The Harvey Weinstein scandal certainly has everyone talking about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace.
And with the #MeToo campaign on Facebook, women are sharing personal stories.
These accounts reach far and wide, including into Orange County politics, as was evident by the Oct. 17 news release from Danielle Serbin, chairwoman of the Orange County Young Democrats.
In her release, Serbin writes:
“As part of the #MeToo campaign on Facebook, several young women have bravely stepped up to alert the public about their experiences being sexually harassed and abused by men in power in Orange County Democratic and allied organizations. Specifically, women are speaking out about men in power at the Democratic Party of Orange County and/or the Orange County Labor Federation who have tried to undress young women in the workplace, sent young women pornographic images and memes and joked about porn with young interns.”
Serbin goes on to urge women to tell their stories — anonymously or publicly.
“We will work with allies to shield you from retaliation,” she writes.
According to Serbin, the news release was prepared with the alleged victims’ approval.
For the record, the Orange County Democratic Party is going to launch an investigation into the allegations, which were first reported by OC Weekly.
But what about the O.C. Labor Federation?
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically the umbrella organization under which all O.C. labor unions fall. Its website says it is one of nearly 500 state and local labor councils of the AFL-CIO representing interests of workers at the state and local levels.
This same organization, which is being accused by the Young Democrats of allowing harassment, is supposed to “advocate for social and economic justice and we strive daily to vanquish oppression and make our communities better for all people — regardless of race, color, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation or ethnic or national origin.”
I called one of the higher-ups to discuss this and the allegations but didn’t receive a call back.
Serbin tells me one woman making accusations against that organization was hesitant to speak to the news media because she feared retribution from her harasser.
So why post details on Facebook?
“It’s a millennial thing,” Serbin says. “I guess they feel more comfortable with social media.”
She also told me the woman in question doesn’t plan to seek criminal charges against her alleged abuser, who she says holds a “high-ranking position within the federation.”
Though I haven’t heard from the labor federation staff, I did chat with one of the most powerful women in O.C. labor, Jennifer Muir Beuthin, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn.
She also serves on the executive board of the California Labor Federation, representing 2.1 million workers.
But before Beuthin had a career in labor, she was a reporter for the Orange County Register, and a damn good one at that.
If there’s one person who I feel will get to the bottom of controversy in labor, it’s her.
She tells me she is going to call for a full investigation of the allegations against the O.C. Labor Federation.
When we talked she had just become aware of the Facebook posts in question.
Beuthin has her own opinions on harassment in the workplace.
“I think women are assaulted and discriminated against in a lot of different ways — pay disparity, unequal treatment, harassment,” she says. The “universal way to combat this is to mentor women to high positions.”
She says the labor movement has historically created rules and protections for working people and her organization has played a role.
Historically, unions have been the place workers can go to and expect confidentiality, as they have the ability and tools to fight back, Beuthin said.
But, she admits, “that doesn’t mean we are exempt from the problem.”
Beuthin said labor has taken steps nationally to work where it has influence against this kind of behavior.
I asked Beuthin if she‘d ever been harassed in the workplace, and she said she experienced “varying degrees” in her career.
“I think it’s happened to almost every woman who has worked for a living,” she said.
Reading the #MeToo posts of people she’s worked with, Beuthin said it’s a reminder for all of us that “we need to talk about these experiences. We don’t want this normalized.”
“It happens to so many people, especially in politics, and getting it out there is heartbreaking and constructive,” she said.
Beuthin assured me that as a labor leader she takes these allegations seriously.
“We have an obligation to investigate the allegations, no matter what,” she said.
My money’s on Beuthin to flush out these abusers and kick them to the curb.
BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.