Speaking of Women's Rights

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Power Over Profit: Why We Should All Care About the Trump Administration's Response to Breastfeeding

By Jacqueline Schafer

American culture typically portrays breastfeeding as nurturing, gentle, natural—but rarely as a form of power. But recently, while watching The Handmaid's Tale, I started to think of nursing in terms of the powerful independence that it represents from corporate America.

For those unfamiliar with the popular TV series loosely based on Margaret Atwood's classic novel: facing a fertility crisis, the dystopian nation of Gilead enslaves a group of women who have successfully given birth before, forcing them to bear children for Gilead's military leadership. As cruel and patently evil as Gilead's male leaders are, they apparently deeply respect the role of breastfeeding in early childhood development and allow the Handmaids to breastfeed their infants for a period of time before separating them from their children. The regime’s respect for breastfeeding results in several key plot points that give the brutally oppressed Handmaids a rare source of leverage.

As extreme as the show is, it reminded me that when a government promotes breastfeeding, it necessarily recognizes the latent power of women* to provide nourishment for their children. The Trump Administration actually recognized this power when it sought to prevent the introduction of an updated resolution from the World Health Organization (WHO) this spring. The resolution stated the scientifically uncontroversial concepts that governments should promote breastfeeding—because of research demonstrating that it results in the best outcomes for children, particularly in developing countries and low income communities where children are at risk if formula money runs low—and should limit advertising about unhealthy food products, such as infant formula with added sugar.

The Atlantic does a good job of explaining the harmful international impact of advertisements that promote infant formula over breastfeeding, and why infant formula companies aggressively lobby the American government to maximize profits. It is stunning that infant formula companies are so deeply threatened by the power of women to feed their own children that they sought to manipulate the WHO’s official voice on the subject.

Why does WHO recognition matter at the local and national level? Official recognition of the benefits of breastfeeding by the WHO has significant societal implications for women's economic security and power. One point to consider is that when state legislators and Congressmembers draft legislation, they look to international norms and the most current research as justification for their bills. If the most prominent health care organization in the world is silent about the need to promote breastfeeding, it becomes easier for legislators to ignore the scientific consensus and pass health care legislation that lacks express protections or benefits for nursing parents. And by not supporting laws and interventions that make it easier for people to breastfeed, that necessarily creates demand for formula—which is coincidentally manufactured by corporations that often donate to specific politicians’ campaigns.

These efforts to deny the promotion of breastfeeding as an international norm may not seem as pressing in light of the other threats to women's health by the Trump Administration, but if I've learned anything from The Handmaid’s Tale it is that words matter. Omitting conclusive research from international dialogue can reduce societal and workplace support for breastfeeding, thereby limiting the ability of women to choose that journey. In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, women should recognize their power to nourish the next generation and continue to fight back against those who would try to diminish that power for profit.

*I use the term “women” here, but I recognize that not all people who breastfeed/chestfeed are women, and that not all people who give birth can or choose to breastfeed/chestfeed.

Jacqueline Schafer is an advocate for the safety and success of children, families, and the communities where they live. She is pro bono cooperating counsel for Legal Voice, a world traveler, and in-house counsel for a national child welfare nonprofit.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Can Title IX Protect Me from Sexual Harassment at My Internship?

By Olivia Ortiz

Summer is upon us, and students across the country are exchanging their classrooms for internships. Internships are valuable learning experiences that allow students to apply their educations to real world professions.

But these experiences are highly susceptible to sexual harassment. Unpaid interns are particularly vulnerable as courts have ruled and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission policy dictates that, with some exceptions, unpaid interns do not have the protections afforded by the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination. However, unpaid student interns who are participating in their internship for academic credit do have a form of recourse by virtue of Title IX.

Title IX is a 46 year-old civil rights law protecting students against gender discrimination in “educational programs.” Both the Third and Sixth Circuit U.S. Courts of Appeals have ruled that internships taken for academic credit qualify as “educational programs” under Title IX. Although internship sites themselves may not qualify as “educational institutions,” they can house “educational programs” for which federally funded educational institutions are responsible. This means that schools are responsible for responding to sexual harassment against students in the sites of their for-credit internships.

In one case, Varlesi v. Wayne State University, a Master of Social Work student experienced pregnancy discrimination at her site for a required fieldwork component. When she reported the discrimination to her school, the school official dismissed her complaint. The student’s fieldwork supervisor at the site proceeded to retaliate against her by assigning a failing grade, leaving the student unable to graduate. This example highlights the unique way that harassment can impact students in internships for credit; their academic progress depends on their supervisor and the successful completion of the internship.

