Rachel AleksRachel Aleks, an associate professor in the Odette School of Business, has secured a $63,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to study the various ways labour unions can address sexual harassment. Photo © Dave Burbank

Business prof awarded grant to study how unions can fight sexual harassment

A UWindsor business professor is researching the role labour unions play in fighting sexual harassment.

Rachel Aleks, an assistant professor in the Odette School of Business, has secured a $63,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for her two-year study. She will compare collective agreements from unions in Canada and the United States, and conduct interviews on how unions handle sexual harassment, including the evolution of contract language, the enforcement of that language, and which grievances are pursued.

“There really hasn’t been much research in this area,” said Dr. Aleks. “I intend to examine the various ways unions can address the issue of sexual harassment on behalf of their members.”

In Canada, 53 per cent of union members are women. In the United States, that figure is 45 per cent. Given their female membership, unions could be expected to be leading the charge against sexual harassment, but that may not be the case in all unions, said Aleks.

Aleks said the idea for the study came from her personal life experience.

“Like many other women in the workplace, I’ve been sexually harassed on many occasions,” she said. The #MeToo movement brought her desire to study sexual harassment further into focus.

Aleks will collaborate on the project with Tina Saksida, an associate professor from the University of Prince Edward Island.

The two met while pursuing their PhDs at the University of Toronto. They’ve collaborated on two other union-related research projects in the past. One delves into the attitudes of young people toward unions. The other studies the representation and compensation of women in union leadership roles.

From their past work and some preliminary research on the current project, “it seems that unions in Canada have been pursuing sexual harassment protections more intently, and for a longer time,” Aleks said.

The researchers intend to share their findings not only with other academics, but with the subjects directly.

“We hope to inform union leaders and members of how they can best address sexual harassment through collection bargaining and member representation,” Aleks said.

“We’re hoping this creates best practices in unions and ensures a strong union response to sexual harassment.”

—Sarah Sacheli

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