What began as a response to workers’ concerns regarding bathroom breaks has grown into a far-reaching campaign by USW National Local 1944 to educate, engage, mobilize and support members facing workplace harassment, stress and burnout.
In 2020, spurred on by the USW national campaign, Raising the Bar on Women’s Health and Safety, the Local 1944 leadership decided to delve into recurring reports of members being called out, harassed and intimidated for taking bathroom breaks during their shifts.
“We were hearing these anecdotal stories about management cracking down on bathroom breaks and other so-called ‘abuses of time,’ ” says Donna Hokiro, President of Local 1944, which represents thousands of telecommunications workers in every region of the country.
“So we decided to launch a membership survey we called ‘To pee or not to pee,’ ” Hokiro says.
The survey generated a flood of responses, including disturbing accounts of the impact of management antagonism regarding bathroom breaks and persistent pressure to meet performance targets and other unnatural and impossible demands on workers’ time.
“We heard stories from members feeling pressured not to take bathroom breaks, members holding it in, getting bladder infections. And it wasn’t just bathroom breaks. Members were getting a hard time for other ‘idle’ time, how long they took to complete their tasks, for the time off they took for bereavement leave,” says Hokiro.
“Members told us they were feeling stressed out, burned out, harassed, belittled, bullied,” she says. “You know people are being affected when so many of them step up to tell their stories.”
The Local 1944 Women of Steel Committee also created an online campaign to educate, mobilize, empower and support members facing stress and mental health issues in the workplace, with a focus on burnout.
The campaign includes four publications on the Local 1944 website, offering extensive information to help members recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout, and assuring those affected that they are not alone, and that their issues are real.
The campaign offers advice and resources to help members, and raises awareness of employers’ responsibilities to avoid burnout and to deal with the issue when it exists.
The union also will be bringing these issues to the bargaining table when negotiations begin this fall on a new collective agreement for the majority of Local 1944 members, Hokiro says.
“Ultimately, we want the employer to rethink some of the things they’re doing and we hope we can address these issues in bargaining. We’ll certainly be bringing them to the table.”
The Local 1944 Women of Steel Committee includes, Donna Hokiro, Terika Peters, Alina Gherghinoiu, Gigi Wojdyga, Rachel Worley, Wendy Haill and Natasha Aodan.
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