This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org\/podcast.Long before #MeToo went viral, an unlikely group of women \u2013 night shift janitors \u2013 started their own movement to stand up to the extreme sexual harassment they experience on the job.It hasn\u2019t been easy. They\u2019ve had to battle resistance from within their own ranks \u2013 including jeering from male co-workers. They\u2019ve had to demand that the public and lawmakers pay attention to a problem they\u2019ve lived with for years. They\u2019ve had to put their bodies on the line with a hunger strike.It all started in early 2016, when leaders of the janitors union in California got news that shocked them: The vast majority of their members had either witnessed or experienced sexual harassment on the job.Like most unions, the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West, which represents janitors in California, had been focused on wages and working conditions. Sexual harassment wasn\u2019t a priority until the union leadership watched the \u201cRape on the Night Shift\u201d documentary.The film was part of a 2015 collaboration among Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, UC Berkeley\u2019s Investigative Reporting Program, KQED, FRONTLINE and Univision. The project told the stories of janitors who said their supervisors exploit their power \u2013 and the solitude of the night shift \u2013 to violently harass them while their employers look the other way.Since the Rape on the Night Shift investigation, there\u2019s been an effort to find real fixes to an entrenched problem. It\u2019s resulted in policy change, but it\u2019s also activated California\u2019s janitors union and individual workers to combat on-the-job sexual violence in an unprecedented way.Along the way, the janitors had to overcome a series of hurdles. Here\u2019s how they did it.The union asked its members about sexual harassment. It was surprised by what it found.At first, some union leaders didn\u2019t want to take on the issue because it seemed so far afield from what they normally tackle, and they weren\u2019t sure they had the expertise to respond to sexual trauma. But after seeing how severe the problem was, they were motivated to address sexual harassment directly.They took the rare step of adding a question about sexual harassment to the survey the union sends to its members in preparation for contract negotiations.The results startled them. About half of the 5,000 workers who responded said they had been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted at work, and another quarter had witnessed it. It had become clear to the union that it had to take a more proactive stance.This was just alarming. As a union that represents predominantly immigrant janitors and 70 percent of them are women, I just said, \u2018We can\u2019t be a janitors union if we don\u2019t do anything about this.\u2019 We have to take on this issue that is rampant in this industry. \u2013 Alejandra Valles, SEIU-USWW secretary-treasurer FRONTLINEAlejandra Valles is secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West.Then they got the men on boardIn the spring of 2016, the union convened a meeting of hundreds of its members to talk about the new labor contract. There, bargaining committee member Veronica Lagunas announced to the crowd that the union planned to make sexual harassment a priority in its contract negotiations with big employers.As she spoke, a low roar came from the crowd \u2013 some men in the audience were booing her. Loudly.The union\u2019s president, David Huerta, asked for the microphone and demanded that the men do better.I just started giving it to them really hard: "This is ridiculous. I cannot believe we\u2019re going to sit here and one, not let our compa\u00f1era speak, because that\u2019s not what this organization is about. But two, this is a real issue. This is an issue that we have to confront. If the men in this room cannot find it in themselves to fight on this issue, then you have to ask yourself what you\u2019re doing here." It was just a straight challenge to them.\u201d \u2014 David Huerta.That was a turning point for the union. Huerta\u2019s confrontation of the booing men empowered female workers to stand their ground on the issue, and it settled the debate: The union was going to take on sexual harassment.Several weeks later, the California janitors union signed a new contract with the largest cleaning companies in the state and it included new provisions related to sexual harassment. Now, supervisors would not be allowed to date workers they manage, cleaning companies would have to improve how they conduct sexual harassment investigations, and employers would be required to provide information about a confidential hotline so that workers could seek help if they\u2019ve been harassed.When Lagunas reported the news to the union\u2019s membership, no one booed this time around. Instead, there were cheers, and some workers threw their fists in the air.Advocates found a lawmaker to take the issue to Sacramento.FRONTLINEAssemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez FletcherSoon after watching the \u201cRape on the Night Shift\u201d documentary, a union official nudged Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a Democrat and former union leader from San Diego, to watch it, too. She said she was outraged by what she saw and decided to seek a legislative response as soon as she could.I watched it twice. I think I spent the whole first time watching the documentary saying, "Well, of course this happens, but I can\u2019t believe we\u2019ve never thought about this." And then I watched it immediately again, to say, "What could we do? What can we do about this? This is not acceptable," \u2014 Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher.A few months later, Gonzalez Fletcher introduced the Property Services Workers Protection Act, which aimed to curb sexual harassment in the janitorial industry.The need for the bill was bolstered by a report