SHWG Praises Employees Advocating for Reforms within the City Council, Supports Calls to Expel CM King, Implement Independent Accountability System
The Sexual Harassment Working Group and allies stood with City Council staffers today in support of their demands for accountability related to abuse of staff by Council Member Andy King. More than 130 current and former Council staffers have signed on to an open letter to Council Speaker Corey Johnson and members of the City Council, expressing their disappointment in the Council’s failure to expel King after an investigation yielded a nearly 50-page report of substantiated charges, which included retaliation, disorderly conduct and harassment of Council staff. Despite his repeated and flagrant behavior, rather than expel a known repeat harasser from the body, the Council chose to fine King and suspend him for 30 days. Those 30 days are up tomorrow when King will rejoin the Council, to the detriment of Council staff and the people he serves.
In addition to direct action regarding King, the SHWG calls for hearings on workplace protections and collaborative solutions to safeguard Council workers from retaliation and harassment from elected officials. These include internal reforms incorporating input from those most affected: current central and council member staff, and creating an independent accountability system with set consequences and formalized protections. The Working Group applauds the bravery of staff for uniting, organizing and speaking out against a process that has left them vulnerable in the workplace, and erodes the public’s trust in city government. The Working Group supports the right of Council workers to unionize and urges Speaker Johnson to commit that he will voluntarily recognize the union once the group hits the 51-percent goal of majority cards through their union drive.
“The Working Group well understands the terror of continuing to work in the same office as one’s harasser. Unfortunately, this is a reality for countless government staff,” said the Sexual Harassment Working Group. “This is not the first time the Council has permitted a known harasser to remain in office with minimal consequences. And without interventions, it will not be the last.”
Today, advocates and the workers of the City Council demanded a safe workplace free from harassment and retaliation. The Council must take action: hold hearings on how to best create safe and sustainable workplaces and set a precedent when it comes to workplace protections in legislative bodies across the country.
“Legislative bodies should not exempt themselves from rules and laws, including harassment measures and prevailing wage requirements, that they pass for other bodies. All workers deserve the right to be safe from retaliation — staff of elected officials are no different,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY.
“As a former City Council Staffer, I stand in solidarity with and in support of current staffers who should not be forced to work in hostile and abusive work environments. It is imperative that these hard-working individuals be provided a workplace that is harassment and retaliation free. I call on my colleagues in the City Council to support their staffers, and to move forward with the hearings demanded by staffers and the Sexual Harassment Working Group. Until we have transparency and disclosure about the working conditions of staffers, we cannot expect progress and change,” said New York State Assembly Member Catalina Cruz (D-Queens).
“As we saw in Albany this year, change is possible when we make the space to listen to survivors and critically evaluate the systems that allow powerful perpetrators to get away with abuse. In order to prevent the next victim, action must be taken to deter the next perpetrator. I stand with the brave survivors, the Sexual Harassment Working Group, and New York City Council staffers in demanding stronger worker protections and public hearings – if we are to truly dismantle a culture of sexual harassment and build safer work environments, then we must fight for institutional accountability at every level,” said State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx/Westchester).
“The mission of Downtown Women for Change, a group of 800 plus New York-based activists, is to support and extend women’s rights and opportunities. We stand in solidarity with SHWG and City Council staffers in their struggle against workplace harassment and retaliation. Their mission is ours.” – Downtown Women for Change
“How many womxn decided not to run for office because their experience as a Council staffer showed them there is little respect for womxn in public service in New York? We support the Council staffers and we join the Sexual Harassment Working Group in calling for open hearings to reveal both the scope of the problems of harassment and discrimination as well as the solutions for a New York City Council that sincerely protects the dignity of work and respects workers. Solidarity with workers is not limited to speeches on Labor Day or at the commemoration of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This is the greatest city in the world, this is the home of the union movement, and our elected leaders should act like it,” said Brette McSweeney, President of Eleanor’s Legacy.