Students in internships for credit should be aware that they have protections under Title IX. If a student experiences sexual harassment during their internship for credit, they have the option of seeking help through their school in complaint proceedings. As in any other educational program, schools are obligated to address complaints of sexual harassment and violence in internships for credit.

Furthermore, schools should take preventative measures to ensure that both students and for-credit internship sites are aware of their rights and responsibilities under Title IX. Arizona State University, for instance, created a fact sheet detailing these responsibilities for employers who host their students. Sending a Title IX fact sheet to students and employers affirms the institution’s commitment to Title IX, equips students with powerful knowledge, and apprises the host site of its responsibilities in offering this learning opportunity.

Learning opportunities should be immersive and educational, and internships for credit are no different. Sexual harassment in any learning environment is counterproductive to these ends, and sexual harassment poses unique challenges in internships. By embracing Title IX and educating both employers and students, institutions will encourage their students to thrive for many summers to come.

For more information on your rights as a student in Washington State, check out students.legalvoice.org.

Olivia Ortiz is a leader of Legal Voice’s Campus Sexual Assault Work Group. She is an incoming JD student at the University of Washington School of Law and tweets at @ortizoliviaa

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Act Now: We Must Stop Separating Immigrant Families

By Sarah Smith and Sara Ainsworth

This week, Legal Voice and our allies learned that 206 people who came to the United States seeking asylum had been transferred from Texas and were now detained at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac. Most are from Cuba, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, and say they fled threats of rape, gang violence, and political persecution in their home countries. The SeaTac FDC is not to be confused with the immigration-focused detention center, Northwest Detention Center, in Tacoma. To the contrary, The SeaTac FDC is generally used only for those serving criminal sentences or awaiting trial on federal charges; this is not the only federal prison being used for such purposes. These detainees presented themselves to border agents in order to seek asylum, only to find themselves thrown head-first into a criminal proceeding they did not ask for.

Among these detainees are 174 women, many of whom had their children taken away from them at the border. Of the 170 or so women detained, more than half reported that they had been separated from their children. The ages of the children, range from 12 months to 16 years old. These children were forcibly separated from their parents, sometimes under false pretenses that the children are being taken for questioning or a bath. Most of these children are not held in Washington State, and are instead held in unknown locations under the supervision of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services. These women have expressed fear of returning to their home countries and came here to find safety for themselves and their children; now, they have no idea if or when they will see their children again.

The Trump Administration recently implemented these policies as a way to deter families from trying to reach the United States. The Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border without permission, even those who do so to request asylum, specifically targets women and children who most in need of protection. Instead of processing their asylum claims as immigration law requires them, border agents arrested these migrants and charged them unlawful entry, a misdemeanor offense, for crossing the border without permission. Many of the detainees pled guilty to the charge, believing that a guilty plea was their best chance at being reunited with their children. Instead, they were sentenced to time served, the lightest punishment possible, and transferred to ICE custody and now face deportation if their asylum claims are not successful.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration further rolled back asylum protections for women on Monday when AG Jeff Sessions announced that victims of domestic abuse and gang violence likely do not qualify for protection under US asylum law. Under asylum law, a person who has a reasonable fear of persecution in their home country based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion that the home country’s government cannot or will not prevent has a claim for asylum. Until Monday, that included women in “domestic relationships” from some Central American countries who had been victims of intimate partner violence and could not leave the abusive relationship. Characterizing such harms as “private,” the Trump Administration has turned its back on its obligations under US and international humanitarian law. This new approach does nothing to protect Americans, and it certainly does not help victims of domestic abuse and gang violence.

Contrary to what "someone" is saying on Twitter, there is no law requiring immigrant families to be separated at the border. The decision to charge everyone crossing the board with illegal entry and the decision to put asylum seekers into criminal and deportation proceedings are 100% discretionary choices on the part of the Trump Administration. These choices harm women not only in the United States, but they also hurt women right here in Washington. We must not stand idly by while the rights of women and children are trampled in this way.

