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Hotel workers cut cake to celebrate ‘No Harveys in Chicago’ ordinance

Allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have set off a flood of sexual harassment complaints from women against a slew of prominent figures. Robert Reich writes that is part of a larger backlash against bullying. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

City Clerk Anna Valencia cut a cake Tuesday — right through a photo of Harvey Weinstein’s face — to celebrate passage of a groundbreaking ordinance aimed at shielding Chicago hotel workers from sexual harassment.

Chicago hotels still have until December to have written sexual harassment policies in place. A requirement to provide portable panic buttons to employees working alone doesn’t take effect until July 1, 2018.

But the Hollywood sex scandal that has made movie mogul Harvey Weinstein the poster boy for bad behavior gave United Here Local 1 President Karen Kent an opening to celebrate a “Hands off, pants on- campaign” ahead of its time that could give women the courage to end, what she called the “sisterhood of silence.”

“This is a moment in time. The conversation that we started a year ago has only gotten stronger. It’s developed more of a voice across the nation,” Kent said, wearing a “No Harveys in Chicago” T-shirt featuring a photo of Weinstein covered by a circle-and-slash.

“This is old behavior. It’s been going on for years and years. [But] people are finally recognizing that [women] are telling the truth. They’re speaking out. And we’re gonna change the way that things are done. Chicago is the leader in doing that.”

Unite Here Local 1 President Karen Kent (left) celebrates passage of a groundbreaking Chicago ordinance aimed at protecting Chicago hotel workers from sexual harassment. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), chairman of the City Council Rules Committee, championed the ordinance with an assist from Valencia, emboldened by a survey that showed a majority of Chicago-area hotel workers have been sexually harassed by guests.

On Tuesday, Harris pointed to the woman who came forward this week to claim that Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager.

Moore, who has become a political albatross for the Republican Party, has branded the accusation “absolutely false.”

“It happened some 20, 30 years ago to her as a young woman. She’s just telling her story. But she’s emboldened because other people are out there. They’re giving her the power and the freedom to tell her story,” Harris said.

“This is like a great snapshot … for us here in Chicago to be the leaders of an ordinance that actually [gives] some kind of…protections for workers.”

Harris recalled an overseas trip she took years ago, only to find herself the only person staying on the floor of her hotel.

“It was such a long walk from the elevator to my room. Many nights, as I would come in, I was like, `How long is it gonna take me to get to my room so I can feel safe?'” Harris said.

Turning to the hotel workers behind her, Harris said: “If I had to work in that environment, I don’t know that I could be as brave as some of these women.”