Healthy Workplace Bill supporters testify before Massachusetts legislative committee

Massachusetts supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill (Senate No. 699, Sen. Joan Menard, sponsor) testified in favor of the legislation before members of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development today.

This included a panel assembled by the Service Employees Union International/National Association of Government Employees (SEIU/NAGE), whose work has been central in getting the bill introduced and slated for a hearing.  Special thanks go to Greg Sorozan and Jim Redmond of SEIU/NAGE, to Deb Falzoi for her assistance with communications and organizing, and to the courageous individuals who provided oral and written testimony to the Committee.

We have a way to go before the Healthy Workplace Bill becomes law, but this was an important step for the Massachusetts advocacy effort.  I’m glad that we could contribute to the national movement to make legal protections against workplace bullying a reality.

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Here’s a link to the briefing paper I submitted as part of my testimony: http://suffolk.academia.edu/DavidYamada/Papers/140218/Briefing-Paper-in-Support-of-Senate-No–699

Bullying can lead to suicide at any age

The case for addressing bullying across the lifespan becomes ever so stronger when we consider how these destructive behaviors can lead targeted children and adults alike to take their own lives.

Phoebe Prince, Suicide at Age 15

On Saturday, the Boston Herald ran this story by O’Ryan Johnson about the suicide of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old girl in Western Massachusetts who was mercilessly bullied by fellow students, in person and online:

A “charming” 15-year-old girl who committed suicide in South Hadley days before a big dance was bullied after school, on her cell phone and on social-networking sites, her principal said in a heart-rending letter to parents.

Phoebe Prince and her mother moved to the quiet enclave in Western Massachusetts from Ireland about six months ago, a friend said. She was found dead inside her Webster Street home Jan. 14 following public spats with classmates over dating.

“Some students made mean-spirited comments to Phoebe in school and on the way home from school, but also through texting and social-networking Web sites,” wrote Dan Smith, principal of South Hadley High School. “This insidious, harassing behavior knows no bounds.”

Marlene Braun, Suicide at Age 46

Meanwhile, one of the ongoing rallying cries for the workplace bullying movement is the 2005 death of conservationist Marlene Braun, who committed suicide after a long course of abusive treatment at work:

The Workplace Bullying Institute is proud to assemble news reports, government reports, essays, and commentary to tell the hidden story of Marlene Braun’s May 2, 2005 suicide and the subsequent government attempts to obliterate her legacy.

It is a tale of an abusive work environment (akin to the traditional profile of bullying cases described at this website) that Marlene described as her inescapable hell caused by her tormenter, bully boss Ron Huntsinger, coupled with dramatic reversals in conservation policies by the federal government executed by Huntsinger and BLM as mandated by the anti-Clinton, anti-environment Bush administration. Huntsinger was promoted in the aftermath of her suicide in the spirit of “heckuva job brownie” incompetence rising.

Thank goodness such a drastic and hopeless response to bullying is not the norm.  But even one instance is too many.

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For Help

If you find yourself or someone you care about at risk, please reach out for help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached around the clock at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or  http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

Article Links

“Bullying eyed in girl’s death”: http://bostonherald.com/news/regional/view.bg?articleid=1227606

Braun story from the Workplace Bullying Institute: http://www.workplacebullying.org/targets/impact/braun/braun.html

Book Review: Wisdom from Wasilla (No, Not Her)

Thank goodness that Wasilla, Alaska has contributed more than a certain former vice presidential candidate toward enriching our civic dialogue.

Indeed, Wasilla’s true gift to the world may be Charles D. Hayes, a retired, largely self-educated writer and practical philosopher whose books and essays on finding meaning in life remain hidden classics.  Through his writings, Hayes gives us a singularly wise, humane, and insightful voice, especially for those in the second half of their journeys.

September University

Hayes’s latest book, September University: Summoning Passion for an Unfinished Life (Autodidactic Press, 2010, trade paperback), provides a unique mix of philosophy, values, homespun wisdom, deep reflection, and embrace of lifelong learning, all designed to encourage readers to enrich their lives and make genuine contributions to the world around them.

