Massachusetts public employee unions successfully negotiate workplace bullying provision

Massachusetts public employee unions affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) have approved a new collective bargaining agreement covering over 21,000 state workers that includes protections against workplace bullying and abusive supervision.

The new agreement is effective July 1, 2009 and runs for three years.

SEIU/NAGE bargaining teams proposed adding bullying and abusive supervision to the contract during negotiations with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Dubbed the “mutual respect” provision in the new contract, it is believed to be one of the first major American collective bargaining agreements to include express protections against bullying at work.  Here is the provision:

Article 6A

Mutual Respect

The Commonwealth and the Union agree that mutual respect between and among managers, employees, co-workers and supervisors is integral to the efficient conduct of the Commonwealth’s business. Behaviors that contribute to a hostile, humiliating or intimidating work environment, including abusive language or behavior, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Employees who believe they are subject to such behavior should raise their concerns with an appropriate manager or supervisor as soon as possible, but no later than ninety (90) days from the occurrence of the incident(s). In the event the employee(s) concerns are not addressed at the Agency level, whether informally or through the grievance procedure, within a reasonable period of time, the employee or the union may file a grievance at step 3 of the grievance procedure as set forth in Article 23. If an employee, or the Union, requests a hearing at step 3, such hearing shall be granted. Grievances filed under this section shall not be subject to the arbitration provisions set forth in Article 23. No employee shall be subject to discrimination for filing a complaint, giving a statement, or otherwise participating in the administration of this process.

An alleged violation of the provision may be grieved, but it may not proceed to arbitration.  According to Greg Sorozan, president of SEIU/NAGE Local 282 and one of the lead negotiators, “the Commonwealth recognized the existence of ‘workplace bullying'” but at this juncture “sought to limit their financial exposure by refusing to bring grievances all the way to arbitration.”

This is a major step forward and an excellent example of committed, visionary, and capable union leadership.  The new CBA covers SEIU Locals 509 and 888 and NAGE Units 1, 3, and 6.  Special kudos go to SEIU’s Kevin Preston, who coordinated the collective bargaining efforts for the unions, and to SEIU/NAGE’s Greg Sorozan, who introduced the idea of a provision covering workplace bullying and led negotiations for the NAGE bargaining units.  SEIU/NAGE took an early lead in recognizing the need for mutual respect in the workplace.

In addition, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts deserves credit for recognizing bullying as a workplace hazard.

This also is an encouraging instance of new ideas leading to good results.  In November 2007, I gave a presentation about workplace bullying to an SEIU/NAGE shop stewards training session, and I concluded my talk by suggesting that concerns about abusive supervision should be raised at the negotiating table.  Union leadership began doing so, and the result of their steadfast efforts was this significant development.

2 responses

  1. This is fantastic that the collective bargaining agreement could be the means of protecting people from workplace bullying. Now if only people would start joining unions again!

    • chimera, yes, this is a very positive step forward. I’m very impressed that the SEIU & NAGE union leaders kept this issue on the bargaining table. Let’s hope that this helps some people who need their union to help protect them in bullying situations.

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