Employees of Casa Latina speak out during a hunger strike protesting what they say is an inadequate response to sexual harassment at the organization.

After Nine Days Drawing Attention to Sexual Assaults, Casa Latina Hunger Strike Ends

by Hannah Krieg

Within the first six days of a hunger strike outside of Casa Latina, one participant was hospitalized twice. Firm in her stance that Casa Latina had not done enough for the workers who had levied sexual assault allegations against another employee, the hunger striker refused food, even in the hospital. 

For over a week, a handful of protestors camped outside of Casa Latina — an organization dedicated to promoting employment and education in the Latino community — vowing not to leave and not to eat until their demands were met. On Sunday, June 13, with stomachs empty from a tense nine days that shut down the day worker center due to alleged intimidation from the protestors, the strikers and Casa Latina’s leadership came to an agreement.

“I’ve started eating again slowly,” said Ana Torres, who nearly threw up when she broke her fast with a banana after the meeting with Casa Latina that Sunday. “Too much pain in the stomach. Nothing good.” 

According to Patricia Lally, vice president of Casa Latina’s board of directors, the discussion did not include all the demands stated online or at the occupation’s press conference held on Thursday, June 10. 

“What was unique about this conversation is that it was very clear early on that there was an overriding desire to find a path forward,” Lally said of the two-hour long discussion on June 13. 

Although Lally describes the conversation as “amicable,” the demand that was most prominently displayed across the hunger strikers’ banners was not met: Fire Day Worker Center’s Director Araceli Hernandez and Casa Latina’s Executive Director Marcos Martinez for their role in the mismanagement of sexual assault allegations in the workplace. Instead, Casa Latina has placed Hernandez and Martinez on paid administrative leave.

“I love Casa Latina,” said Torres, one of the women who reports being groped on the job. “The problem is the directors don’t care about the workers.” 

A sign outside Casa Latina takes issue with management’s approach in responding to reports of sexual assault in the organization. (Photo: Alex Garland)

The allegations were made in a report filed on March 11, 2021. Lucina Carrillo has been working at Casa Latina, a nonprofit that dispatches Latino day laborers, since 2015. When she started a new role as an organizer in the Day Worker Center in 2019, she began to work more closely with the accused fellow employee at Casa Latina. Carrillo says their desks were just three feet apart. 

Carrillo reported that this employee sexually assaulted her on March 5, 2021. At the press conference outside Casa Latina on June 10, Carrillo was in tears recounting how she alleges the employee groped her at work. 

“I know I’m not the only one,” Carrillo said. “There’s more.”

Carrillo described a culture of silence around the allegations against the employee. The protestors believe he was protected because of a relationship with someone in Casa Latina’s management. This initially deterred Carrillo from reporting the incident, she says. 

A statement issued by Martinez on May 14 confirms that other workers filed reports against the same employee after Carrillo did.

Even after reporting the incident, Carrillo says she was not supported by her supervisors. According to Carrillo, they would not move her desk away from the accused. 

“The workers know me — I’m a very happy person all the time,” Carrillo said at the press conference last Thursday.  “And they notice I am quiet and crying all the time because they forced me to work next to [him] for a month.”

The employee no longer works with Casa Latina, according to the May 14 statement from Martinez. The accused was not named in the statement. 

The protestors’ press conference came a day after Casa Latina issued a press release saying it closed the Day Worker Center and began distributing jobs within the dispatch job program remotely because of alleged intimidation and harassment of staff members by protesters.

“We strongly support the right to protest and the freedom of expression, but harassment and intimidation of our staff and members are totally unacceptable,” said Pilar Pacheco, president of Casa Latina’s board of directors, in the press release. “That is our red line.”

The protesters denied these allegations. 

“[Casa Latina] say we are aggressors,” Carrillo said at the press conference. “We are five days without food. How can we be aggressors?”

Casa Latina hired an independent investigator, Deborah Diamond of D. Diamond Consulting, to investigate possible mismanagement by Casa Latina. According to the demands from the protestors’ press conference, protesters questioned the integrity of the firm and insisted they do not want to work with D. Diamond Consulting.

While the investigation found that Casa Latina met the standards for conducting a “timely, impartial, and complete investigation” of the allegations, the investigator found that the accused should have been placed on paid administrative leave immediately after the report was filed. Victims should have also been offered paid time off and should have been connected to counseling resources paid for by Casa Latina. According to Casa Latina’s press release, the investigator found that Casa Latina should have also notified staff that a sexual assault investigation had concluded and action had been taken, without identifying those involved. According to the June 16 press release from Casa Latina detailing the findings, the investigator concluded these and other “procedural missteps” did not appear to be of malicious intent. 

Torres, however, says she still feels the accused was intentionally protected. She is excited for an upcoming mediation session with assistance from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.  

“I know there were a lot, a lot of mistakes with this investigation,” Torres said. “A lot.”

After the conversation between protesters and Casa Latina representatives, which was facilitated by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), Lally says the Day Worker Center will reopen some time this week. According to Lally, the strikers are eating again and slept outside of Casa Latina for the last time on June 15. Casa Latina says it will compensate four Casa Latina members who declined job assignments during the protest. 

“Right now, I hope for change,” Torres said. “I hope we have new directors who care about the problems of immigrant workers. I hope this changes for us for good.”

Hannah Krieg is a Seattle-based journalist dedicated to news coverage that puts people first. Hannah enjoys writing about local and state politics, social issues, and anything that lets her talk with activists. You can find more of her writing at Crosscut, the International Examiner, and Real Change News.

📸 Featured Image: Employees of Casa Latina speak out during a hunger strike protesting what they say is an inadequate response to sexual harassment at the organization. (Photo: Alex Garland)

Before you move on to the next story …

The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With around 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible.

If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn’t have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference.

We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!

Leave a ReplyCancel reply