Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Women: Not a high priority for Wyoming Senators

In July of 2005, a 19 year old woman from Texas, accepted a job with employer KBR, which employed her to work in Iraq. As a matter of employee policy, KBR, which was then a subsidiary of Halliburton, made her sign a contract that would force her into binding arbitration if she were to become unhappy with her employment. In other words, she would have no recourse to sue the company if something happened to her in the course of being employed by them.
When she arrived in Iraq, she was housed in a barracks with 400 men and a few other female employees. The sexual harrassment began almost immediately and was reported to her supervisor. She asked for safer housing for the women. That was denied. When she had been there only 4 days, she was drugged, gang raped and sodomized by male employees. She requested a doctor's examination, which she got, and the resulting rape kit was turned over to the company. She was then locked into a carge container guarded by armed guards, and has held incognito against her will. She was able to persuade one of them to lend her his cell phone, she called her father, and with the help of Ted Poe, a Texas Republican congressman, her father finally got her back to the U.S. The contents of the rape kit were somehow "lost" by KBR. When she tried to file suit against the company and bring her rapists to justice, she was told that her signature on the employer-employee agreement would not allow that. Can you put yourself in her place and imagine how she must have felt? Gand-raped and sodomized, and no place to turn for help? This brave young woman went public with what had happened to her while in the employ of a government funded contractor.
A few weeks ago, the 5th Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction in the states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, finally ruled that a person's rights cannot be signed away in the case of assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, and negligent hiring, retention and supervision. Her suit will now be allowed to move forward.
On October 6, 2009, Senator Al Franken proposed an amendment that would block federal funding for defense contractors that force their employees into binding arbitration in cases of assualt. The measure passed the Senate by a vote of 68 to 30. His hope is to bring the federal government in line with the 5th Circuit Court ruling and protect all employees from signing away their rights.
You might ask, who would vote against such a noble amendment? The 30 Senators who voted against the amendment were Republicans. When I read the list and found the names of both Wyoming Senators on it, I was livid! I immediately emailed Senator Mike Enzi and Senator John Barrasso to ask them to explain to me how a senator from the State of Wyoming, (the Equality State) could justify voting against the amendment. I know at least one of them has daughters of his own and I can't believe he would not want to protect them from this blatant exploitation. As a female resident of the state they represent, I will do my best to let every female citizen of Wyoming know how little their elected officials care about their rights and safety on the job. I have not received a reply from either of them yet, but I will post them when (and if) they arrive. There is no room for sexual harrassment, rape, sodomy, or false imprisonment in the workplace. They are supposed to be safe and secure environments, and certainly shouldn't be funded by taxpayer money. Senators Mike Enzi and John Barrasso should be ashamed for not thinking that workplace security and safety are important enough to withhold government payment from those contractors who violate the rights of their employees. I wonder how they would have reacted if a female member of their own family had been treated this way? I have no respect for either one of them after this disgusting vote. The working women and all female citizens of the State of Wyoming deserve better than that! I am ashamed to think that the people of Wyoming elected them and have expressed this opinion to both of them. Surely we can do better than them!

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