Labor delivered for the Prez, but will he support unions and their members?

From the American Federation of Teachers

Organized labor went all out for the President this year, as this info graphic suggests. Especially in the battleground states, unions gave the maximum effort to help push Mr. Obama over the top. The Daily Labor Report (subscription only) provides details:

The margin by which union members voted for President Obama was decisive in his re-election in a number of battleground states including Ohio, Wisconsin, and Nevada, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said today.

During a press conference at AFL-CIO headquarters to unveil an election-night survey conducted for the federation, Trumka said 65 percent of union members nationwide voted for Obama. In Ohio 70 percent of union members voted for the president, he said, adding this was in a state where “our membership is 83 percent white, 40 percent Evangelical, and 53 percent gun owners.”

…The survey, which was conducted by Hart Research Associates, also showed that among members of the AFL-CIO community affiliate Working America, 66 percent favored Obama nationally and 69 percent in Ohio, where one of every 10 voters is a member of Working America, Trumka said. He added that Working America members are largely “working-class moderates.”

In my last post, I summarized several blog pieces by three knowledgeable employment law experts, all forecasting that federal labor & employment policy is unlikely change significantly under the second Obama Administration. While I tend to agree, for the sake of American workers, I hope we’re wrong.

The past four years

While the pro-union shifts of the National Labor Relations Board have been welcomed, the Obama Administration has been more hope than reality to organized labor.

When the President had huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate during the first two years of his term, he failed to move on the most important piece of pro-labor legislation to the labor movement, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would’ve facilitated the process of union organizing and selection.

In very prominent state-level battles that found public employees fighting for their lives, such as what transpired in Wisconsin in 2011, the President was largely AWOL.

And during the three televised debates with Mitt Romney, I listened in vain for anything from the President resembling an endorsement of unions as part of the solution toward safeguarding America’s workers.

We need unions

At the risk of repeating myself: Unions remain the most important mechanism we have for providing good wages, benefits, and working conditions to rank-and-file workers. Unions typically deliver a significant wage advantage to their members compared to their non-union counterparts. The collective bargaining agreements they negotiate protect their members from unfair termination and discipline. They offer workers a legally-protected voice to bring their concerns to company management.

In making this case, I’m not suggesting that all unions are terrific. In fact, some are downright awful. But many unions deliver for their members and serve as valuable points of communication with employers. We cannot afford to lose organized labor as a voice for workers. It’s no mere coincidence that declining union membership and America’s widening wealth gap have gone hand-in-hand.

Second term

So what can the President do? Strong support for pro-labor policy measures would be great. And if we can finally bring ourselves to understand the need to rebuild the nation’s crumbling bridges, tunnels, and roads and to protect our coastal towns and cities from storms like Sandy and Katrina, we can fund public works programs that create good jobs at decent union wages.

Equally important, Mr. Obama can use his Presidency as a bully pulpit to remind America of the value of organized labor. The most prosperous period in American history — 1950s and 1960s — just happened to occur when business, government, and labor all had a seat at the table. Too often that isn’t the case anymore, and this President has an opportunity to change that.

***

For a summary of the Hart Research Associates survey mentioned above, go here.

Hat tip to Bob Lucore for the AFT info graphic and link to the Hart presentation.

How will the 2012 Presidential election affect federal employment and labor law?

Obviously it’s too early to say with any certainty what a second Obama term means for employment and labor law at the federal level, but I took a look at some of the employment law blogs and am happy to suggest these three as a starting place: 

Verdict still out, but look to the federal agencies

Law professor Paul Secunda (Marquette) writes on Workplace Prof blog:

First, I think the verdict is still very much out on  whether there will be any significant changes regarding labor and employment legal initiatives in President Obama’s second term.  It is interesting that the President did not spend too much time during the campaign, or in his victory speech last night, discussing worker rights or unions.

While Paul doesn’t expect much in the way of new legislation, he anticipates “the most important developments happening through federal agency adjudications and rulemaking,” especially via the National Labor Relations Board (addressing labor and collective bargaining) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (addressing employment discrimination).

