The just-concluded 2011-12 session of the Massachusetts legislature encompassed significant progress in moving the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (MA House No. 2310) toward eventual enactment into law. Although we still have plenty of work to do, there were many positive developments during this session.
Here are what I consider to be the highlights:
1. Third reading — Most importantly, the HWB made it to a stage known as “third reading” in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. This means it jumped successfully through two committees and was poised for a floor vote of all the representatives. This was an excellent showing for a bill in its first full session. Less than a quarter of filed bills reach this stage.
2. Political leadership — Buoyed by the leadership of our lead sponsors, Rep. Ellen Story and Sen. Katherine Clark, we had a dozen legislators signing on as sponsors. Many of them testified at the public hearing on the bill last year, which attracted statewide media coverage.
3. Advocates — Our grassroots advocacy group grew to some 3,000 members, many of whom made calls and visits and sent e-mails to their legislators urging adoption of the HWB. This group is becoming a known quantity in the State House.
4. Labor support — In addition to the critically important, steadfast assistance of SEIU/NAGE leadership, staff, and members, we attracted additional support from organized labor, especially the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
5. Targets’ voices — More and more targets of workplace bullying are sharing their stories publicly, an easy-to-miss sign that this issue is no longer a silent epidemic, but rather a recognized form of abuse. These voices lend critical support to the HWB advocacy efforts, as personal accounts are the most powerful form of persuasion with our elected officials.
6. Opposition — We began to attract visible opposition in the form of an editorial in the Boston Herald and an organized letter-writing campaign claiming the HWB is bad for business. The silver lining here, and it’s a big one, is that we’re being taken seriously. Workplace bullying legislation is no longer a novelty.
Quite simply, we’re not letting up. In fact, we’re motivated to build on our success. The momentum is coming not only from within our advocacy group, but also from elected representatives who want to see the Healthy Workplace Bill become law.
We’ll be holding planning meetings this summer and early fall, and then redoubling our advocacy and public education work in preparation for the next session.
Advocacy in state legislative settings requires steadfast commitment and patience. It is rare for bills representing significant, new public policy ideas to sail through the legislature. Usually it takes several sessions to reach the point of being taken seriously. I’d say we’re now slightly ahead of that pace in terms of receptivity toward the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts.
Those from elsewhere who wish to become HWB advocates in their home states can go here for more information.
Go here for my 2010 law review article explaining the basic provisions of the HWB and the history of efforts to enact workplace bullying legislation in the U.S.