from UC Berkeley\u2019s Labor Occupational Health Program, \u201cThe Perfect Storm,\u201d which explores the circumstances that make janitors vulnerable to sexual violence at work and cites Rape on the Night Shift.A key finding of the report is that the property services industry is structured in a way that isolates workers who are uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment, and then creates conditions in which workers are afraid to step forward to report harassment. \u2013 \u201cThe Perfect Storm\u201dTo build support for the bill, Gonzalez Fletcher asked female janitors to testify about the violence they\u2019d experienced at work. The bill\u2019s supporters also found novel ways to raise awareness of the issue when nearly two dozen female legislators wore janitors\u2019 uniforms to the California State Capitol to show their support for women working the night shift.Janitors demanded public attention. Protesters hold hands as they block the street outside the California State Capitol during a demonstration in support of the bill aimed at protecting women custodial workers from sexual abuse.Credit: Rich Pedroncelli\/Associated PressFrom billboards on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to rallies throughout the state, California\u2019s janitors began making noise about sexual harassment in 2016, long before #MeToo captured the headlines.At dozens of marches, they held up signs that read, \u201cYa Basta,\u201d which means \u201cEnough is enough\u201d in Spanish. At a rally in Sacramento, a handful of janitors blocked an intersection and unfurled a banner that read, \u201cEnd Rape on the Night Shift.\u201dCourtesy of the Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers WestThere was a ready-made group of janitors willing to speak out against sexual harassment. The union and The Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund, an organization that supports non-unionized janitors, had found a way to turn workers into leaders through a new anti-sexual violence program designed for janitors by the East Los Angeles Women\u2019s Center.The janitors were trained to assist other women who had been sexually harassed at work, and these \u201cpromotoras,\u201d or community-based trainers, were charged with sharing what they\u2019d learned with other women.Gonzalez Fletcher\u2019s bill gave the first group of promotoras a way to put their training into direct action.Janitors put their bodies on the lineFor a week in the fall of 2016, a group of about a dozen janitors staged a hunger strike on the lawn in front of the California State Capitol. The promotoras and worker advocates had stationed themselves near the statehouse to put pressure on Gov. Jerry Brown to sign Gonzalez Fletcher\u2019s bill.During the day, they met with supporters, including famed farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta. They read letters they\u2019d written to their attackers. They shared their stories of assault and rape. Each day, as the sun set, they left their posts near the Capitol to sleep at a local church.On the afternoon of the fourth day of fasting, a member of the governor\u2019s staff walked from the Capitol toward the group of women. As she approached, she told them that the governor wanted them to know that he had just signed the bill. The staff member showed the women a picture of the signed document on her phone. They gathered around her to look at it in disbelief before tearfully collapsing into a group hug.We have made history. I feel very proud that all of us opened up this space and we broke that silence. We made history, being that we are poor, we are humble, we come from the bottom. It doesn\u2019t matter what your status is, it doesn\u2019t matter the color of your skin \u2013 nobody should harm your body because no means no. \u2013 Martha Mejia, janitor and hunger strikerNow the law requires anti-sexual harassment training for all janitors, and employers that don\u2019t comply by 2019 can\u2019t do business in California. And because the industry is filled with many black market and fly-by-night companies, it also creates a registry of janitorial companies so bad actors can be held accountable.The worker rights and anti-sexual violence organizations that pushed for the bill also have come together to start the Ya Basta Coalition. The group is working on creating more effective anti-sexual harassment training for all low-income workers. Some serve on a government advisory committee to implement the bill.They trained themselves in self-defenseOn a Saturday morning last month, nearly a dozen female janitors wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with the words \u201cYa basta\u201d learned to punch, kick and jab an attacker by practicing on imposing plastic dummies.They had gathered at the union headquarters in Los Angeles to learn how to defend themselves against aggressors as they worked on the night shift.Through live demonstrations and role play, they were taught how to be fully aware of their environment, how to exude confidence and how to state loudly and unequivocally that they do not want to be propositioned or touched.This was the first self-defense class for janitors hosted by The Maintenance Cooperation Trust Fund. But it was just the beginning. Lilia Garcia-Brower, the organization\u2019s executive director, said she plans to take this training to the buildings where the janitors work at night. The hope is that each cleaner will teach these techniques to a co-worker.We\u2019re essentially looking to create an army of female janitors who are committed to go out and talk to as many female janitors as possible so that they too can understand that they have the power within them to defend themselves and society is wrong. And as we go one by one, one worker at a time, we\u2019re going to get there to make that shift. \u2013 Lilia Garcia-BrowerGarcia-Brower said the class isn\u2019t just about throwing a punch \u2013 it\u2019s also about teaching women that they have the power to expect a safe workplace.