Not much, if you treat your workers fairly

As the votes were still being counted and Ohio remained up for grabs, management employment lawyer Jon Hyman noted on his Ohio Employer’s Law Blog that while “(t)he President has a large impact on labor and employment policy in this country,” employers who treat their workers fairly won’t have to do anything very different:

And yet, whether we have President Obama or President Romney for the next four years shouldn’t make a lick of difference on how you manage your employees. You should still follow the golden rule. You should still treat employees with dignity and respect. You should still pay employees for all the hours they work. You should still avoid discrimination, and harassment, and retaliation.

No huge changes, but several items to watch

Management employment lawyer Daniel Schwartz, writing for the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, cautions against expecting huge changes:

But the impact for employers will probably be far less than was suggested during the campaign season.  Much will depend on the level of compromise that comes out of Washington. 

However, he does flag four items to watch: The implementation of health care reform, more pro-employee actions by the National Labor Relations Board, possible extension of federal employment discrimination law to cover sexual orientation, and possibly greater attention to gender pay equity issues.

eBossWatch’s 2012 list of top employment lawyers

eBossWatch, the popular and feisty online site that allows workers to evaluate their bosses and workplaces, has announced its 2012 list of the top employment lawyers:

These top workplace harassment and discrimination attorneys have successfully represented and obtained significant financial awards for their clients, employees who alleged that they were subjected to a hostile work environment, discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation in the workplace.

You can access the full list here. The individual listings link to news stories about the successful claims that led to their inclusion on the top 100 list.

Great, but also…

I’m delighted that eBossWatch is highlighting the work of plaintiffs’ employment lawyers who are getting successful results for their clients. In addition, while the list identifies attorneys who certainly are worthy of inclusion, we should take these points under consideration:

1. Many of the best settlements of employment lawsuits (from the worker’s perspective) are not made public. Therefore, attorneys who truly delivered for their clients without going to trial (thus sparing them what can be a highly stressful experience) may not be in a position to appear on this list.

2. Readers who are contemplating legal action against a current or former employer should not read into the award amounts detailed on eBossWatch any assumption that if they can just get the right lawyer, then a big verdict or settlement awaits them. In actuality, employment claims are hard to win, and many filed cases linger for years before they are finally resolved, and not necessarily with great results for the aggrieved worker.

3. I’m guessing that the differences between the “100 best” employment lawyers as listed by eBossWatch and next, say, 500, are minimal in terms of competency and effectiveness. There are a lot of excellent plaintiffs’ employment lawyers out there.

For help in finding an employment lawyer

Here are resources worth checking out:

Nationally

Those seeking to retain an employment lawyer will find online referral assistance from website of the National Employment Lawyers Association, a bar association of attorneys who specialize in representing workers.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts residents also may “window shop” the attorney directory of NELA’s Massachusetts chapter.

You’ve found your mission when the inspiration comes from within

When I was in college and law school, and even for many years beyond that, I was drawn to stirring speakers whose stories and exploits inspired me to go out there and make a difference. Given my inclinations, I especially enjoyed listening to political activists and public interest lawyers who were doing interesting and exciting stuff.

Some of these folks proved to be the real deal. They were compelling and engaging. Their words, deeds, and presence had a way of sticking to the ribs. Others were, well, better at oratory than difference making. Their inspirational “oomph” lasted about a day, because there wasn’t much substance behind the bluster.

Yup, a guest speaker on campus or at a fundraising dinner may be a hit or miss prospect, but I generally encourage my students to attend programs that will expose them to individuals whose work and accomplishments may be inspirational and instructive. Some may discover their own life’s work this way.

Nevertheless, I now understand, on a deeply personal level, that one’s mission in life comes from within. Others may lead us there, our experiences may lead us there, but ultimately, our most significant endeavors are fueled by the core of our being.

This isn’t just about work and careers — not by a longshot. It may be about raising and caring for your family, pursuing an artistic or creative endeavor, or doing something for your community. The best people I’ve seen in any of these realms “own” what they’re doing in a good way. They may continue to draw motivation and support from others, especially during the inevitable down times, but for the most part their inspiration is inner directed rather than externally defined.

In a wonderful little book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (2000), educator Parker J. Palmer quotes a portion of a poem by May Sarton:

Now I become myself.

It’s taken time, many years and places.

I have been dissolved and shaken,

Worn other people’s faces. . . .

Some good food for thought on this Monday morning.

