Workplace bullying: Addressing the annual conference of the Association of Labor Relations Agencies

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Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting a speech on workplace bullying at the 62nd annual conference of the Association of Labor Relations Agencies in Washington, D.C. It was a wonderful opportunity to discuss this topic with some 200 of the most accomplished labor relations commissioners, attorneys, and officials in North America.

The ALRA describes itself as “an association of impartial government agencies in the United States and Canada responsible for administering labor-management relations laws or services.” It promotes interagency cooperation, “high professional standards,” “public interest in labor relations,” “improved employer-employee relationships,” and “peaceful resolution of employment and labor disputes.” The annual conference provides its members with continuing education on labor relations topics and opportunities to network and share information.

My remarks

I was part of “Advocates Day” (agenda here), a component of every ALRA conference that invites people outside of the organization to discuss developing labor relations issues. I started with a basic overview about workplace bullying and its effects on workers and organizations, went into a quick summary of U.S. and Canadian legal developments, and closed with a cluster of personal observations about workplace bullying.

The speech was very well received. Despite that my talk came at the end of a long day of distinguished panelists and speakers, the delegates were engaged and attentive, and our conversations spilled over to the reception that followed.

I was pleased about the response at another level, too: This is one more sign that workplace bullying is entering the mainstream of North American labor and employee relations. Ten years ago, this speaking invitation would not have transpired.

The conference

At a time when, at least in the U.S., the very concept of collective bargaining is being challenged by extremist forces, how refreshing it was to be part of a conference that embraces a commitment to healthy labor relations. Multiple speakers shared stories and perspectives about how management and labor can work together toward common interests and attempt to resolve differences in peaceful ways.

In my judgment, the Canadian perspective cannot be overlooked, and it’s good for we Americans to be exposed to it. My Canadian colleagues will be quick to admit that labor relations up north fall short of utopia, but they do manage to practice their craft with fewer sharp elbows than in the U.S.

Many thanks

I’d like to give a special shout out to the Program Committee, with affiliations noted to show the breadth of agencies that are part of the ALRA: Co-Chairs Scott Blake (Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, U.S.) and Jennifer Webster (Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, Canada), and members Ernie DuBester (Federal Labor Relations Authority), Gary Shinners (National Labor Relations Board), Pat Sims (National Mediation Board), Catherine Gilbert (Ontario Labor Relations Board), Jennifer Abruzzo (National Labor Relations Board) and Danielle Carne (Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission).

I had not traveled within the circles of the ALRA before this. Thus, it was a leap of faith for them to give me a generous one-hour time slot. (Put it this way: If your sole speaker for a featured, 60-minute slot is a dud, you’ll be hearing about it!) This enabled me to give a talk with real substance, while leaving time for a lively Q&A segment. It was an honor to be a part of the day.

9 responses

  1. Dear Professor Yamada:
    Thank you for standing up for “Bullied” Americans in the Workplace – Healthy Workplace Bill. That was great that you were given an hour to speak so you did not have to feel hurried. I am sure you were thorough and spoke eloquently for the cause. Let us know if and where we can see/hear your speech.

  2. Highest of 5’s ! How’s your summer reading going? Keep On Keepin’ On !!! Thanks on behalf of all of us targets who await their day in court (Massachusetts, 8/14).

