Influencers Opinion

California needs to set an example for the #MeToo era. It’s time to practice what we preach

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“He pulled her towards him, put his sweaty face next to hers and whispered lustily into her ear, ‘you are the most beautiful woman here.’”

Unfortunately, this isn’t a fictional romance novel, but a (my) real-life horror story that continues to be faced by too many of us. Harassment in any form is wrong – but remains far too common in today’s workplace.

These incidents happen on a daily and weekly basis to women of all backgrounds across all work environments from the break room to the boardroom – even as we work to address and draw attention to them. And as we saw in Brett Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings last year, we still have a long way to go in how we respond to and punish abuse that is “decades-old” – but more “like yesterday” in the mind and memory of the abuse survivor.

2018 was a banner year for new California laws intended to curb sexual and other types of workplace harassment. Golden State lawmakers passed more than a dozen measures to address these issues, showing national leadership.

But the truth is, while these new requirements are a start, achieving long-lasting changes requires more effort – including looking in the mirror. In short, the governor and Legislature must practice what they preach on #MeToo and do more to clean up their own house as a first priority.

In 2012, the governor’s office axed the state’s system for tracking harassment and discrimination complaints in public agencies, eliminating the ability to analyze the extent of this problem in California’s state government over the past seven years. Re-instituting this system is already delayed from its initial target of December 2018. We must hit the new January 2020 benchmark and launch the system and its promised transparent, public reporting of data and results without further delay.

Last year, The Sacramento Bee found that the state had paid a whopping $25,000,000 in taxpayer money to resolve lawsuits on these types of workplace violations over a three-year period. And while California requires all agency supervisors to receive sexual harassment training, Capital Public Radio reported this spring that in recent years nearly 1,800 agency supervisors never received this training in violation of our own state law, potentially compounding bad behavior and exposing the state to even more expensive legal payouts.

Failure to implement necessary reforms is not only irresponsible and wrong but is also costing taxpayers millions that would otherwise go to our schools, fire safety, road repair and essential quality-of-life services.

It is unsurprising that Hollywood abusers and their victims – who, like other survivors, deserve compassion and justice – draw the biggest headlines, visibility and legal help. But let’s not turn a blind eye to the other potential victims some of us may encounter daily:

  • the legislative staffer at a desk in a Capitol office
  • the immigrant mother working illegal, 15-hour days in California’s farming regions
  • the woman custodial worker or hotel housekeeper who cleans your bathroom and leaves a mint on your pillow

Many of us are hopeful that legislators like Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher will continue to champion broader reforms vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. Doing so could expand the reach of 2018’s #MeToo package to better protect working-class women in 2020 – many of them women of color – by recognizing their struggles through future legislation that:

  • extends the far-too-short deadlines for victims to file complaints against their harassers
  • bans employers from requiring private arbitration (secret settlements)
  • Enacts reforms specifically designed to better protect low-wage, private-sector workers

These efforts should be embraced by California employers and the business community – some of whom were not supportive of the laws adopted last year.

California leaders, are you doing enough to fight for these issues? #TimesUp #TakeTheLead

Catherine Lew is a Democratic consultant who was told early on “…as a pretty girl you can throw a party, but you can’t be ‘The General.’” Her firm now represents hundreds of public agencies and candidates as “The General.” She is also a Jobs and Economic Growth influencer for McClatchy’s California Influencers series. You can follow her on Twitter at @catherinevlew.
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