If workplace cyberbullying is worse, then what can targets do about it?

A new study of British university employees concludes that targets of workplace cyberbullying often fare worse than those who experience traditional bullying. Victoria Revay reports for Global News (link here):

In three separate surveys, 320 British university employees were asked to document their experiences with cyberbullying. The study results showed that victims of cyberbullying tended to have “higher mental strain and lower job satisfaction” as compared to traditional bullying.

According to Revay, human resources professor Aaron Schat of McMaster University in Canada, interpreted the results this way:

He says the challenge with cyberbullying in the workplace may be that it lacks a so-called safe haven, or a physical area where the victim can take refuge to avoid the bully. He says this may also be the reason why victims feel more emotionally distressed.

It all makes sense, and it echoes what we know about bullying in schools, where many of the most horrific stories have included online abuse. Just like kids who go home and stay in touch with classmates via e-mails, text messages, Facebook postings, we adults go home and log onto our work e-mail accounts.

For better or for worse (and there’s a lot of each), many of us order and conduct much of our lives with our laptops, tablets, and smart phones. This alone makes us more susceptible to partaking in online exchanges gone haywire.

Online lives at work

Especially in service-sector occupations where practically everyone works with a computer, it makes sense that cyberbullying looms large. Group memos once delivered via interoffice mail are now sent to our inboxes. Individual and small group discussions once conducted via face-to-face meetings or phone may now be held via e-mail or discussion board.

Many of us have been on the giving and receiving end of e-mails and online exchanges that, intentionally or not, quickly escalated into unpleasantries. It’s so easy to dash off a snippy reply and hit “enter” or “return.” And when someone directs a barb or dig at us, we sit before our screens and feel our blood boil.

When the dynamics of workplace bullying enter the picture, the power differentials between verbally skilled aggressors and their targets can become magnified, and the words on the screen take on an obsessive life of their own.

What do to

As with bullying at work generally, there are no magic answers for those who are experiencing workplace cyberbullying.

Revay concludes her article with collected advice from workplace experts:

Try to find a safe haven
Talk to peers
Ask for affirmation
Seek advice
Document the abuse
Don’t reply to bullying messages

The list contains sensible stock advice for dealing with bullying situations, but the final two are especially significant:

First, do more than document the abuse. Make sure you save and print out the offending online exchanges or postings. Especially with indirect or passive-aggressive forms of bullying, context is everything. Our increasing “cyber-literacy” means that a lot of people can read an online exchange and understand the point at which it crossed the line and became extremely abrasive or even abusive. (Sadly, it’s like watching a verbal train wreck unfold before our very eyes.)

Second, the final point — “Don’t reply to bullying messages” — is worth expounding upon. Keep any responses steady and measured, and by all means avoid an emotional response that will lead the aggressor(s) to label you as the “bully.” Don’t try to “win” the exchange or insist on having the last word, because the aggressor wants to goad you into going overboard. If you’re at home, log out of your work e-mail account and give yourself some distance from what’s going on.

Remember, those who are skilled at online verbal abuse and conflict generation often are very good at what they do. They instinctively know how this medium can be used to push the buttons of targets, sometimes by making references that sound innocuous to bystanders but are loaded with meaning to targets. Whenever possible, disengage, don’t take the bait. This will not fix the bigger problem confronting you, but it may provide you with some emotional control over a nasty situation.

A sort-of safe haven

Okay, maybe it’s hard to avoid checking our work e-mail from home or elsewhere. Or perhaps you telecommute. Regardless, this is yet another reason for all of us not to rely on our work e-mail addresses as our primary personal ones, especially with free or low-cost e-mail alternatives readily available. Get a separate e-mail account for personal use, and don’t use it as an alternative or backup work address.

 

Work and human dignity from The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review, “Work and Dignity” issue, Fall 2012

The Hedgehog Review, an excellent non-fiction journal published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, spotlights the topic of “Work and Dignity” in its Fall 2012 issue. Here are the featured pieces, two of which (Snyder and Rose/Crawford) are freely accessible online:

Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification (Benjamin H. Snyder)

Meaningful Work and Politics (Russell Muirhead)

The Social Meanings of Dignity at Work (Allison J. Pugh)

Work and Dignity: A Conversation between Mike Rose and Matthew Crawford

Human Agency and the Ethics of Meaningful Work: A Bibliographic Essay (William Hasselberger)

The journal also is available by subscription, and I’ve seen it in the periodical sections at Barnes & Noble and other bookstores.

