The Workplace Bill of Rights by Workplace Fairness

Workplace Fairness is a non-profit organization dedicated to education and advocacy about employee rights. I’ve been meaning to share their Workplace Bill of Rights (link here), a comprehensive statement of basic rights and protections that all workers should enjoy:

1. Employees should be treated with honesty and respect.

2. Working full-time should guarantee a basic standard of living.

3. Workplaces should be free of discrimination.

4. No working person should be without health insurance.

5. No one should have to work his or her entire life.

6. Employees should be able to leave a job with dignity.

7. Every workplace should be as safe as possible.

8. There is more to life than work.

9. Employees are entitled to work together.

Covers workplace bullying

On the Workplace Fairness website, each core right is accompanied by a full explanation. No. 1 — the right to be treated “with honesty and respect” — states that “workplaces should be free of verbal abuse, threats, sabotage, and bullying of any kind.” Bravo!

Did Gov. Walker hand the labor movement a silver lining?

Dennis Cauchon reports on a USA Today/Gallup national public opinion survey indicating that 61 percent of respondents oppose the kind of gutting of collective bargaining rights being pushed forward by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican majority in the state’s legislature (link here):

The public strongly opposes laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions as a way to ease state financial troubles, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

The poll found that 61% would oppose a law in their state similar to one being considered in Wisconsin, compared with 33% who would favor such a law.

Interestingly, FOX News was caught reversing the percentages, indicating (erroneously) that respondents strongly supported Walker’s move against collective bargaining!

Generating national activism

Union supporters and workers in other states are holding rallies to support public workers in Wisconsin and to let their own elected state officials know how they feel about the prospect of similar legislation. State capitals in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia are among the sites where lobbying days and rallies have been held in response to the Wisconsin situation.

Apparent impact

Perhaps the message already is getting through. Sam Hanalel of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News, link here) reports that in light of the protests,”Republican leaders in several states are toning down the tough talk against public employee unions and, in some cases, abandoning anti-union measures altogether.” For example:

Indiana’s governor urged GOP lawmakers to give up on a “right to work” bill for fear the backlash could derail the rest of his agenda. In Ohio, senators plan to soften a bill that would have banned all collective bargaining by state workers. And in Michigan, the Republican governor says he’d rather negotiate with public employees than pick a fight.

Amnesty International USA

Gov. Walker’s inability or refusal to distinguish between calling for wage and benefit concessions and extinguishing the very right to engage in collective bargaining is raising concerns within the global human rights community. Amnesty International USA has weighed in with a statement of concern (link here):

If enacted, the Governor’s proposal would undermine the ability of unions in the public sector to protect workers, including by limiting workers’ ability to object to work conditions.

…These rights are an essential foundation to the realization of other rights, and are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, as well as conventions adopted by the International Labor Organization.

Can arrogance flip public opinion?

Anti-labor Republicans had a nearly ideal situation before them: The effects of the recession have put severe strains on state budgets. This has fueled public perceptions, however untrue in most instances, that government workers are paid too much and receive monstrously high pensions. It was a ripe opportunity for anti-labor elected officials to put public employee unions in their place.

But perhaps the sheer audacity of getting rid of collective bargaining rights almost in their entirety has triggered an innate sense of fairness that is turning public opinion against such draconian proposals.

This is a potential silver lining for the labor movement, a narrow but genuine window of opportunity to educate America about the importance of the labor movement for all but the most generously compensated workers.


Helpful summary: USA Today’s Cauchon also wrote a helpful Q&A on the key issues at stake in Wisconsin, here.

Historical background: For an informative NPR interview on the history of public employee unions featuring Joseph Slater, University of Toledo law professor and expert on public sector unionization, go here. (Hat tip to Workplace Prof blog for the link.)


Previous posts on Wisconsin:

The attack on human rights in Wisconsin

A tale of two news articles: Snapshots from Egypt and the U.S.

Links to my articles and papers on workplace bullying and related topics

Periodically I post copies of articles and papers to one of two distribution sites, the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) (link here) and (link here). For those interested in workplace bullying, workers’ rights, employment law & policy, etc., here is the latest list of my writings and materials that may be downloaded without charge.

Please note the following conditions:

1. These materials are provided for informational purposes only and are not offered as legal advice, organizational consulting, or personal counseling.

2. They are provided for individual educational use and may not be sold, copied, or downloaded for separate reposting to a different site.


