The Trump administration and Betsy DeVos aren’t letting the COVID-19 crisis slow their efforts to weaken the rights of survivors of sexual assault and harassment. Despite strong opposition, which was voiced by the UAW and tens of thousands of people during the public comments process last year, DeVos issued new Title IX regulations last week that represent a major attack on gender equity.
“One of the main reasons we decided to unionize is because the existing rules are so unfair,” said Lauren Moseley, a bargaining committee member for Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local 2110, which represents more than 3,000 research and teaching assistants at Columbia University. “At Columbia, widespread lack of confidence in a system that has too often protected serial harassers makes student workers reluctant to come forward and pursue complaints—and the new Department of Education rules will only make things worse by tilting the scale further in favor of harassers. Our union will continue to stand with survivors by fighting for stronger and fairer recourse in the event of sexual harassment and assault.”
“Academic unions are on the rise because too many people have been intimidated, threatened and forced off their chosen career path for speaking up about the harassment and assault they experienced on campus without real recourse,” said Kavitha Iyengar, President of UAW 2865, which represents more than 19,000 academic workers across the University of California system. “We know – we have represented many of them at grievance hearings, and fought for their rights. DeVos’s new regulations only make it easier for universities to cover up the record of serial harassers and abusers, and deny justice to victims.”
A recent report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine shows that academia is second only to the U.S. military in the rates of harassment and assault that workers experience. It calls for sweeping changes in how universities address both individual cases and the issue at large. DeVos’s new regulations fail to address the study’s findings.
“Consistent with this administration’s attitudes, DeVos’s new regulations fly in the face of the recommendations that respected scientists are making about how to solve this problem,” said Anke Schennink, President of UAW 5810, which represents over 10,000 postdoctoral scholars and academic researchers at the University of California. “Our union secured some of the first contractual protections for survivors of assault and harassment on campus because it is one of the most common issues our members deal with.”
“A recent study we did among our members found that only a small percentage of those who have experienced predatory behavior come forward. And these new regulations will only make the problem worse,” said Sam Sumpter, Vice President of UAW 4121, which represents over 6,000 academic workers at the University of Washington. “DeVos’s new regulations make clear what survivors are up against: a retraumatizing system that’s rigged to avoid accountability. We have fought hard for enforceable contracts that serve as a counterweight to the broken response processes that embolden perpetrators in the first place.“
UAW, which represents more than 80,000 academic workers across the U.S., has negotiated some of the first contractually-binding protections for survivors and accountability measures for institutions and perpetrators of abuse at universities across the country. In one case at the University of Connecticut, new protections were used to preserve the job of a survivor and allow her to continue on her career path without being forced to work alongside her abuser. At UCLA, a young woman who experienced pregnancy discrimination was able to keep her job and her visa thanks to union-negotiated protections and worker solidarity actions. And at other universities, from Harvard to Columbia to Boston College and beyond, academic workers cite the need for structural recourse to sexual harassment as a main reason to unionize.
For more information, visit WorkersEquity.org.