Here's how you can take action:
  • You can sign petitions - find them at Families Belong Together. Follow Families Belong Together for more actions.
  • There are several rallies and events scheduled for today and beyond. Look here for one near you.
  • Donate your time or money to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP). If you are a lawyer in Washington State who speaks Spanish or Cantonese, NWRIP needs you. They are connecting the people detained here in Washington with lawyers to learn about their cases. And if you don’t speak those languages, but could volunteer to take on an asylum case, let NWIRP know as well.
  • If you are in Washington, you can support Northwest Detention Center Resistance. Find out about their events on their Facebook page.
  • Contact your Senators to tell them you support the Keep Families Together Act, which Senator Diane Feinstein and 31 colleagues introduced on June 8th.
**UPDATE** Here are more actions you can take:
  • Participate in the daily vigils at Seattle ICE office. The vigil/rally is concentrated from 8–10 a.m. but participants are welcome all day long. Occurs daily from now until July 6th.

  • Attend the RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education & Legal Services) webinar on June 21. Learn more and register here.

  • Make a donation to the RAICES Family Reunification and Bond Fund.

  • Participate in the national day of action on June 30. If you are in Seattle, please join Legal Voice and our allies at the 11:00 a.m. rally at the SeaTac Detention Center.

  • More ideas from Vu Le of Nonprofit AF here.
Please act now. We can't give up.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Celebrate Legal Voice's Birthday... for YOUR Birthday!

By Sarah MacDonald

Legal Voice is celebrating 40 fabulous years of progress! In celebration of our four decades of taking names and making change, several of our supporters have used their birthdays to raise funds for—and awareness of—our continued efforts for women, families, and LGBTQ folks in the Northwest. Great idea, right?

You, too, can leverage your special day to gain support for Legal Voice or another cause that's close to your heart. Here are a few ways:
  1. Hold a house party! Get your closest pals together to celebrate you (because you're awesome) while also supporting your favorite organization. The opportunities are endless! You can host a traditional birthday party but ask for donations instead of gifts. Do you like sports? Have a football-watching party where you raise money based on the score. Or host a "Rad Women of History" costume party and ask for donations at the door. Whatever you choose to do, we're here to help. We can provide stickers, talking points, custom birthday pins... we even have Ruth Bader Ginsburg coloring books! We might even be able to send a few staff or board members out to celebrate with you. Find more tips here, or email me with your ideas!

  2. Create a Facebook Fundraiser! If you're on Facebook, you can easily create a Facebook Fundraiser to support Legal Voice. Your friends and family members can give right on the site. Easy peasy! Start the process at facebook.com/fundraisers and click on "Raise Money for a Nonprofit Organization." We can help you make the most out of your fundraiser with custom images for your page, talking points about all the important issues we're working on, and a special thank you video to everyone who supported your fundraiser. Email me for more information!

  3. Write a good old fashioned letter! If you are more on the analog side, consider writing a heartfelt appeal to all the wonderful people in your Rolodex. We can provide you with remit envelopes to include with your letter for donation-making ease, and we'll work with you to write a joint thank you note from you and Legal Voice. Gosh, we make a great team!
Thank you for your continued support of Legal Voice! And for being born. We're pretty glad that happened.

Sarah MacDonald is Marketing & Communications Manager for Legal Voice, where she strives daily to keep you in-the-know. Her birthday is in September, when she will definitely be taking her own advice and hosting a Legal Voice fundraiser! (And taking full advantage of the office buttonmaker.)

Photo by Audrey Fretz on Unsplash

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Community Spotlight: UNITE HERE Local 8

Q & A with UNITE HERE Local 8's Abby Lawlor
and Legal Voice's Sarah MacDonald

In his brief time with Legal Voice, our Senior Attorney Andrew Kashyap has been building and fostering connections with labor organizations and unions in the Northwest. These critical groups are elevating workers' voices as they demand workplace equity, safety, and living wages.

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April) faded into May Day—a day for solidarity and protest around worker and immigrant rights—I asked Abby Lawlor of UNITE HERE Local 8, the Northwest's hospitality union, a few questions about their work at the intersection of low-wage work, immigrant rights, and workplace sexual violence.

• • •

Who is UNITE HERE Local 8?

UNITE HERE Local 8 is a labor union representing over 5,000 workers in the hospitality industries of Oregon & Washington State. Local 8 members work in hotels, restaurants, food service, and airport concessions. They include housekeepers, cooks, bartenders, bellmen, food and beverage servers, bussers, and dishwashers. Local 8’s parent union, UNITE HERE, represents over 270,000 hotel, food service, and gaming workers throughout the US and Canada. Local 8 has a highly diverse membership, comprising workers from many immigrant and refugee communities as well as high percentages of African-American, Latino, and Asian-American workers. The majority of our members are women. Through organizing, Local 8 members aim to transform thousands of traditionally low-wage jobs into good, family sustaining jobs. We fight for living wages, job security, a voice on the job, safety and respect in the workplace, and affordable family health insurance.

