In 2017, a student told me a high-ranking professor had sexually assaulted her. At the time, I chaired the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department at the University of California at Irvine. I believed this student because, one and most importantly, women of all ages on and off campus face sexual violence or threats of sexual violence all the time; and because, two, the same professor had sexually harassed me.
Shortly after this student confided in me, several other courageous women came forward with their own reports about this professor. “I will make this department safe for women,” I remember promising myself, my colleagues and my students. I then led a year-long effort to successfully convince UCI to finally ban the professor from campus and improve their treatment of sexual harassment victims.
My husband and I used the large settlement the university paid me for the case to establish the Treseder Randerson Fund to support women and marginalized groups in Orange County. I also partnered with the Crime Survivors Resource Center to found You Are Not Alone, a program to help sexual violence victims on local campuses.
But as too many women and girls everywhere can attest to, sexual violence in all its forms is not confined to any one workplace or, quite frankly, place. So when I learned that hotel housekeepers in Irvine also face risks of violence and abuse at work on a regular basis, I was not at all surprised. I believe these housekeepers. And I wish all their supervisors and managers did, too.
At an Irvine City Council evening meeting, I heard local housekeepers share dismaying stories of hotel guests exposing themselves indecently or touching them in inappropriate ways. I heard housekeepers recount the initial fear and insecurity they felt after such unexpected and unsolicited encounters in their workplaces, and how management’s response to these incidents was inadequate.
As I told the City Council that night: Because I believe these housekeepers, because I’m committed to fighting for women’s rights throughout our city, and because I understand all too well what it’s like when people in positions of power don’t believe you or don’t take your concerns seriously, I support the Irvine Hotel Worker Protection Ordinance being proposed by UNITE HERE Local 11, the labor union that represents some hotel workers in the city. The ordinance would establish three much-needed safeguards for hotel workers in our city. It would require that all hotels in Irvine: one, provide a personal security device in good working order to each hotel worker assigned to work in a guest room or restroom by herself or himself; two, have a security guard ready to provide on-the-scene assistance whenever a personal security device is activated; and three, refrain from retaliating against hotel workers who report violent or threatening conduct at their workplace.
Similar ordinances have already been passed in the cities of Long Beach, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Glendale and Los Angeles. By approving it, Irvine would be leading the way here in Orange County on these crucial worker protections.
With a 3-to-2 vote in favor of this ordinance on October 25, the Irvine City Council sent a first message to hotel employers across our city that it is no longer tolerable to continue to ignore or downplay their employees’ very real concerns over violent or threatening conduct at work. But the ordinance has not yet been passed. That question will be definitively answered on Tuesday, Nov. 22, when it comes up for a final vote by the City Council. So we need the Council to continue to stand with Irvine’s hotel workers, particularly female workers, who are at greater risk.
If my experience of working with all those brave women at UCI taught me anything, it is that the voices calling for change are much stronger when they work together. Irvine City Council members continue to work with us.
Dr. Kathleen Treseder is the Howard A. Schneiderman Endowed Chair and Professor at University of California Irvine. She is also Councilmember-Elect for Irvine.
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