November 7, 2012

This morning, I hadn’t been in the Labor Ready office for more than a few minutes when a male Labor Ready employee started loudly and repeatedly coughing from the other side of the room.  The manager was by the door, a few feet away from me.  I didn’t say anything, but I did look up.  She looked at me and said “It’s ok, Lena.”  I said “It’s not ok.  You know what it is.”  She said “What is it?”

I looked at the man who had been coughing and said “Are you trying to imply that my vagina smells?”

He said “Yeah.  Since you have a smart mouth, yeah.”

The manager said to me “What are you saying, Lena?”

I said “It’s sexual harassment.”

She said “It came out of your mouth.”

I said “All I did was ask the question, and he answered ‘Yes.’  It is sexual harassment.”

She said “What does his coughing have to do with your private parts?”

While she was saying all of this to me, the man had been walking across the room to the door, continuing to say “Yeah,” as in “Yeah, I was trying to imply that your vagina smells.”

The manager said to me “Lena, if I continue to have this problem with you, I’m going to have to ask you not to come here any more.”

She was telling me that I’m not going to be able to work there if I don’t stop objecting to being sexually harassed.

They both went outside, where some other people were smoking.  Either he or another man coughed at me from the other side of the window.

The harassing signs in that office that I’ve previously taken and published pictures of are still there.

I called the “Silent Whistle” phone number that Labor Ready makes available to report concerns.  Before I got all the way through telling the person who answered the phone what had happened, she coughed.  She only coughed once, so maybe there was some of the story that she eventually took seriously.  However, when I first told her what had happened, she tried to say “Why would you ask that question?  Why would you ask if he was trying to imply that your vagina smells?  Coughing is a common thing that people do.”

I said “Everyone knows what’s going on, and I ASKED HIM if he was trying to imply that my vagina smells, and he said ‘Yes.’  It’s sexual harassment.”

I stayed out of the office for a while because some other employees coughed at me and I knew that if I said another word about it, I’d be fired.  It was cold out this morning, there are usually employees out front smoking, and one of the men who was out front coughed at me.

I was able to stay outside for a while, but eventually it was too cold and I had to go back into the building.  A couple of men coughed at me.  A woman sat a couple of seats away from me and coughed every few minutes until it was time for me to leave to go to the auction.  Once, I turned around to look at her.  She said “Why do you look at people when they cough?”

Finally, I knew that I was going to lose my temper and say something if I didn’t leave the building.  I went outside; from the window, I could see that the woman who had been coughing at me for half an hour looked pleased that she’d been able to make me leave the room.

Copyright L. Kochman, November 7, 2012 @ 8:40 a.m.