Published: November 5, 2018

In early 2018, a Medium Equipment Operator and member of SEIU 503 Marion County Employees Association (MCEA) working at Marion County Public Works was interviewed for an internal job posting for what would have been a promotion in their department. During the interview, the employee was told by their supervisor Don Newell that the employee’s “biggest strength” was their “sexuality.” Newell went on to say that he had concerns around whether or not the MCEA member would have the respect of their coworkers, despite the fact that this particular individual has been working at the County for over a decade.

The impacted union member turned MCEA President Trish Straw, and together they filed a complaint with Marion County HR who promptly launched an investigation. Meanwhile, Trish quickly moved a survey through MCEA membership around harassment at the workplace. 16 percent of respondents said they had experienced harassment or unwanted attention at the workplace, 25 percent of respondents reported being aware of coworkers who have face harassment, and 40 percent of respondents reported an inadequate response from HR.

After weeks of inaction by County management, MCEA members flooded the October 3 Marion County Commissioners meeting where the impacted employee gave a tearful public testimony recounting their experience with Newell. Over 30 members and allies — including Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess, Commissioner candidate Shelaswau Crier, and HD 18 candidate Barry Shapiro — attended the October 3 Commissioners meeting in a show of support.

The October 3 public comment triggered an investigation by the Statesman Journal, who obtained a copy of Marion County’s HR investigation and found that Newell had violated administrative policy four times for discrimination, discriminate treatment, disparate treatment, and verbal harassment. In the investigation, HR recommended termination.

“Marion County Board of Commissioners need to know that enough is enough. Our union will not silently tolerate harassment at the county,” Trish Straw, told the Statesman Journal. “We ask that county commissioners do the right thing by following HR’s recommendation and terminating the supervisor in question.”

On October 10, MCEA members once again attended the Commissioner’s meeting. After repeated pressure by our union, the County announced that they would be conducting a cultural audit in the wake of the allegations against Newell. On October 15, the Statesman Journal reported that Don Newell is no longer working for Marion County.

Being a member of a union means you have the freedom to speak out without fear of unfair retribution. Having a contract, and a union at your back, means you’re not alone. If you’re experiencing unwanted attention at the workplace, please contact us either through your worksite stewards and leaders or to directly to our Member Resource Center by calling 844-503-7238.