Reality Check: Group tackles sexual harassment in Asheville restaurants
People in many industries have been accused of sexual misconduct during the Me Too movement. The highest number of complaints come from restaurant workers.
Tourists in Asheville spend more than a billion dollars a year and support 1 in 7 Buncombe County jobs. Those jobs include employees at Katie Button's restaurant Cúrate.
Button knows facts about her food down to the degree. She also wants to know about her employees and if they feel safe in her restaurant.
"We're not afraid of what we're gonna find, you know. If somebody comes forward and wants to talk about something, I want to know about it," Button explained. "I'm not scared to know about it because I don't want it going on in my restaurant, and I need to address it and fix, whatever the potential problem is."
She said her staff usually only have minor problems. Button said they've always had a protocol for what to do when people report a problem. On top of an open door policy, Button said they hired a human resources manager for their two restaurants in the last year. That manager is available as another resource employees can go to.
Many restaurants do no tot have an HR department, so some service employees say it's often unclear who to go to, particularly if their supervisor is the one harassing.
"Those complaints and those traumas and the things that people in the service industry go through on those back lines, behind the scenes, get buried so much," Nikki Bang, of Asheville Sustainable Restaurant Workforce, said.
To change that, workers in the collective called the Asheville Sustainable Restaurant Workforce want to build a network of allies against harassment.
"This is about saying we recognize it is a problem, we recognize our truth and our reality, and we're ready to stand up and be held accountable and hold others accountable for it in our local industry," Alia Todd said of Asheville Sustainable Restaurant Workforce. "And that is what we're trying to build."
They're most concerned with the supervisor-employee relationship.
"It may not be obvious to supervisors, that they now are seen to have this authority that creates a different balance in the power dynamic," Sabrina Presnell Rockoff, an employment attorney, said. "Making them aware of that can go a long way in creating a work environment that everyone's comfortable in," she continued.
Rockoff provides sexual harassment training. She recently trained local restaurant managers and supervisors for the Ashevillle Independent Restaurants. She believes well done training, taught in person, can work.
"Don't touch each other at work. Don't talk about your sex life at work, and if you wouldn't say it in front of your mother, your children, or want it printed in the newspaper, don't say it at work," Rockoff advised. "And if you follow those three rules ,you're probably gonna be OK."
Button recently wrote an editorial in Food and Wine about sexual harassment.
"I felt strongly that I needed to say something, because I want people to know that that's not every restaurant. It's not every work environment," Cúrate's owner said. "Yes, it's a problem and we need to address it, but you can find places that really care and are working really hard to put procedures in place that don't allow this sort of behavior."
The workers News 13 spoke with from the Asheville Sustainable Restaurant Workforce said they want to stop the people who are allowing harassment to occur, as well as those harassing workers. Todd said part of their campaign may include listing the good places to work.
News 13 will host a Your Voice, Your Future Town Hall "Crossing the Line: Workplace Sexual Harassment" on Thursday, Jan. 11. The event is from 8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. and will be streamed live on www.wlos.com and Channel 13.3. Click here for information on how to get tickets or submit a question to our panel.