Though written especially for seniors, September University will resonate with, guide, and inspire anyone who is eager to move past the superficial trappings of modern life. At age 50, I feel like this book gives me a “head start” on seeking wisdom and meaning that might otherwise escape me until much later.

For those who are trying to define their work lives (paid or volunteer, in or out of the home), September University provides a context for thinking how our labor contributes to our own fulfillment and to the greater good.  At this moment in time, when our popular culture has become so diminished and we are struggling to recover from an economic meltdown driven by greed and corruption, September University offers anyone a grounded vision of a more fulfilling way to live, work, and reflect.

This book is a difference maker and deserves to be a word-of-mouth phenomenon. I hope that a lot of people will give it a try.

Ordering Information and Link

September University can be ordered online from Amazon.com or from Autodidactic Press, where Hayes also has posted a number of thoughtful and provocative essays that can be downloaded without charge: http://www.autodidactic.com/

2009 Union Stats mask challenges for Organized Labor

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) just announced that labor union density held steady in 2009, with 12.3 percent of American workers belonging to unions compared to 12.4 percent in 2008.  This came on the heels of two successive years of modest increases in the percentage of unionized employees.

These numbers, however, mask significant warning signs for organized labor.

Private Sector Unionization Shrinking

The real story behind the 2009 numbers comes in the split between private and public sector unionization rates.  Private sector union density dropped to 7.2 percent compared to 7.6 percent in 2008.

The share of unionized private sector employees is miniscule, and it should surprise no one that millions of workers in retail, food service, health care, and other fields toil at low pay with minimal benefits, if at all.

Public Sector Claims Larger Share, But…

New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse noted that “(f)or the first time in American history, a majority of union members are government workers rather than private-sector employees.”  He added that this development now dispels “the longstanding notion that union members are overwhelmingly blue-collar factory workers.”

As I see it, this does not mean that the public sector is becoming a beachhead of strength for the labor movement.  First, this reversal is in part due to the loss of manufacturing and construction jobs in the private sector, not solely because of an upsurge in union activism in the public sector.

Secondly, although federal government hiring has been strong during the past year, the job situation in state and local governments is far less rosy.  State budgets across the nation are in peril due to continuing fallout in the economy.  Because government jobs are dependent upon tax revenues, layoffs in the public sector tend to follow layoffs in the private sector.  It is very possible that with so many state budgets in meltdown mode, a good number of unionized state and local government jobs will follow.

Employee Free Choice Act

It is unlikely that labor law reform will come to the rescue anytime soon.  If enacted, the proposed Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would facilitate union membership and collective bargaining and buoy union organizing efforts.  However, even before the Massachusetts Senate election last Tuesday broke the Democrats’ 60-40 majority in the Senate, employer opposition to EFCA, the battle over health care, and the overall state of the economy were combining to weaken its chances of passage.

Voices for Workers

I can only reiterate the importance of a strong, inclusive, active labor movement as a voice for workers.  In the DOL news release, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis reminded us of the union wage and benefit advantage:

The data also show the median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary union members were $908 per week, compared to $710 for workers not represented by unions. Union members earn 28 percent more than their non-union counterparts.

When coupled with data showing that union members have access to better health care, retirement and leave benefits, these numbers make it clear that union jobs are good jobs.

We need to find ways to facilitate unionization and to persuade the millions of workers in low-paid positions that unionization is one of the best ways to create good jobs at good wages.

DOL News Release on Union Membership: http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/opa/opa20100105.htm

Bureau of Labor Statistics Report on Union Membership: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

Steven Greenhouse’s article on public sector union membership: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/23/business/23labor.html

[Additional note — Labor activist and writer Steve Early weighs in on labor’s challenges in this Jan. 29 piece from the Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/01/29/labor_needs_a_new_survival_plan/]

Connecting the Dots on Trauma, Abuse, and Bullying

For several years I’ve been remarking that we are getting closer and closer to connecting the dots between different manifestations of trauma and abuse in our society.  It is my hope that workplace bullying will be a part of that map, and I am increasingly optimistic this will be so.