Silent on bullying?

Alas, my quick review of the full issue turned up nothing specific about workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment. That’s a shame, because these forms of abuse are a paramount denial of individual dignity at work. Despite significant progress in “mainstreaming” workplace bullying as an employee relations issue, this omission is a sign that we still have a ways to go.

Nevertheless, the issue looks to be a good one, and — obviously — the more we can get the concept of human dignity into our everyday discussions of work, the better.

Also recommended

For those who want to delve more into the general subject of dignity at work:

In 1997, The Hedgehog Review published a thematic issue on Human Dignity and Justice, including Michael Zuckert’s excellent essay, “Human Dignity and the Basis of Justice: Freedom, Rights, and the Self.”

Sociologist Randy Hodson’s Dignity at Work (2001) remains a valuable contribution to the literature.

I’m always happy to suggest Robert W. Fuller’s work on “rankism” and the need for a “dignitarian” society, especially his books All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (2006); Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank (2003); and a shorter volume co-authored with Pamela A. Gerloff, Dignity for All: How to Create a World Without Rankism (2008).

Among several recent, thought-provoking books on the subject of dignity generally, my favorite is by international conflict resolution expert Donna Hicks, Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict (2011), mentioned before on this blog.

Closer to home

For several years, it has been my pleasure to serve on the global advisory board of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Network, led by Drs. Evelin Lindner and Linda Hartling.

My 2009 law review article, Human Dignity and American Employment Law, attempts to pull together a wide variety of employment and labor law topics under the dignity umbrella.

Working Notes: Orlando Sentinel on workplace bullying, Sandy bridges a divide, Kennemer’s scariest workplace practices

I periodically use this Working Notes feature to highlight items worthy of our attention. Here are three for this week:

1. Orlando SentinelGreg Dawson’s piece on workplace bullying opens with the story of Laura Dunavent, a target of workplace bullying turned advocate for the Healthy Workplace Bill:

Laura Dunavent’s voice still quavers when she recalls the darkest chapter of her life.

“I didn’t know what was happening to me. All I knew is that it made me crazy.”

It wasn’t until after Dunavent, a registered ER nurse, quit her job as a case manager for an Orlando insurance carrier — “so I wouldn’t go out of my mind” — that she discovered a name for the emotional torture she says she experienced at work.

Bullying.

***

…bullying is still in the embryonic stages as a political issue. The [Workplace Bullying Institute] is chief advocate for the legislation drafted by David Yamada, a professor specializing in labor and employment law at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

2. Hurricane Sandy’s other unanticipated power — Obviously, the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy has been the story of the week, and it will continue to dominate the news for some time, especially in the most affected states. In addition, during the past day, we’ve seen heavy coverage of President Obama’s visit to storm-ravaged New Jersey, accompanied closely by New Jersey Governor and outspoken Obama critic Chris Christie.

The two have put aside their political differences to address the task at hand, and it was clear that a physically and emotionally exhausted Christie was genuinely appreciative of the President’s efforts to help his state.

As this distasteful campaign season comes to a merciful end, it’s sad that it took a disaster of such proportions to get our leaders to drop the attacking rhetoric and embrace a true spirit of can-do non-partisanship. However, maybe the images and attitudes will serve as a lesson that endures beyond Hurricane Sandy and Election Day.

3. The People Group’s 5 scariest workplace practices — Kevin Kennemer, principal of The People Group, celebrated Halloween by sharing his 5 scariest workplace practices:

  1. Attendance policies (you hire adults – treat them like it)
  2. Employees must ask permission to leave the office or take PTO (it is not high school anymore)
  3. Incivility and cut-throat politics (it might be funny on reality TV, but not at work)
  4. Supervisors who value face-time over results (it’s not the 1950′s anymore we are all digitally connected and can work anywhere, anyplace, anytime)
  5. A CEO who fails to see the importance of company culture (these companies have lower revenue, two-times the turnover, higher levels of stress, higher healthcare costs, and employee relations nightmares waiting around almost every corner)
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