Union Density Up in 2008

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of union members rose by 428,000 in 2008, which translates into a jump in union density from 12.1 to 12.4 percent of wage and salary workers.  This is the second successive year of increase, perhaps marking a reversal of fortunes for the nation’s labor unions after decades of steady declines.

This is the most encouraging news for the American labor movement in many years.

It’s too early to tell how the current economic crisis will affect this emerging trend.  During the past 30 years, the decline of America’s heavily unionized manufacturing sector has been a significant factor behind the lower union membership figures.  The current downturn has been especially difficult on non-union professional and service sector labor markets, leading one to suspect that union density may not fall even as many jobs are shed.  However, plenty of construction and manufacturing jobs have been lost as well, and declining tax revenues will force layoffs in the heavily-unionized public sector.

Here’s the BLS news release and summary: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm.

Here’s the BLS full report (pdf link): http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/union2.pdf.

Meeting with the Founder of the “Dignitarian” Movement

Last week I had the pleasure of having lunch with Robert Fuller, a physicist by training, former Oberlin College President, and founder of an emerging movement to affirm human dignity throughout society.  I recently featured Fuller’s “Breaking Ranks” website (http://www.breakingranks.net) on this blog, but my conversation with him prompted me to ponder more extensively the possibilities for a “dignitarian” movement.

Because our lunch was not intended to lead to a public blog posting, I won’t go into the details of our very enjoyable discussion, but suffice it to say that I was able to imagine, with greater clarity and even optimism, a broader, more significant social movement in support of human dignity, one that crosses many social, political, economic, geographic, and ideological lines.

Fuller’s own experience led him to this place.  In his writings, he explains how as a college president, he was treated as a “somebody.”   But once he stepped down and no longer had the exalted title, people treated him differently, and he experienced life as a “nobody.”  This helped him to identify with others who may be marginalized in our society for any reason.  He began to see the common threads between many of these forms of mistreatment, and he coined the phrase “rankism” to capture these abuses of rank, authority, and power, whether grounded in institutional status, social and economic conditions, or “isms” such as racism and sexism.

Too many workplaces are rife with rankism, run and controlled by individuals, cliques, and core groups who find ways to exclude others and maintain power.  Fuller’s great success is his understanding that human dignity must be valued in all settings in which people conduct their lives, including the workplace.

Fuller has authored or co-authored three books on dignity and rankism, all of which are easy reads:

Robert W. Fuller, Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank (2003 pb avail) — Fuller’s first book to introduce the terms “dignitarian” and “rankism.”

Robert W. Fuller, All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (2006 hc only) — A more prescriptive examination of how to respond to rankism and how to create a more dignitarian society.

Robert W. Fuller and Pamela A. Gerloff, Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism (2008 pb avail) — A short, handbook-length work, distilling Fuller’s key ideas, bolstered by Gerloff’s perspectives as a change consultant.

Website(s) of the Week: Jobs with Justice

Jobs with Justice (http://www.jwj.org/) plays a pivotal role towards educating the public and organizing workers around the need for better wages and working conditions.

Since its founding in 1987, Jobs with Justice has become one of the most visible and effective grassroots labor organizations, advocating for the rights and interests of people who are struggling to make ends meet in today’s economy.  JwJ has spearheaded organizing campaigns for workers such janitors and home health care workers, it has organized labor coalitions to support those who are fighting to be treated with basic dignity at work, and it has educated the public on the need for stronger labor laws and better enforcement of existing legal protections for workers.

JwJ’s website gives you an excellent view of what this pioneering organization is all about.  Especially if you are unfamiliar with unions, this is a great starting place towards understanding the need for a strong and inclusive grassroots labor movement in the United States.  Also, JwJ’s friends and allies page (http://www.jwj.org/about/friends.html) will give you a broad-ranging perspective of how an effective labor movement connects with other social and economic justice initiatives.

What’s a psychologically healthy workplace?