To get there, however, those of us involved in responding to workplace bullying must reach out to scholars and practitioners who are addressing other forms of trauma to share information and exchange insights. Toward that end, I want to highlight several initiatives that are serving that important integrative function:

MONTGOMERY COUNTY COALITION FOR THE PREVENTION OF BULLYING AND RELATED HEALTH RISKS, Montgomery County, Maryland

Two years ago, a group of mental health providers and educators in Montgomery County, Maryland, joined to create , an informal coalition to address bullying behaviors.  Co-founder Dr. Jorge Srabstein  of Children’s Medical Center in Washington D.C. has been promoting understanding of “bullying across the lifespan” as a way of grasping how abusive behaviors start at a young age and endure through our senior years, and the Coalition is a living manifestation of that commitment.

In the words of Dr. Srabstein, the Coalition “is an informal partnership of different community sectors of Montgomery County, Maryland, with the support of Children’s National Medical Center, to:

a)      Promote a whole community awareness about the nature of bullying, its toxicity and prevention;

b)      Advocate for the implementation of public policies for the prevention of bullying related morbidity and mortality, along the lifespan.”

Coalition members have been active in supporting legislation and public policy initiatives in Maryland that address bullying issues, especially within the schools.

The Coalition does not have a website, but readers who would like to contact Dr. Srabstein are invited to e-mail me at dyamada@suffolk.edu for contact information.

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY MASTER’S DEGREE PROGRAM IN TRAUMA AND VIOLENCE TRANSDISCIPLINARY STUDIES, New York, NY

New York University has created a master’s degree program that allows students to study trauma and violence in a transdisciplinary context.  The program describes itself this way:

Trauma and Violence Transdisciplinary Studies creates a space for critical inquiry into all of the theoretical, critical, and clinical aspects of the analysis and treatment of trauma, violence, and their aftermath. This new field provides crucial opportunities for students, faculty, and professionals to engage in cross-cutting conversations and collaborative research, which will foster innovation in every field of the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences, as well as law, policy, and education.

The core faculty members — Drs. Avital Ronell, Judith Alpert, and Shireen Patell — bring expertise in multiple disciplines, ranging from psychology to literature.  This looks like a tremendously exciting initiative that can promote a broad and deep understanding of trauma and abuse.

NYU Program website: http://tvts.as.nyu.edu/page/home

HUMAN DIGNITY AND HUMILIATION STUDIES NETWORK, New York, NY

I have used this blog to sing the praises of HumanDHS, a network of scholars, practitioners, and world citizens brought together by a common commitment to human dignity.  This group understands how these behaviors relate and the importance of taking a stand against humiliation and abuse regardless of setting.

Founding President Evelin Linder and Director Linda Hartling are among a core group HumanDHS stalwarts who have created an inclusive community that manages to hold to its core values while continually reaching out to, and incorporating the perspectives of, new members.

HumanDHS website: http://www.humiliationstudies.org/

Recent post on HumanDHS workshop: https://newworkplace.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/the-ties-that-bind-14th-annual-workshop-on-humiliation-and-violent-conflict/

Book Review: “The 4-Hour Workweek”

Talk about smart product placement: Prominently displayed on many an airport bookstall are copies of Timothy Ferriss’s bestselling The 4-Hour Workweek (revised and expanded edition, 2009).  What better place to hawk a book of that title than an airport, where weary travelers are wondering how many more business trips they can endure before they go bonkers?

Yes, I bought a copy, at an airport bookstall no less.  I know what you’re thinking: What does a professor need with a book about a 4-hour workweek?  He’s got that already! Hah hah! Okay, I’m not about to whine about a career I enjoy very much, though I will say after the 7th or 8th work-related trip of the semester, I was feeling a bit pooped out.