Workplace bullying

The Phenomenon of ‘Workplace Bullying’ and the Need for Status-Blind Hostile Work Environment ProtectionGeorgetown Law Journal, 2000

Crafting a Legislative Response to Workplace BullyingEmployee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, 2004

Workplace Bullying and Ethical LeadershipJournal of Values-Based Leadership, 2008

Workplace Bullying and American Employment Law: A Ten-Year Progress Report and AssessmentComparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, 2010

Employee dignity generally

Human Dignity and American Employment LawUniversity of Richmond Law Review, 2009

Employment Law as If People Mattered: Bringing Therapeutic Jurisprudence into the Workplace, Florida Coastal Law Review, 2010

Other employment law topics

Beyond ‘Economic Realities’: The Case for Amending Federal Employment Discrimination Laws to Include Independent Contractors — Boston College Law Review, 1997

Voices from the Cubicle: Protecting and Encouraging Private Employee Speech in the Post-Industrial Workplace, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 1998

The Employment Law Rights of Student InternsConnecticut Law Review, 2002

Legal education

Same Old, Same Old: Law School Rankings and the Affirmation of HierarchySuffolk University Law Review, 1997

Therapeutic Jurisprudence and the Practice of Legal ScholarshipUniversity of Memphis Law Review, 2010


There is a ton of repetition among these materials, as most of them are from talks and testimony in which basic information about workplace bullying is part of the presentation.

Worker dignity generally

Imagining the Good Workplace: It Starts with Individual Dignity — Presented at New Workplace Forum, April 2007

Necessary Remedy: Injecting Therapeutic Jurisprudence Into American Employment Law — Presented at the 31st Congress of the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, New York University School of Law, June 2009

Workplace bullying generally

Multidisciplinary Responses to Workplace Bullying: Systems, Synergy, and Sweat — Presented at the 6th International Conference on Workplace Bullying, University of Quebec at Montreal, June 2008

Imagining the Healthy Workplace — A Conversation with David Yamada ’99 — Interview by Helen Susan Edelman for SUNY-Empire State College’s alumni/ae magazine, 2010

Workplace bullying and the law

Potential Legal Protections and Liabilities for Workplace Bullying – New Workplace Institute briefing paper, 2007

Is There a “Business Case” for Workplace Bullying Legislation? — Presented at the 2009 Work, Stress, and Health Conference

The Role of Labor Unions and Collective Bargaining in Combating Workplace Bullying — Presented at the 2009 Work, Stress, and Health Conference

Workplace Bullying and Employment Law — Presented at Massachusetts Bar Association program, June 2009

Crafting an American Legal Response to Workplace Bullying: The Healthy Workplace Bill — Presented at University of Augsburg, Faculty of Law, Germany, April 2010

Workplace Bullying and the Law, 2000-2010: A Global Assessment — Keynote address PP slides for the 7th International Conference on Bullying and Harassment at Work, Cardiff, Wales (June 2010)

Americans for Democratic Action Resolution Supporting Workplace Bullying Legislation — Adopted at the June 2010 biennial convention of Americans for Democratic Action

As Workplace Bullying Enters the Mainstream of American Employment Relations, Will Law and Public Policy Follow? — published in Perspectives on Work, Summer 2010/Winter 2011 issue

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill

Massachusetts Senate Bill No. 699, 2009-10 session — Healthy Workplace Bill, as introduced in the 2009-10 session of the Massachusetts Legislature

Briefing Paper in Support of Senate No. 699 — This is the paper I submitted as part of my testimony in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts

Economic policy and younger workers

The Looming Twenty-First Century Generation Gap: Economic Challenges Facing Younger Workers — published in Perspectives on Work, 2010

Education and learning

Note of Understanding — Guest column for the Boston Globe, May 2004

The Adult Educator as Public Intellectual — published in Andre P. Grace, Tonette S. Rocco, and Assocs., Challenging the Professionalization of Adult Education: John Ohliger and Contradictions in Modern Practice (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009)

Information on Law School and Graduate School Options for Those Who Want to Make a Difference –This short paper outlines law school and graduate school options for those who are considering returning to school in order to prepare for careers in social change work, such as public interest law, public policy, and international relations, 2010

Connecticut Healthy Workplace Advocates testify in support of workplace bullying legislation

Last week, members of the Connecticut Healthy Workplace Advocates provided testimony to the Labor and Public Employees Committee of the Connecticut legislature in support of legislation that would require the state’s Department of Administrative Services to “report the number of complaints of bullying or abusive conduct to the General Assembly.”

If passed by the legislature and signed into law, this bill would help to generate raw data that would support the enactment of more comprehensive protections against workplace bullying, such as the Healthy Workplace Bill.

