By COLIN STAUB
Representatives of construction unions, contractors and project owners met Oct. 3 for the Safe From Hate summit, discussing progress they’ve made addressing jobsite bullying and harassment over the past two years.
The Safe From Hate Alliance launched in 2020, after a Black apprentice found a noose on a Portland construction site, reported it, and saw no action taken for weeks. That incident spurred a wider conversation about harassment and bullying on job sites. Safe From Hate brings together stakeholders across the construction industry working to improve jobsite culture.
During the Oct. 3 event, speakers agreed culture change is still in its early stages. But unions including UA Local 290, IBEW Local 48, Laborers Local 737 and Painters Local 5 shared steps they’re taking. Some have formed anti-racism committees. Some provide respectful workplace training to all apprentices. Some have implemented punitive measures for members who perpetrate harassment.
“When you start making it inconvenient for people to harass people, they stop,” said Aaron Barber-Strong, membership development representative for IBEW Local 48.
Construction jobs present unique challenges for anti-harassment training, said Justin Paterson, a project director for Hoffman Construction. On a construction job, hundreds of workers cycle in and out of the job every few months, then the entire workplace ceases to exist when the project finishes. It’s not like a factory, office or company campus, where the same workers are working alongside each other indefinitely. Until efforts like Safe From Hate, there hasn’t been a blueprint for how to ensure everyone on a construction site gets the same training.
Safe From Hate created a Tradesworker Equity Council made up of women and minority apprentices to recommend jobsite culture improvements. At the summit, council members said harassment is still a constant problem on construction sites, but they see signs of progress. Young people coming into the trades are learning about respectful jobsite culture early in their careers. Organizations like UA Local 290 are making strides because their leaders have made culture change a priority.
In fact, multiple speakers said UA Local 290 is leading the industry in taking action. Local 290 business manager Lou Christian said the local trains apprentices in respectful culture from their first year on, using the RISE Up (Respect, Inclusion, Safety and Equity) training. The local extended an existing policy on egregious conduct to cover sexual harassment and bullying. That stops offenders from simply getting hired on with another signatory contractor. The local gives out cards at the hiring hall, featuring a QR code for reporting harassment, and allows anonymous complaints.
Successful anti-harassment measures do not mean organizations will have zero complaints. In fact, that’s a bad sign, said Amy James Neel, workforce and contracting equity manager for Portland Community College. Zero complaints may mean workers don’t trust the organization will do anything. A better marker of success, Neel said, is reports coming in and consistent action being taken against the perpetrators.
Some culture change can happen immediately, without any harassment training. Workers described showing up to job sites only to find there was no gear suited for women. High-vis vests didn’t fit. Safety harnesses were loose. All the gloves were way too big. “You guys want us there, but you’re not prepared for us,” one tradeswoman summarized. Having that gear ready and waiting for women would send a strong message, she said.