Golden Product + Offload Work = Miller Time

But I digress.  What you really want to know is whether The 4-Hour Workweek is for real.  Well, yes and no.  The key here is the concept of “Income Autopilot.”  If you’re an entrepreneurial type who develops or identifies a super duper product, then offloads the production, marketing, and distribution work to others while still reaping in the profits, the remaining 164 hours of the week await you.

It helps if you have reliable minions, avail the latest Internet technologies, and resist the temptation to read your e-mail too many times a day.  It also helps if you’re ruthless about cost cutting and not hung up on notions such as socially responsible business practices.  As Ferriss notes, this isn’t about trying to change the world.  So go ahead and contract with that call center in the latest developing nation.

Once you have these pieces in place, you can leave the rat race and join the blessed world of the New Rich.  Take that global cruise, learn how to sky dive, or even tackle world hunger (maybe by serving meals at that call center you hired).

That, in a very boiled down nutshell, is what The 4-Hour Workweek is about.

(Conditionally) Recommended for Non-Profit Workers

Yup, I’m rough on overall tone of The 4-Hour Workweek.  However, in what may sound like a humongous flip-flop, I’m going to say it’s worth a quick read by those who work in the non-profit sector.  You see, we do-gooders, educators, and change-the-world types might actually learn some valuable things from it.  Here’s why:

First, many who spend a big share of their working lives in non-profits tend to undervalue their knowledge, insights, and skills. To put it bluntly, we sometimes give away even what others can reasonably afford.  No, I’m not suggesting that we start charging the homeless for their meals.  However, there are some who can afford our services and expertise.  The 4-Hour Workweek may inspire a few ideas in that regard.

Second, the book isn’t all about teaching aspirants to the Leisure Class how to exploit the Worker Bees. It makes you think about all the crummy, time-intensive tasks you do at work that add up to a pile of nothin’.  Take e-mail, for example.  Even if you don’t have a personal assistant to read and sort your e-mail (Ferriss’s easy-baked solution!), you can get some good ideas about how to better manage it.

Finally, Ferriss scores legit points by questioning standard brand ideas about retirement and career path.  By choice or circumstance, some may want or need options to traditional retirement. Folks in the non-profit sector are especially susceptible to burnout and overwork and sometimes see it as an obligatory condition that proves one’s devotion to the cause. Ferriss imaginatively envisions careers that weave more and less intense periods of work with genuine breaks and sabbaticals.

In sum while parts of The 4-Hour Workweek bug the daylights out of me, there’s stuff here that fuels the imagination about rethinking work and careers, including possibly your own.

Update on Massachusetts Workplace Bullying Legislation, 1/18/10

Last week, supporters of Massachusetts Senate No. 699 (Sen. Joan Menard, sponsor), a/k/a the Healthy Workplace Bill, met here in Boston to plan our strategy.  Here is where we are in terms of upcoming advocacy work:

January 27 Legislative Hearing

The Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development will hold a public hearing on Senate 699 on Wednesday, January 27, at 10:30 a.m. in Hearing Room A2 of the Massachusetts State House.

If you would like to submit oral or written testimony at the January 27 hearing, contact Greg Sorozan at: gsorozan@verizon.net

Here is a link that lists members of the Committee:  http://www.mass.gov/legis/comm/j43.htm. If your state representative and/or state senator is a member, please send a letter or e-mail, or place a phone call in support of the bill.  Also, you can contact Senator McGee and Representative Coakley-Rivera, committee co-chairs, expressing your support.

Soliciting Organizational Support

We welcome organizational endorsements for the Healthy Workplace Bill.  Please contact David Yamada (david_yamada@yahoo.com) or Greg Sorozan (gsorozan@verizon.net) if your organization would like to support the bill.

Website and Contacts for the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts

We need you help with communications initiatives to spread the word about this legislation.  Contact Deb Falzoi at: dfalzoi@shiftgearsmarketing.com.

The website for the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill is: www.mahealthyworkplace.com.

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