Sexual Harassment, Bullying, and Construction: My Latest for ENR

Illustration by Edel Rodriguez
It took dozens of sources, hundreds of pages of testimony, 70 real-life court cases, and a whole newsroom, but the payoff was worth it. This week, the Engineering News-Record published a special investigation into abusive workplace behaviors and their swiftly changing legal ramifications–with my byline on it. It’s my first cover feature, and I’ll add that it’s also my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

There’s an interesting mix in here of data-driven journalism, investigative reporting, and crowd-sourced information. With the help of a legal researcher, I broke those 70 civil suits into quantifiable data to measure trends and statistics relating to sexual harassment in the construction industry. What we found, in that data and in related EEOC data was that a relatively high percentage of those cases involved men suing men under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. That eventually led us to bullying, the most recent human resources hot topic in the trades. Title VII does a terrible job of protecting women who have been subjected to abusive work environments, and it does a worse job for men, particularly in the building trades. Judges frequently argue in their decisions that construction is a rough industry known for its uncivil job-site behavior. But in construction, it’s all the more vital for workers to be free of outside pressures and distractions to avoid safety hazards. Are anti-bullying laws the answer?

We found that experts don’t agree on this. Just as many said the laws are necessary as said they are redundant. And since the laws have yet to be enacted in any individual state, we don’t know for sure whether they will bring equal justice or a flood of frivolous lawsuits. The best advice we could come up with: for managers, establish anti-bullying policies to protect yourselves; for workers, don’t be afraid to take up your grievances with management.

Please read my article, as well as the accompanying sidebar and viewpoint, and the article that kicked all of this off in the first place. The paywall closes soon, unfortunately. Let me know what you think in this post’s comments section!


ENR Internship Clips

I’ve been out of New York for two months now (it feels like forever ago!) and working on a freelance basis with ENR while I get settled in St Louis. A summary of what I did this summer seems a bit late, but it’s better than never. Here are the articles that I worked on while I had the pleasure of working with the Record’s editors and reporters.

  • Study: Global Contract Disputes Worth Less, Last Longer, June 5, web only
    This was my first story in the newsroom, regarding a study released by contract dispute consulting firm EC Harris in London. It was my first international reporting experience!
  • Despite Transparency, Dispute Erupts on California Library Project, June 25, web and print
    This story started as a simple look into a new library project in Palo Alto, but grew in scope as my reporting turned up webcams, progress reports, city council meetings, and even the original construction and design contracts. They painted a picture of a public works project burdened with change orders and finger-pointing.
  • How Radisson Hotel Owners Stiffed the Subs in Wisconsin, July 13, web with visualization
    This story was one of my most popular, staying at the #8 spot for most visited page on ENR in July. Viewers stayed an average of four and a half minutes, in part because the story also included an interactive timeline in the body. Incorporating the timeline in ENR’s CMS deserves its own blog post. Happily everything worked out and the timeline application has accompanied more stories since I left.
  • Dramatic Digs Mark Panama Canal Expansion Progress by Aileen Cho and Luke Abaffy, July 23, panorama viewer
    I can’t claim any responsibility for this great story, but the viewing windows for the two panoramic images are an example of problem-solving under deadline. My editors asked if I knew a way to display the complete photos, rather than chopped up or shrunk down to fit our CMS’s built-in photo formats. Looking for a quick solution, I worked out a way to use custom-sized iframes to give readers a closer look.
  • Can Leo Linbeck’s Super PAC Remake Congress?, July 30, web and print with slideshow
    For one of the magazine’s first election season articles, I got to interview a Texas construction titan with his own super PAC. The web version got around 800 distinct visits in its first week. Web analytics showed that 10% of the article’s viewers also visited the slideshow, which contained graphics illustrating political spending in the super PAC’s successful primary races.
  • Judges Overturn Same-Sex Harass Verdict Against Boh Bros., July 31, web and print
    This is a write-up of an appellate court’s decision to reverse a verdict of same-sex sexual harassment, which was originally decided against Boh Bros. In a week, this short article had more than 1000 unique visits. It even touched off a wider data-driven investigation into same-sex sexual harassment suits in the construction industry (also by me).
  • Univ. of Ill. Voids Design Contract After Ethics Review, July 31, web and print
    This article netted 1700 unique visits in one week, with visitors staying an average of two minutes to read about the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana voiding a design contract for fear of the appearance of conflict of interest in the bidding process. The article also got comments, which is exceedingly rare on ENR since new comment regulations were enacted; and on August 2 it appeared in the Architectural Record, ENR’s sister publication.

All but one of the articles are behind paywalls now. If you’re interested in my work, contact me: I can get copies of the stories in PDF form. Thank you for reading!

Data Project: Scraping OSHA Inspections

ScraperWiki's logoOne of the most challenging–yet most rewarding–projects I’ve completed for the Engineering News-Record was the building of a PHP scraper using ScraperWiki. It’s a free service for data liberators to build scrapers in PHP, Ruby, or Python that update automatically and are hosted on ScraperWiki’s servers.

I’ve built a scraper to pull construction industry inspection records from the OSHA database. The resulting dataset records some interesting things: the companies with the most violations, for example.

This was my first time handling PHP. Luckily, there are abundant tutorials and tips available on the ScraperWiki website, and an understanding of another coding language helps.

It stands to be a great resource for ENR and could be valuable for any industry-centered magazine. And I invite anyone to explore the data or use my example to create a scraper for OSHA inspections of a different NAICS code. All you have to do is change the associated NAICS code in the URLs to scrape (23 is construction) and adjust the number of times it scrapes in the loop.

If you have a data set you would like scraped, I can help you build a scraper, or you can send it my way! I’m always looking for new and newsworthy data to mine. Ideal data for an automated scraper is too large to copy and paste and displayed in a uniform format online.