Friend’s suicide spurs commitment and action

Personal experiences, not political ideology or work obligations, tend to be what draws people to support legal protections against workplace bullying. A prime example is Katherine Hermes, a college professor and volunteer coordinator of the Connecticut effort to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill.

Katherine became active in the anti-bullying movement after a close friend, Marlene Braun, committed suicide because she could no longer tolerate her abusive work situation. Here’s the opening of Katherine’s testimony (link here):

In 2005, one of my dearest friends whom I had known for 33 years, Marlene Braun, committed suicide. In her suicide note, she explained that her boss had made her life “utterly unbearable.” Marlene was a 13-year federal employee with the Bureau of Land Management, had advanced degrees in soil science and bio-geochemistry, and was a veteran of the United States army. And she shot herself in the head because she could no longer endure the torment and abuse heaped upon her by her boss.

Read the rest

Despite the difficulties in getting bullying targets to share their concerns with their elected officials, the Connecticut group did a fine job of generating support for the bill. For example, the Connecticut AFL-CIO is among the organizations and individuals who submitted written testimony endorsing the bill. Go here for links to other statements.

A story of disposable temps

During the past two decades, the term “contingent workforce” has been invoked to capture the growing share of individuals working in less traditional employment arrangements, such as independent contractors, temporary workers, and short-term employees.

While some pursue these arrangements by choice because of the freedom and flexibility they may afford, many others would prefer full-time, steady employment. Indeed, many companies hire contingent workers in an effort to avoid legal protections and benefit obligations typically afforded to regular employees.

Being treated as a disposable part

Along with the stressful economic insecurity often accompanying contingent employment, there can be the maddening emotional impact of being treated as a disposable commodity. An excellent personal account of this dynamic appeared in Dollars and Sense magazine, by writer and activist Dan DiMaggio, who responded to an ad for call center workers (link here).  A short snippet:

First, after interviewing for the job on Monday, we were told to show up early Tuesday morning for eight hours of training. So we arranged babysitters, reshuffled schedules at our other jobs, and canceled meetings and classes. Then on Monday evening, we were called and told training had been moved to 1pm on Tuesday. So we rescheduled everything again, in order to dutifully display our flexibility.


At some point during training, we also learned that most of the shifts we’d signed up for had been changed. And that we were going to be working weekends, despite explicitly being told during our interviews that this was a Monday through Friday job. Then we found out that the actual job wouldn’t start until Thursday, though we were repeatedly told that we had to be available immediately.

These excerpts can’t paint the full picture. If you’re interested in how workers have become just-in-time commodities in today’s economy, read DiMaggio’s full account; it won’t take long, and one story can be worth a dozen research studies. And you’ll learn what finally happened to everyone once they jumped through the required hoops.

As the effects of the Great Recession continue to manifest themselves, temporary and short-term work has been one of the primary “growth areas” of the “recovering” job market. Scenarios like this one are being played out in offices and manufacturing plants across the country, as people struggle to pay the rent and feed their families.


Dollars and Sense is a magazine that advances a progressive perspective on economics. For subscription information, go here.

What’s the plot line of your work life story?

Do you have a story, a narrative, that describes your career or work life?

Seven plots

I may not be in agreement with journalist Christopher Booker’s views on climate change and evolution (see his Wikipedia profile, here), but I’m intrigued by his thoughtful tome, The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories (2004), in which he posits there are seven basic plot lines that continually recur in literature and drama:

“Overcoming the Monster”

“Rags to Riches”

“The Quest”

“Voyage and Return”




Let’s apply the plots to work

Does one of these plot lines describe the arc of your work life?

Perhaps you started in the mail room and ended up in the executive suite, a genuine “Rags to Riches” story.

Maybe you’re in a good position now and can look back at less-than-wonderful jobs as genuine comedies.

Or maybe you’ve been hit by a layoff or derailed by a workplace bully or harasser. If so, hopefully tragedy will turn into overcoming the monster, rebirth, or a successful quest.

An extra credit assignment

If you’re trying to find your way to a better work situation, think about taking pen (or mouse) in hand and writing how you want your story to come out. What are the obstacles and challenges? What are your resources, and how can you identify more of them?

I hope it leads your story toward a better ending.

The attack on human rights in Wisconsin

This is a fast-developing news story, so I’ll try to stick to basics: As I wrote several days ago, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has proposed legislation that, in effect, would outlaw collective bargaining by the state’s public workers.