  3. I am a long-term former employee of the NLRB (now retired) who was subjected to intense workplace abuse for 2 years, toxic enough to activate major depression/anxiiety and PTSD, of which the managers, although in possession of my doctor’s report that ths was caused by the toxic workplace,, not only expressed no concern but increased the abuse: sadism, ouright lying, lying to bait, systematically downratingmy work, while my supervisor in writing refused to provide me more supervision, and ultimately, after being on paid adminstative leave for several months (not at the workplace), recommending my discharge.
    And I am only one of several senio remployees in the last several years who were forced out by similar unethical tactics.
    Several years ago, the morale was at a historical low (largelybecause over half of the staff of one of the two divisions were downrated on a unsubstantated basis). (OPM required thisbased on its totally unevidentlally-based claim hat the employes were overrated — sometimes for over decades; in return, managers’ wage caps were raised for the rest of ther careers and retirement. In addition,
    the downrating followed an unlawful discriminationary pattern– covering virtually every protected class.
    The FMCS was brought in, in response to which a labor-management committe was set up — basicaly converting the relevant union to largely an in-house union — at the NLRB. The labor-management committee, whose mission was to improve morale, was forbidden to address the major reason for the lowered morale — the mass ownrating of employees at the same time the managers’ salaries were permanently increased.
    I believe there is ovewhelming evidence that the NLRB is a toxic wokplace, where workplace abuse is not uncommon — indeed it may be more the norm than the exception. This is astounding considering that the Agency’s mission is protecting employees’ rights. As one small example, the last
    “misconduct” for which I was cited was asking a relevant question, at a staff meeting, about a possible change in caseprocessing That is the kind of agency the NLRB has become — where employees are penalized for asking relevant, legitimate questions (and I was targetted in the first place becauseI challenged the inappropriate conduct described in the thirdparagraph above.)
    I grieve for what the NLRB has become (toxic to its own employees). I began my
    career there because I wanted to work for the rights of employees across the country.
    Decades later, I was not able to do this even for myself or my colleagues. A thorough
    examination of the ethics of the management tactics of the NLRB needs to be made. For my final several years, I would describe the management on the staff on which I worked as by
    “fear and fiat” — to which upper management turned a blind eye.
    If the above does not describe a workplace of abuse — at the NLRB — what
    would? The two NRLB managers who attended the conference certantly have their
    work cut out for them. Sadly, I am not holding my breath; the workplace abuse
    is deeply entrenched (e.g., management unlawfuly forced out the union’ then-grievance
    chairperson some years ago). Management has made it well-known loud and
    clear, “Speak up against workplace abuse and we will target you, abuse you, and drive you out”
    – – and by a wide,unrelenting range of unethical, unlawful conduct as described above.
    WHEN THE LEGISLATED PROTECTER OF EMPLOYEES’ RIGHTS BECOMEsS THE UNABASHED ABUSER OF IT OWN EMPLOYEES, ATTENTION MUST BE PAID.
    My experience is that this is exactly where the NLRB is now. It’s the most facsist
    situation I’ve ever been in — I don’t say this lightly.

    • A presentation at the conference reported on public employee job satisfaction survey results, and the NLRB ranked very low on these measures compared to other labor-related federal agencies.

    • OMG…..A case of the Fox watching the Hen House ? Sorry for your experience and KUDOS for you for speaking out !!! Stay the course !

  4. Prof. David, bravo! Terrific, enormous contributions and extraordinary inroads given your ground-breaking presentation of our HWB to this National Affiliate Labor Association, and its promising participants, and its potential to extend and expand beyond these initial impressive roots, into further widespread growth and the impact on its cases and decisions, already affected and under enormous political pressure and governed by a heavy hand.
    Our thanks, and continued gratitude, AZ HWB Advocates, Margaret

  5. Two of the five persons now nominated to be NLRB members – current Boad Chairman Mark Pearce and his chief counsel Kent Hirozawa have been active participants in workplace abuse on their own staff — delegating managemerl authority over their staff to an unethically abusive and repeatedly dishonest Deputy Chief Counsel, who has a decade-long pattern of abusing the staff..
    Chaiman Pearce was notified by a respected manager at the start of
    his term of this person’s abusive tactics, to which he said he didn’t care, she got the cases out, totally ignoring the well-researched fact that mangement by”fear and fiat,” this manager’s approach,, to which Pearce and Hirozawa have turned a blind eye, is less effective — and can cause great harm, including,as here, causing an employee to develop PTSD.
    Why is the Senate not taking Mark Pearce’s and Kent Hirozawa’s affirmation of abuse by this manager of their own staff in considering them for NLRB members — i.e., persons who have so lttlle respect for the employee rights of their own staff — and why is this manager who has a decade’s-long history of abusing staff employees stlll in this position where she has caused so much gratuitous
    harm?

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