No room for old school mentality about women on the docks

North Country is a 2005 movie starring Charlize Theron,  and is based on a true story. She who plays the role of a woman who goes to work in a steel mine where the majority of the workers are men. The male miners think that the women who work there are taking jobs away from the men, and subject most of  them to various forms of harassment, but Charlize Therons character is subject to it all. They defecate in their bathrooms, they fondled and groped the women, and subjected them to humiliating “pranks”.  Charlize’s character says enough is enough and  launches a landmark class-action sexual harassment suit against the company. If you want to know how it ends, I suggest you rent it, and then think about what some women have been going through working on Vancouver’s docks. It would appear that it’s the same shit, different pile.

The Vancouver Sun ran a shocking story  after obtaining a confidential report regarding the horrific working conditions facing some female workers – longshoremen- on the Vancouver docks. You can read that story HERE:

Dating back to 1992 – when a report was done that indicated 79% of female workers had been subjected to some form of harassment on the job, including physical battery, teasing, name-calling and silent treatment -  many women on the docks have had to endure stuff that no one in their right mind would ever think of tolerating in any other workplace.

Sadly, it appears in the 17 years since that report was issued to those in charge of the docks, nothing has changed, and I would like to know why. Why does it take 17 years to fix what should have been fixed within days of that report? Standing by and doing nothing while you watch someone get treated like dirt is just about the same as doing it – in my books.

Vince Ready produced the report that the Vancouver Sun details in the link above. Some of the harassment the women have experienced is nothing less than disgusting and juvenile,and far worse than the most idiotic frat prank I’ve ever seen. Men defecating on the floor of the women’s washrooms, fondling,groping, assaults, exposing their genitalia to the women and creating an ” ugly girl” work assignment system.Meaning that the pretty women get decent work, while the ugly women get the jobs no one wants.  If that is not enough, photo’s were given to Mr.Ready of disgusting graffiti left in the women’s bathrooms and in common areas that showed women’s genitalia, swastika’s and ” depictions of extreme violence against the women.”  Some women have been asked by foremen to trade sexual services for more desirable work.

The union and the employer are making noises to address the issues, but it seems to be happening slower than molasses.Both the union and the employer need to act quickly and cut the red tape to implement a safe workplace immediately. And in the meantime, I’m wondering why this has to happen at all.

 While longshoremen jobs have traditionally been held by men because of the sheer physical demands of the job, modernization and mechanization had eliminated much of the brute work, opening the field to women.While I would not want to be given something simply because I am a woman( a female “quota”) , I  do believe  that as long as a woman can physically perform the job, why not?  And regardless of the personally sexist attitudes displayed by some towards their female counterparts, such harassment should not be tolerated by both the co-workers or the employer. No one, male or female should by subject to what amounts to criminal behavior on the job, union or no union. Some of these incidents would be grounds for immediate dismissal with any non-union employer.

I’ve got a message for anyone who thinks women should be behind a desk, or washing dishes or worse yet – on their back : Get over it. There is  no room for old-school mentality about women on the docks, or women  working anywhere else for that matter.  Women have been doing most of the same jobs as men for years, going back to when we took over the jobs men left during the war. You might not like it, but that’s progress  –  and thank God!  We can vote, drive, fly planes and drive rigs – and that’s the way it should be.

I’m Laila Yuile, and this is how I see it.

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4 Responses to No room for old school mentality about women on the docks

  1. freeca says:

    This is the same mentality that you’ll find at the very top of the BC NDP. Look how James was treated when she dared to go off the party line during the election.


  2. Laila says:

    Interesting that you should mention that, because I received a letter from a reader recently that alleged some union heads in the province directed their members to vote Liberal near the end of the election rather than go with the NDP.

    No one seems to want to speak about it openly though, so who knows? This same member expressed quite a bit of anger among his fellow union members when they found out pension funds were invested into many corporations that support the liberals, despite the union openly supported the NDP and James.

    Kind of like having a hand in each cookie pot, no? Ny the way, hope you are feeling well!

  3. Erica Pinsky says:

    I have seen this countless times in my practice. Despite 30 years of human rights law and a charter that is based upon the values of tolerance, fairness, justice and mutual respect, gender equality is far from a reality. If the port is to become a truly welcoming environment for women, there has to be an economic driver and an interest in fundamental culture change. Culture drives behaviour and what is needed at the port is a cultural overhaul, one that involves adopting respect as a core value. Bad behaviour can continue only when an employer and in a unionized environment, the union, condone it. This is about power, who has it and how they choose to use it.

  4. Laila says:

    If this article is any indicator,
    it seems drug and alcohol abuse is rampant on the docks as well, perhaps contributing to the problem.

    I was very disheartened to hear about this story, because – perhaps naively- I thought other men who witnessed this sort of behavior would stand up and put a stop to it. Peer pressure is an influence at any age, and if anything, those men should think about how it would make them feel if it were their sister, mother, wife or daughter who was being treated that way.
    Time for the union, management and co-workers to stand up and do the right thing. Make this type of behavior unacceptable and obsolete. It’s 2009- wake up and smell the coffee.

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