The 2013-14 Massachusetts state legislative session ended last week, and the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) made it to “second reading,” meaning it was approved through various committees and was poised to be brought up to the House of Representatives for a full floor vote. As the session approached its end, the HWB was still under discussion among House leaders, no small achievement given the thousands of bills introduced each session.
Those of us who support the HWB were hoping for more from this session, perhaps even making it all the way through to the Governor’s desk. Nevertheless, we are well primed for the next legislative session, and here’s why:
1. Legislative sponsors — The HWB has attracted increasing support in the MA state legislature. We went from one legislative sponsor in the 2009-10 session, to 13 in the 2011-12 session, to 39 in the just-concluded 2013-14 session. Our lead sponsor, Rep. Ellen Story, remains deeply committed to this legislation. A bill once regarded as a novelty is now receiving serious attention.
2. Grassroots support — Our grassroots advocacy group is flexing its muscles. We are hearing from legislators and their staffs that calls, e-mails, and visits from HWB advocates are making a difference.
3. Organizational support — From the beginning, the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) has been a source of significant support and “inside the building” expertise. During this last session, we also picked up more endorsements and active support from other labor unions and worker advocacy groups.
4. Media attention — The HWB is getting attention from the media. During the closing weeks of the session, workplace bullying and the HWB were subjects of a lengthy lead editorial in the Sunday Boston Globe, and an extensive feature in the Globe‘s Lifestyle section. During the course of the session, WGBH’s “Greater Boston” program and WBUR’s “Radio Boston” program devoted major segments to workplace bullying and the legislation.
5. Vocal opposition — The Associated Industries of Massachusetts — a powerful corporate lobbying presence — and a small group of ultra-conservative state legislators opposed the HWB. You know you’re making progress when the opposition comes out of hiding.
6. Our turn next? — A welcomed hike in the state’s minimum wage law and the long-needed addition of occupational safety & health protections for many of the state’s public workers were among the pro-worker bills that successfully made it through this session. In the meantime, the HWB created much more of a buzz this time around, as the idea of enacting protections against workplace bullying has become mainstreamed.
Legislative advocacy, especially for pro-worker bills that are considered cutting-edge policy proposals, often requires patient and steadfast commitment. Such is the case for the Healthy Workplace Bill. That said, our prospects for the next legislative session are looking very good, and I strongly believe that we can make this happen.