In doing so, he is advocating the denial of what the International Labour Organization, an agency of the United Nations, has deemed a core human right.

Governor Walker’s attack on human rights is unlike anything I’ve seen in the U.S. during my adult lifetime. He is using the state’s budget woes as a pretext to justify denying workers the right to bargain over their compensation and benefits. Hard bargaining at the negotiation table in the midst of tough economic times is one thing, but moving to deny workers a collective voice is pure thuggery.

Ready to put down protest

Gov. Walker has indicated his willingness to call out the National Guard to stand against protesters, and he has exempted from his legislation the police and firefighters unions that backed him for election. In other words, like powerful abusers of human rights elsewhere, he’s making sure that he can demonstrate a show of force against everyday citizens whenever necessary.

National significance

Tens of thousands of citizens descended upon Madison to protest Walker’s legislation, and 14 Democratic legislators left the state in order to block consideration of the bill. This quickly has become an event of national significance, and whatever happens here will reverberate throughout state capitols across the country.

Rick Ungar, writing for Forbes magazine (link here), calls the Wisconsin legislation the “Final Battle” in the war against unions and urges its defeat:

Without the collective bargaining powers that unions bring as the only real offset to corporate greed and without the organizing strength unions bring to political action, there will be no counter-balance to corporate power. I promise that you will not like the result if our unions should disappear – even if you are not a union member.

For these reasons, I would argue that anyone who does not find themselves among the 5% of the wealthiest in America, should stand up and declare, “Today, we are all Cheeseheads.”

Follow the story

Here are some links worth checking out:

1. Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute puts the Wisconsin situation in the context of worker dignity, here.

2. For today’s news coverage, see the Wisconsin State Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post. (Hat tip to Workplace Prof blog for the links.)

3. For commentary on what it means to workers in state-funded higher education, see the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Disclosure note: I have added my name to a statement submitted by labor relations academicians, protesting the proposed legislation.


Addendum: Marquette University law professor Paul Secunda, writing in the Capitol Times, calls the legislation to shut down collective bargaining un-American, here. Hat-tip to Workplace Prof blog for the link.

Addendum: If you don’t believe that the Wisconsin GOP’s real intention is deprive the state’s public workers of human rights, then check out this story from the Milwaukee Business Journal (with a hat tip to Alternet for the link), explaining that the unions had agreed to pay and benefit cuts in exchange for retaining the right to collectively bargain, but their offer was refused:

Although union leaders and Wisconsin Democratic Senators are offering to accept the wage and benefit concessions Gov. Scott Walker is demanding, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said today a bill taking away collective bargaining rights from public employees is not negotiable.


2/21/11 update — Scott Bauer of the Associated Press (link here, via Yahoo! News) reports a continuing standoff in Madison:

As the standoff entered its second week, none of the major players offered any signs of backing down in a high-stakes game of political chicken that has riveted the nation and led to ongoing public protests that drew a high of 68,000 people on Saturday. Thousands more braved cold winds and temperatures in the 20s to march again on Monday, waving signs that said “Stop the attack on Wisconsin families” and “solidarity.”

School bullying and workplace bullying: More alike than different?

Many commentators and advocates — myself included — often have differentiated school bullying and workplace bullying this way:

Most school bullying situations involve a more physically or socially advantaged kid (or kids) going after a physically vulnerable or socially isolated schoolmate. Workplace bullying, however, involves more varied pairings of aggressors and targets, with the latter group including a fair share of employees deemed high achieving or socially popular.

But hold on….

Tara Parker-Pope, health columnist for the New York Times, reports on new research studies about school bullying that challenge conventional assumptions (link here):

…(N)ew research suggests that the road to high school popularity can be treacherous, and that students near the top of the social hierarchy are often both perpetrators and victims of aggressive behavior involving their peers….

Highly publicized cases of bullying typically involve chronic harassment of socially isolated students, but the latest studies suggest that various forms of teenage aggression and victimization occur throughout the social ranks as students jockey to improve their status.

The latest research doesn’t deny the scenario of the strong abusing the vulnerable. Rather, it indicates that school bullying behaviors occur up and down and across the social hierarchy.

To compare, we know that workplace bullying, at least in the U.S., tends to be a vertical phenomenon, with bosses most often the aggressors and subordinates the targets. However, peer bullying is the second most common form. And while those considered vulnerable (by dint of job status, personal situation, or personality) often are targeted, so are those who are regarded as successful and popular because they are regarded as a threat.