“Time and time again, our clients who have been sexually harassed at work wonder what is the point of filing a complaint if retaliation and lack of accountability is the only thing they will face. Despite having worked tirelessly with other advocates, organizations and Council Members to reform sexual harassment legislation in New York City and improve workplace culture that has silenced survivors for too long, victims of abuse continue to endure the trauma of working with Council Members themselves who have a substantiated history of sexual harassment and attempting to silence staff. Not only is this disgraceful, but a leap backward from the progress we have made. We support City Council staffers in their demands for accountability by Council Member Andy King,” said Lauren Betters, Director of Programs and Policy at Gender Equality Law Center
“I am proud to stand in solidarity with my former colleagues of the Sexual Harassment Working Group, and on behalf of the 130 New York City Council staffers stepping up and advocating for stronger, staff-centered protections that will ensure a dignified workplace,” said Erica Vladimer, Co-Founder and former member of the Sexual Harassment Working Group. “We all saw firsthand how public hearings at the state level not only enlightened elected officials, but also centered the voices of victims, and used that awareness to draft forward-thinking legislation that helped strengthen protections that fell woefully short. That same considered approach must be taken at all levels of government to make sure that staff- the lifeblood of our government- are safe, heard and rewarded in their roles.”
“The second Council Member King sets foot inside City Hall, the City Council staff will once again be targeted and be forced to work under unsafe and unprotected conditions,” said Amanda Farías, Former City Council Staff Member and Former Director of the Women’s Caucus of NYC Council. “As a former City Council staffer myself, I am all too familiar with the toxic culture of sexual harassment which has silenced too many and empowered their abusers. I am proud to join the Sexual Harassment Working Group in demanding Council Member King’s expulsion. The bravery of the staffers who came forward regarding his actions deserve nothing less.”
“The City Council must enforce a harassment-free workplace and take this opportunity to enact legislation that helps ensure that New York City remains a leader in worker safety. All New Yorkers deserve a safe, discrimination and harassment-free workplace and this is why we support the call for public hearings for workplace protections in City Hall. Women of Color for Progress will continue to support candidates who will work towards our collective goals of worker safety, equitable working conditions, and harassment-free workplace. Everyone deserves to work with dignity.” – Women of Color for Progress
“The Zoomers Caucus is proud to stand with New York City Council staffers, the Sexual Harassment Working Group, and advocates to demand protection from harassment and retaliation for all Council workers,” said Lucy Merriam, Executive Director of the Zoomers Caucus. “We are young people, mostly high school and college students, who are working in politics, government, and advocacy, and we are the legislative staffers of the future. But, the recent vote against expelling Council Member Andy King gives us pause when thinking about starting our careers as staffers in the Council or any other legislative body. The vote against expulsion was also a vote against protecting workers from sexual harassment and abuses of power. Current and future generations of City Council staffers must have the power to stand up against behavior like Council Member King’s, which is why we believe that hearings must be held to fully investigate the scope of harassment in the Council and accountability measures must be put in place to make the Council a safer environment for all workers.”
About The Sexual Harassment Working Group:
The Sexual Harassment Working Group is a worker collective, launched by seven former New York State legislative employees who experienced, witnessed, or reported sexual harassment by former New York legislators and their staff.
We advocate for a #HarassmentFreeAlbany and a #HarassmentFreeNY
Sexual Harassment Working Group Members:
Danielle Bennett, Former Administrative Assistant to former Assemblyman Micah Kellner
Elizabeth Crothers, Former Legislative Aide in the NYS Assembly
Elias Farah, Former Legislative Aide in the NYS Assembly
Leah Hebert, Former Chief of Staff to former Assemblyman Vito Lopez
Eliyanna Kaiser, Former Chief of Staff to former Assemblyman Micah Kellner
Tori Burhans Kelly, Former Legislative Aide to former Assemblyman Vito Lopez
Rita Pasarell, Former Legislative Counsel and Deputy Chief of Staff to former Assemblyman Vito Lopez
Workers’ World Today is a free publication that empowers all workers, regardless of social or political affiliations. Distributed throughout New York City, our paper has a mission to educate workers and provide them with relevant information pertinent to the workforce such as workers’ compensation, discrimination on the job, workers’ rights, and more.