatriz Garcia.

“A lot of them are afraid to report because they either don’t speak English, or they are here on irregular status, or they’re the sole breadwinner for their families. A lot of them are single mothers,” she said.

Garcia said the march downtown was meant to give women courage to speak out and raise awareness about the issues these women face, including low wages.

“There are a lot of risk in those jobs,” said Genoveva Aguilar, another organizer with the union’s United Service Workers West. “We’re saying, ya basta, enough is enough with all the sexual harassment that is going on at work. Stop the rapes, stop sexual harassment because they deserve better.”

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