What projects or initiatives are you currently working on?

In 2016, UNITE HERE Local 8 worked to pass Seattle Initiative 124 (I-124), which extended critical workplace health and safety protections to all hotel workers in the city, whether or not they have a union. These include panic buttons and other protections from sexual harassment and assault and protections from workplace injury as well as access to affordable family healthcare and job security. We are currently working on the implementation of the initiative—providing input into the administrative rules and spreading the word to hotel workers about their new rights.

I-124 was a huge step forward in terms of the standards for hotel workers in Seattle. In 2018, a number of our union contracts are up at Seattle hotels. Hundreds of our members will be at the table to negotiate new collective bargaining agreements, which will be another opportunity for us to keep making gains for hotel workers. Lastly, we are always supporting non-union workers as they organize their workplaces and become union members. The food service workers at Lewis and Clark College in Portland and at the Facebook offices in Seattle recently joined our union, and we expect more hospitality workers in the region to follow suit this year!

The #MeToo movement created an important platform for survivors of sexual violence to raise their voices and demand change. But it often feels like the broader movement is leaving out the voices of hotel workers, who face incredible rates of workplace sexual harassment and assault. Why do you think this is?

It’s important to note that this movement isn’t new. Women in our union have been fighting back against workplace harassment for over a hundred years, dating back to when it was the Waitresses’ Union Local 174. And Seattle workers were able to pass an initiative legislating workplace sexual harassment protections a year before the accusations against Harvey Weinstein became headline news. But it’s true that low-wage workers haven’t been at the center of the #MeToo spotlight.

It’s impossible to talk about the risks facing hotel workers without also talking about the broader injustices in our economy. Hotel housekeepers face incredible rates of workplace sexual harassment and assault, as well as workplace injury, because they are low-income women of color (in Seattle, a majority of whom are also immigrants and refugees) who work for profit-driven multi-national hotel companies. Reducing their risk of experiencing harassment and assault may start with panic buttons, but it has to also include a safe workload, a living wage, a voice on the job, healthcare access, job security, and real mechanisms for holding their employers accountable.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like the broader #MeToo movement is at a point yet of moving to tackle these larger issues starting with the people who are most impacted and most vulnerable.

That said, I’ve been more encouraged than discouraged at the extent to which the experiences of women working in the service industry have made their way into the discourse around #MeToo. The conversation happening now feels like a significant step forward from the conversations we were having around I-124 in 2016. There’s more focus on how economic inequality and discrimination put women and LGBTQ people of color at greater risk of violence. And there’s been some acknowledgement that building power for workers and unions is an important part of the solution.

Workplace sexual violence is often fueled by a power imbalance between an employer or supervisor and the worker. What kinds of power dynamics are present when hotel workers are on the job? 

There are two key power imbalances at play within hotels, and which interact to amplify the risk of sexual violence for hotel workers. First, hotel workers are at a distinct power disadvantage relative to their employer and any supervisors or managers. Second, they’re also at a power disadvantage relative to hotel guests, who often have some money and some social status and who their employer is eager to keep coming back.

The vast majority of hotel workers in Seattle aren’t covered by a union contract, meaning they are at-will employees, and their employer can fire them at any time for any reason. Workers can also face discipline or retaliation and, without union representation and a real grievance procedure, have little recourse to respond. Due to economic insecurity, insecure immigration status, and other factors, hotel workers (rightly) have a lot of fear in coming forward about workplace sexual violence. And even if they do want to report, there are often language and other barriers they need to overcome in order to do so. When workers are at a power disadvantage—as housekeepers are when they’re alone in a hotel room with a guest—they become targets for harassment and violence. And when workers are afraid or otherwise unable to speak out, the situation becomes even worse.

How can people in the Legal Voice community support hotel workers and UNITE HERE! Local 8’s mission?

First, anyone who travels and stays in hotels should use the Fair Hotels program to make sure that you’re supporting union workplaces and avoiding hotels that are under boycott. You can search for hotels at www.fairhotel.org or by using the Fair Hotel app. Organizations can also sign on to become Fair Hotels partners and pledge to use your group business to support hotels and event facilities where workers have the opportunity for a better life.

Legal Voice supporters can also sign up for our email updates and/or follow UNITE HERE Local 8 on Facebook and Twitter. We’ll keep you updated about the latest ways to support I-124 and how to show up for hotel workers fighting for strong contracts later this year.