It’s no secret that working for one of the legislative caucuses can be a path to bigger things in government or public service generally.
As with any line of work, it’s expected the people who work the hardest and pay their dues will have the greatest chance at success and future rewards. What maybe wasn’t so well-known until last week was the price people in the House Democratic operation had to pay to work there.
The report from Maggie Hickey, former state executive inspector general, into allegations of harassment in the Capitol work environment painted a truly disturbing picture of what it was like to work for the House Democrats.
“Most workers across the Speaker’s Office and across genders and positions said that they were more concerned with bullying than with inappropriate sexual conduct,” the report said.
So men and women, high up the hierarchy and lower down, were fearful of the bullying they could and did get at the hands of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s then-chief of staff, Tim Mapes. People interviewed by Hickey said, “Mr. Mapes frequently yelled at male and female workers and threatened their jobs whenever they made a mistake.”
Interestingly, Hickey’s interviews found that people acted out of fear as much as anything. Although few people were fired, the report said, pretty much everyone thought they could be gone just like that. Some volunteered in campaigns because they thought it was expected, rather than actually being ordered.
Hickey’s report said that after Mapes was ousted, many people reported the working environment improved. However, not everyone, since the report said some people remain skeptical and believe any changes are only superficial.
The buck stops there
Madigan issued a statement taking responsibility for the problems outlined in the report and pledging to make further improvements.
And you have to say one thing about the speaker — he released the entire report by Hickey, all 200 unflattering pages of it, and none of it was blacked out, as it is in so many reports.
Females had it worst
So, working in the Madigan operation was not necessarily a pleasant experience. Being a female working in that environment was even worse.
Here’s what the report had to say about that.
“Several female workers said that, when they started, they were warned about particular people in the Capitol workplace to avoid, either because of their inappropriate comments, crude humor, or 'creepy' behavior. Some female workers said that, when they started working in the Speaker’s Office, they were warned by female coworkers to take steps to avoid sexual harassment, such as not drinking alcohol with representatives, not looking 'too available,' and wearing a fake wedding ring. Some female workers said that they also warn new female workers about some people to avoid or give general advice to avoid being put in uncomfortable positions, including not going to after-work events.”
So the unofficial employee handbook for this operation includes wearing a fake wedding ring to hopefully fend off the creeps, which apparently included some of the elected officials? Sheesh.
Litany of abuse
Here’s another entry devoted to the female experience with Illinois state government.
“Female workers — across levels of experience, units and positions — also shared various experiences regarding sexual harassment outside of the workplace involving others in the Capitol workplace, which included the following:
* Hearing sexual comments, jokes, and insults from men;
* Receiving or witnessing unwanted sexual advances from men;
* Hearing or being the subject of sex-based rumors, such as having romantic affairs with coworkers, supervisors or representatives;
* Being exposed to uninvited male nudity.
"Unlike their views about the issues in the workplace, more people believed that these situations were more common and aggressive, and often occurred under the influence of alcohol.”
That last phrase is the least surprising part of that entry.
Contact Doug Finke at firstname.lastname@example.org, (217) 788-1527 or twitter.com/dougfinkesjr