Another common thread

Bullying usually doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Organizational cultures can fuel or discourage it. Parker-Pope closes her column with this quote from one of the school bullying researchers, Robert Faris, a University of California, Davis sociologist:

“Historically, all the attention has been on the mental health deficiencies of the bullies,” he said. “We need to direct more attention to how aggression is interwoven into the social fabric of these schools.”

Social fabric. Workplace culture. Varied terms, same lesson: When it comes to bullying, organizational settings and leadership matter.


The Parker-Pope column is well worth reading in its entirety, but even these snippets open more possibilities for seeing school cultures as paving the way for their workplace counterparts. Beyond our families, our first encounters with others in a structured setting come via school. Is it not surprising that bullying behaviors modeled and validated in school settings reappear and evolve devolve in the workplace? More stuff to ponder here.

Work on TV: Cop dramas

I love good cop dramas on TV, not only for their entertainment value, but also because they do a great job of portraying the ups and downs of working for a living.  Here are some of the underlying themes that are prominent in many these shows:

1. Pursuing one’s passion (the bad and good of it)

2. Career advancement (triumph and disappointment)

3. Diversity and inclusion (often not a lot of it)

4. Work-life balance (mainly lack thereof)

5. Incivility and bullying (often lots of both)

6. Politics (both in-house and electoral)

7. Ethics (good cop, bad cop)

8. Dispute resolution (from informal chats to murder)

My favorites (alphabetical order)

I’ve written about two of these shows before (The Wire and Prime Suspect), but here’s a longer list of my favorite police dramas:

Blue Bloods — A brand new weekly, it’s among a minority of cop shows built around a non-dysfunctional family. Tom Selleck is excellent as the New York City police commissioner.

Foyle’s War — A treat from PBS, this ongoing series is set in small town England during World War Two, featuring Michael Kitchen as Inspector Christopher Foyle.

Hill Street Blues (*) — Pathbreaking 80s classic set in an unspecified American big city. Hey, let’s be careful out there.

Homicide: Life on the Street (*) — David Simon’s earthy Baltimore, Take 1. Addictive.

Prime Suspect (*) — A gift from across the pond, Helen Mirren is astoundingly good as British police inspector Jane Tennison. Start with Prime Suspect 1 and follow her career and life. Brilliant stuff.

The Shield (*) — You’ll feel guilty for hoping that LA cop Vic Mackey doesn’t get caught.

The Wire (*) — David Simon’s earthier Baltimore, Take 2. Widely acclaimed for its portrayal of life in inner city urban America.

(*) = has completed series run; episodes available on DVD.

But where’s the union?

Even the best cop dramas miss on the realities of being in unionized work settings. Most rank-and-file police officers and detectives are unionized, and collective bargaining negotiations over salaries and benefits have a significant impact on their lives. In most cop shows, however, the union presence is practically invisible, usually limited to calling in a union rep when an officer gets in trouble.

Young and jobless: A global crisis

In countries as disparate as the U.S., Tunisia, Germany, and China, younger adults are finding it hard to get jobs. This is a crisis of global proportions.

Peter Coy, in a cover story for Business Week (link here), reports on the creation of a “a lost generation of the disaffected, unemployed, or underemployed—including growing numbers of recent college graduates for whom the post-crash economy has little to offer,” adding:

While the details differ from one nation to the next, the common element is failure—not just of young people to find a place in society, but of society itself to harness the energy, intelligence, and enthusiasm of the next generation.

The new generation gap

We continue to see a brewing economic generation gap between the younger and older generations. The jobs crisis facing the young is fueled by older workers holding onto good jobs and their expectations for retirement. According to Coy:

The world is aging. In many countries the young are being crushed by a gerontocracy of older workers who appear determined to cling to the better jobs as long as possible and then, when they do retire, demand impossibly rich private and public pensions that the younger generation will be forced to shoulder.

Familiar terms, dire consequences

References to a “lost generation” and a “generation gap” harken back to Hemingway’s Paris and Woodstock of 1969, yes? But mark my words, this is different. We’re looking at stark economic challenges that will reverberate for decades to come.

Right now, it doesn’t look good for the younger folks. Take the situation in the U.S. The people in charge of hiring and setting pay are older, and they’re likely to be watching out for themselves. (Classic example: Companies with highly-paid managers and unpaid interns.) Furthermore, older folks vote more often than younger folks, which translates into more attention to Social Security and less to Pell Grants.

Egypt has just taught us that relatively peaceful revolutions fueled by the young are still possible. Will younger people in other countries exert their political power to claim a better future for themselves?

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