FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: MELINDA SHELTON, 202-331-0066 x767; DIANE MINOR, x773
"Many businesses are `doing business the old-fashioned way,' as Smith Barney's slogan puts it -- they're still exploiting women," NOW President Patricia Ireland said today in announcing an unprecedented nationwide campaign to wipe out workplace abuses.
"Just as employers take out help wanted ads, our new Women-Friendly Workplace Campaign is like women all over the country taking out a gigantic want ad of our own," said Ireland, author of the book, What Women Want (Dutton, 1996). "Our want ad for employers reads: Must provide equal pay and benefits for equal work. Demonstrated ability to prevent discrimination in hiring and promotions. Workplaces must be free of harassment and assault."
Headlines chronicle '90s-style abuses and retaliation: Women filing harassment charges against the brokerage chain Smith Barney were forced, upon accepting their jobs, to agree to send any disputes to an industry-hired arbitrator. When an assistant manager at Saks Fifth Avenue was raped in the store by a security guard who had a prior rape conviction, the store at first insisted the woman's only recourse was workers' compensation -- as if rape were a normal occupational hazard. Some of the women in the Army who blew the whistle on harassment, rape and abuse had been threatened with violence, even death, if they reported it. After women at the Mitsubishi auto plant in Normal, Ill., complained of pervasive sexual harassment the company forced some of them out of their jobs, stress forced others onto disability and the company initially responded to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suit by paying employees to protest the EEOC.
Studies show women still don't get a fair shake on the job: Just two years ago, the bi-partisan Glass Ceiling Commission reported that women hold only 3 to 5 percent of senior management positions in major companies. Overall, women working full-time earn less than 75 cents for every dollar men earn, according to the Population Reference Bureau. And various experts conservatively estimate that at least 50 percent of U.S. women will experience sexual harassment in their work or academic careers.
Women face a political backlash against their right to equal employment and educational opportunities: The Republican party finances a campaign against affirmative action in California. Congress cuts funding that gives the EEOC the ability to enforce laws against sexual harassment, the only means of redress for many women. Athletic directors favor gutting Title IX and taking college scholarships away from female athletes in order to put more money into football.
The goal of this nationwide campaign is to impress upon more U.S. companies that discrimination is bad business and bad for business. We will use our consumer power to create zero-tolerance for harassment and other abuses. The campaign includes:
We are announcing today that we have named Smith Barney as our first "Merchant of Shame" because this company's bad practices are common practices. Time and time again, women find that paying your dues has taken on a disturbing new meaning. It now involves signing over your rights to be free from bias and harassment. In the largest class action suit of its kind against a major Wall Street investment firm, 26 women have complained of sexual harassment, glass ceilings and other discrimination at branch offices in 11 states. Unless Smith Barney changes its strategy fast, we will post information pickets at its offices in major cities in coming weeks.
While we are kicking off our campaign by announcing the first of our "Merchants of Shame," the campaign will also include several other highly visible public pressure strategies.
NOW has a proven track record of generating a public outcry that inspires employers and government to take a strong stand against harassment, discrimination and violence. In the past year alone, NOW has brought pressure to bear on two major corporations -- Mitsubishi and Saks Fifth Avenue.
NOW directed an intense campaign at Mitsubishi last year and is still keeping a keen eye on the company. Activists staged nationwide pickets at Mitsubishi dealers. A national NOW leader joined Japanese feminists in an unprecedented protest at the company's annual shareholder meeting in Tokyo. NOW and Rainbow/PUSH leaders met with Mitsubishi leaders to hammer out a pledge for the company to create a model workplace. NOW is still monitoring Mitsubishi's response to the women who filed sexual harassment suits.
NOW New York City took on Saks Fifth Avenue and got them to back down. NOW's founding chapter's protests and public information campaign convinced this major retailer to reverse its previous legal strategy. When an assistant manager at Saks Fifth Avenue was raped in the store by a security guard who had a prior rape conviction, Saks initially insisted the woman's only legal recourse was filing for workers' compensation -- as though rape is a normal occupational hazard. Saks abandoned the workers' compensation defense and settled the case. A bill in Congress would make the workers' compensation defense illegal.
NOW's latest call for an independent commission to investigate widespread assault and harassment of women in the military is gaining support. In news releases and countless interviews, a NOW leader who is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel has called for this kind of commission since last fall. Finally, others are starting to pick up on the idea.
A 1994 NOW-generated consumer information campaign yanked Rush Limbaugh's lucrative orange juice endorsements. NOW's high profile campaign urged the Florida Citrus Commission to stop using Limbaugh as a spokesperson. The campaign flooded the commission with letters and petitions.
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