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Culture change is coming in construction. 

That was the takeaway from one of the livelier sessions at the three-day convention of the Oregon Building Trades Council held in September. The session featured a “Safe From Hate” panel that included Kelly Haines from Worksytems. Safe From Hate is a local construction industry partnership formed last summer after someone hung a noose on a construction jobsite in Portland.

Safe From Hate Panelists from left: Lisa Palermo (Oregon Tradeswomen), Lou Christian (Plumbers & Fitters Local 290), Sheldon Wormley (Laborers Local 737), Kelly Haines (Worksystems), Scott Zadow and Garth Bachman (IBEW Local 48), Zach Culver (Laborers Local 737)

Since then, 65 organizations, including contractors, developers and many local unions, have signed the Safe From Hate pledge to enforce a zero tolerance policy against racial and sexual harassment and to promote positive jobsite culture. A campaign web site is expected to launch later this year. Safe From Hate is also rolling out a workplace training offered by Oregon Tradeswomen called RISE Up Oregon. Developed in Seattle, the training encourages bystanders who witness discriminatory behavior to speak up and calls on union members to intervene when they see one coworker target another.

“Addressing harassment isn’t just the right thing to do,” UA Local 290 business manager Lou Christian told convention delegates. “It’s also a priority for union employers, who can suffer economic losses when workers sue after encountering repeated harassment in workplaces.” Safe From Hate panelists described the issue as urgent, stating that harassment undermines unions’ efforts to diversify and grow their ranks. 

Contractors increasingly say they will sanction hostile and harassing on-the-job behaviors that used to be overlooked or laughed off. UA Local 290, together with its contractor association, is adopting an approach aimed at change and reform by ending the practice of booting perpetrators off one job only to dispatch them to another. When a member commits egregious behavior, the union and employer will refer them to training and the member will not be able to return to work until they’ve completed it. 

On the convention’s final day, delegates voted to make Oregon State Building and Construction Trades Council the latest to sign the Safe From Hate pledge.

This article and photo by Don McIntosh was originally featured in the NW Labor Press.

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