Opinion: Stand with hospitality workers against sexual harassment - Generocity Philly

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Nov. 17, 2020 1:00 pm

Opinion: Stand with hospitality workers against sexual harassment

"Employers, patrons, and legislators must get behind workers and meet their demands to create fair and safe work environments," says Sarah Fitzgerald in her guest post.

The majority of the hospitality workers surveyed by Philly's Coalition for Restaurant Safety and Health reported being harassed in the past year.

(Photo by Andrew "Donovan" Valdivia on Unsplash)

I was thrilled and nervous when I landed my first service job cocktailing at a club at 19.

I knew I had been given a great opportunity to make a lot of money and I was determined to bring a level of hustle that would not disappoint. On my very first training shift I took to the high volume fast paced environment like a fish to water and my trainer decided to give me a few of my own tables.

I turned and burned them all night long and was electrified by the knowledge that this was how I’d be spending my weekends and making my money.

When the time came to serve last call, I served as many rounds as I could. Finally I got to a group of three guys standing around the exit, they were really big and I remember feeling intimidated for the first time of the evening, I approached and asked if they’d like something for last call, they were very friendly, smiled, and politely declined. As I turned to walk away one of them stepped forward and grabbed me between my legs from behind, lifting all 100 lbs. of me up almost completely off the ground.

He said “thanks” as the others laughed and I screamed for security. They moved quickly out the door and I was reassured that this was rare and that it would not happen again. As a veteran bartender 23 years later I can tell you that is not the case, this happens all of the time and it has got to stop.

There is an epidemic of sexual harassment in Philly restaurants and the hospitality industry. The report on sexual harassment called “Lead By Example,” recently released by the Coalition for Restaurant Safety and Health (CRSH), gathered stories from over 100 local hospitality industry workers where the majority reported being harassed within the last year. Based on the report’s findings, the only clear way forward is by addressing this issue head on as a community.

Employers, patrons, and legislators must get behind workers and meet their demands to create fair and safe work environments.

Sexual harassment takes many forms not just the physical. Eighty percent of workers in the survey reported that someone at work, coworker, customer, or boss shared offensive content with them in the form of a story or a joke. When harassment is framed in this way it can be written off as harmless humor only to become normalized and accepted behavior. This is just one example of why I feel it is essential to have sexual harassment prevention trainings specific to restaurants and bars to empower workers and provide the skills necessary to navigate these uncomfortable, often degrading, situations.

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Additionally, 80% of workers reported that they had to deal with unwanted comments about their body or appearance; 62% said that say they have had to endure relentless harassment for a date well after they declined. Employers must take the lead on implementing strong policies to protect staff from harassment at work that provides a clear path to resolution. Patrons can also help contribute to a safe environment by speaking up if they witness harassment or inappropriate behavior.

As a CRSH worker leader, and a proud advocate for my fellow industry workers, I carry my own harassment experiences with me as a reminder of why I do this work. We all deserve to feel safe and protected in our workplace.

This is why CRSH is calling on the whole community to stand with workers against sexual harassment. Read the report, be mindful of the businesses that you support. Help us spread the word and create awareness.

We would like to bring legislators, stakeholders, and community members to the table with workers so that together we can make Philadelphia a city that truly leads by example.

Read the report -30-
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