Georgia’s Fulton County draws from Healthy Workplace Bill in adopting anti-bullying policy

The Commissioners of Fulton County, Georgia, by a 7 to 0 vote, have adopted a workplace anti-bullying policy that covers county employees. Under the policy, suspension and termination are possible sanctions for those who engage in severe bullying behaviors.

The Fulton County measure draws its definition of bullying from the Healthy Workplace Bill, model legislation I drafted that is serving as the template for bills introduced across the country. The policy prohibits abusive conduct such as repeated derogatory insults and epithets; conduct of a threatening or intimidating nature; and the deliberate sabotage of someone’s work.

The policy initiative was spearheaded by County Commissioner William Edwards. Fulton County is a major governmental entity; it encompasses most of metropolitan Atlanta.

Significance

This is yet another sign of growing receptivity to legal protections against workplace bullying in the U.S., and it serves as a tacit endorsement of how the Healthy Workplace Bill has defined workplace bullying. It also helps to validate our strategy of building support for workplace bullying laws by using the states and local governments as laboratories for legal reform.

This approach, in turn, is helping us to build national visibility for our movement. This was exemplified last month by a successful news conference about the Healthy Workplace Bill at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., hosted by the Workplace Bullying Institute and featuring speaking appearances by national labor and civil rights leaders.

The Fulton County measure follows a string of successes by healthy workplace advocates during last month’s Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week. Not only did the week include the aforementioned Washington news conference and a successful program in Boston, but also it resulted in some 100 proclamations of support from county and municipal governments across the nation.

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For more on the Fulton County policy, go to Dr. Gary Namie’s blog commentary here. For the full resolution and policy, go here.

For Veterans Day: Leadership and heroism

In honor of America’s Veterans Day, a couple of recent posts and an older one recognizing leadership and heroism by those serving in uniform:

Cuban Missile Crisis 1962: Cooler heads prevailed on and under the sea, as well (2012)

Great leadership rarely appears overnight (2012)

When your job requires courage and sacrifice: Here’s to the Fighting 442nd (2009)

Our sacred places of the mind: Libraries, universities, and the Internet

Bates Hall reading room, Boston Public Library, Central Branch (photo: David Yamada)

I’m what some labor economists call a “knowledge worker.” In other words, I make my living via the consumption, intrepretation, creation, and presentation of information and facts. I’m hardly alone with this designation; millions of people also make their living via one of the knowledge trades.

Of course, I’m also a geek. I love books, reading, thinking about stuff, tossing around ideas, and hanging around places where others are doing the same, in person or virtually.

Indeed, I can identify with the late Carl Sagan, who once said that if he could travel back in time to a single place, it would be to the ancient library and museum at Alexandria, Egypt. Until its destruction some 1,700 years ago — most likely ransacked and burned in the midst of violent religious conflict — the library held almost every book known to humankind. The museum was a storehouse of the history of world civilization. It also served as a research institute and school, providing a home for the world’s leading scholars to think, write, experiment, and teach.

My fascination with such places has led me to ask: What are our contemporary sacred places of the mind, those entities that preserve, create, and share knowledge?

I nominate as my top three: Libraries, universities, and — yes — the Internet.

Libraries

I enjoy working at the central branch of the Boston Public Library, especially in the beautiful and historic Bates Hall reading room (pictured above). I usually sit at one of the long tables, with laptop open and surrounded by various papers. On occasion I’ll look around and wonder who might be working on the next great novel, groundbreaking historical work, or scientific breakthrough. Even though my own tasks are of comparatively modest ambition, I feel a quiet kinship with these serious library denizens.

Libraries, especially public libraries, rank among our greatest inventions. Even with the vast resources of the Internet, we must preserve these repositories of human accomplishment that freely open themselves to people thirsting to consume and create knowledge. A public library card remains a ticket to a free and thrilling adventure. We cannot forget what that means.

Universities

Especially in the U.S., institutions of higher learning are under fire these days. Tuition has been soaring for decades, and now, with an economy still struggling, the job market has been turning away many people who have invested time, money, and energy into earning a degree. With countless learning opportunities available for free or at little cost through independent study and the Internet, the basic utility of a college education now is being questioned.

In the meantime, too many academic workplaces have moved toward over-specialization, insularity, and elitism. In terms of scholarship, graduate students and new professors are encouraged by their mentors to research and write on narrow, esoteric topics. Linkages between scholarly research and the real world increasingly are becoming frayed.

However, I cannot imagine a world without our universities. They remain our best providers of higher learning, places where knowledge transmission to (mostly!) willing minds takes place on a daily basis. They continue to provide space for research and scholarship, free from the dictates of commercialism and short time frames. Furthermore, the presence of a college or university usually has an energizing ripple effect on the cultural and intellectual life of its surrounding city or town.

The Internet

Oh my, there’s so much junk and unsavory stuff on the Internet that it may seem plain wrong to call it a sacred place. The bottom end of the Internet captures some of the worst of our culture and behavior.

And yet, the Internet is a stupendous human achievement, even if it’s too raw and new for us to regard it as such. Aided by powerful search engines, it is the most expansive storehouse of knowledge, information, and exchange in our history. And while it may be true that many of us spend too much time on it, we have yet to exhaust its possibilities as a communications medium.

Barring some cataclysmic meltdown, the Internet is primed to become our library at Alexandria, only more comprehensive and universally accessible, and with greater promise to create and share knowledge.

Yes, sacred

I realize that invoking the term sacred in connection with a good number of secular institutions may raise eyebrows.

But I use the term carefully. These three entities house and nurture our civilization; they help to ensure that our words and deeds are made available for current and future generations.

When I read about the destruction of the library and museum at Alexandria, I am struck by the tremendous sense of loss. Thousands of years of collected knowledge were taken from us, as scholars continue to lament the works of history, science, mathematics, philosophy, and poetry that will never be recovered.

The disappearance of our libraries, universities, and the Internet would be as tragic and haunting as what happened in Alexandria many, many years ago. We must safeguard and protect them.

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If you’re as geeky as I am, some recommendations:

Ian F. McNeely with Lisa Wolverton, Reinventing Knowledge: From Alexandria to the Internet (2008)

Justin Pollard and Howard Reid, The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern Mind (2006)

Jacques Verger, Men of Learning in Europe at the End of the Middle Ages (2000)

Diane Asseo Griliches (photos) with Daniel J. Boorstin (essay), Library: The Drama Within (1996)

Julius Getman, In the Company of Scholars: The Struggle for the Soul of Higher Education (1992)

Russell Jacoby, The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (1987)

Charles Homer Haskins, The Rise of Universities (1957)

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.

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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.

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