In 2003, Tyrék D. Lee Sr. was working as a telephone operator at a hospital before he joined the 1199SEIU. By 2016, he had become the union’s executive vice president. At the age of 38, he had managed to be the first black man to be leading a statewide union in Massachusetts.
However, towards the end of the next year in December 2017, Lee was accused of sexual harassment, and the union decided to suspend him while the investigations of the accusations against him were being carried out.
Following the investigations regarding the alleged inappropriate behavior, Lee was dismissed from his leading position in the union in March 2018. They shifted him to a different role as the union officials learnt through investigation that he hadn’t committed a crime, but only violated a policy.
Two women filed the complaint against his inappropriate actions with the union, but there were others who also confirmed his behavior. He was accused of a range of misconducts over a period of several years.
He was known to pursue sexual relationships with female colleagues, usually younger than him or his subordinates. They accused him of sending improper messages, touching them, and making inappropriate comments to them.
People also told that he used to openly discuss women’s bodies in the work environment, and one time he also exposed himself in front of female co-workers.
Lee has not tried to clear the accusations against him, and preferred not to comment on this matter.
In light of the sexual harassment incidents at the workplace, the union responded that they take strict actions against it and would take steps to bring improvement, and to prevent such incidents in the future.
As a requirement, last year Lee had to undergo an anti-harassment training, like the rest of the union staff. The union’s president, George Gresham, has stated that the union also introduced a new human resources liaison to promote a helpful and accommodating environment at the work place.
However, just a year after being accused of inappropriate behavior and being demoted from his position, last month, his name made it to the union election ballot running for the post of vice president. The health care labor union’s president was in support of him as a candidate.
Although Gresham tried to justify Lee running as the union’s vice president through his achievements and contributions made to the union, the women who filed the complaint against him were shocked to learn about him being in line for a promotion.
The women said that the union supporting him running for the post of vice president sends a message contrary to what they say of taking workplace harassment seriously. They fear that this step will discourage others to speak up against their harassers who hold powerful positions.
On the other hand, the union leaders feel that he has received enough punishment. The leader decided to send him to a six-week Harvard Law School program for union leaders, and he was also recommended for the Harvard Trade Union Program.
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