Each year, the American Psychological Association sponsors a Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award program, recognizing employers who excel in these five categories:

  • “Employee involvement”
  • “Work-life balance”
  • “Employee growth & development”
  • “Health & safety”
  • “Employee recognition”

These are all important considerations, and employers that value them in practice are likely to be better places to work than those that do not.  However, as phrased, the five APA categories turn the question of what constitutes a psychologically healthy workplace into something of a safe, non-threatening HR checklist

What’s missing from the APA formulation is a deeper inquiry into psychological health at work that is harder to describe in a categorical sense but that may hold a more significant key.  Here are eight questions more likely to reveal the presence (or lack thereof) of a psychologically healthy workplace:

  • Is there a sense of zest, “buzz,” and opportunity in the workplace?
  • Do employees feel they are valued and treated with respect and dignity?
  • Is the organizational culture friendly, inclusive, and supportive?
  • Is organizational decision making fair, transparent, and evenhanded?
  • Are diversities of all types accepted or merely tolerated?
  • Does the organization face or dodge tough questions concerning employee relations?
  • Are allegations of mistreatment of employees handled fairly and honestly, even when the alleged wrongdoers are in positions of power?
  • Are compensation and reward systems fair and transparent?

These inquiries implicate organizational culture and power, which may threaten bad and/or insecure employers.  But if we want to get to the heart of whether a given workplace is psychologically healthy, we must ask these more difficult questions.

To learn more about the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award Program, go here.

[Addition: For a slightly revised version of these questions, see “NWI’s Eightfold Path to a Psychologically Healthy Workplace”]

Workers in the Service Sector: An Appreciation

I just got back from a trip to California to present a seminar, and I found myself thinking about the work that service sector workers do.  Here are some of the folks I met:

  • The cook/server at the Pizzeria Famiglia at Logan Airport in Boston, who prepared a serving of spaghetti and sauce that was of restaurant quality.  When I told him it was the best plate of food I’ve ever had at an airport (really, it hit the spot), he gave me a thumbs up and a thank you;
  • The young bellman at the Hotel Durant in Berkeley, who was so helpful in arranging a shuttle ride to the airport and remembered my name with a big smile the next day;
  • Faculty at the Western Institute for Social Research in Berkeley, where I am completing a graduate degree and presented my seminar, whose intellectual and personal fellowship and support went above and beyond the call; and,
  • The employees at JetBlue, including a ticket agent, a pilot, and a gate agent, who handled my situation with a flight delay with genuine friendliness and helpfulness.

The service sector covers many different job and income categories, as my trip illustrated.  But the core essence with all of these folks was a certain spark, emotional intelligence, and interest in doing a good job for others, qualities that can make a good day even better and take the edge off of a bad one.  Especially for those of us who also work in the service sector, these people are role models and deserve our thanks.

From the Web’s Archives: “The Management Myth” (2006)

One-time management consultant Matthew Stewart advises future business leaders to study philosophy instead of getting an MBA in “The Management Myth,” a June 2006 piece in The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200606/stewart-business.

Stewart pokes fun at the origins of modern management theory, especially the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor around the turn of the last century.  Taylor, the father of “scientific management” theory, performed time-and-motion studies to determine what physical movements were required to complete work tasks and claimed that productivity expectations and employee compensation should be based on those findings.

Instead, suggests Stewart, the study and application of philosophy can help managers sort through difficult decisions at work.  He calls management theory “a sadly neglected subdiscipline of philosophy.”

The piece is not as wacky as my brief summary makes it out to be.  For many years, supporters of education in the liberal arts have pointed out that the study of disciplines such as philosophy can make for more thoughtful, insightful leaders and problem solvers.   Stewart makes a good case for that kind of intellectual grounding.

Status of Workplace Bullying Legislation

Some readers know that I am the author of the “Healthy Workplace Bill,” model legislation designed to give severely bullied workers a right to sue for damages and to impose upon employers legal incentives to act preventively and responsively to workplace bullying.  Since 2003, variations of the bill have been introduced in some 12 state legislatures.  I believe that someday soon we will see the Healthy Workplace Bill enacted in one or more states.

Dr. Gary Namie, whose pivotal public education and advocacy work has been noted several times on this blog, has been instrumental in supporting state-level organizations to advocate for this legislation.  Here is a status report of where things are: http://workplacebullyinglaw.org/.  This page includes contact information for those who would like to get involved.

For Massachusetts readers who would like to get involved in the newly formed Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates, please contact Greg Sorozan at gsorozan@nage.org.  We’ll be sharing news of our progress soon.

America has fallen behind Canada, Australia, and many European nations on enacting workplace bullying laws.  In the meantime, hardworking employees who have been psychologically pummeled at work are told by lawyers that they have no legal recourse.  When cruelty and psychological violence are perfectly legal in the workplace, something is very wrong.

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