Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week: October 16-22, 2016

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The Workplace Bullying Institute is once again inviting us to participate in the annual Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week, October 16-22:

Bullying is a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, the job you once loved. Bullying is a non-physical, non-homicidal form of violence. Because it is abusive it causes both emotional and stress-related physical harm.

Freedom from Bullies Week is a chance to break through the shame and silence surrounding bullying. It is a week to be daring and bold.

The power of workplace bullying is its ability to stay hidden in plain view. Make every workplace safe and take a stand against workplace bullying!

Here in Massachusetts, we’ve marked this week in different ways, including a small group workshop and a larger public forum. Others have done a major news conference and obtained Freedom Week proclamations from municipalities and counties, among other activities. I’ve also used this blog to spotlight the work of affiliated scholars, activists, and writers and to highlight ways in which people can stop workplace bullying

This year, my own efforts will be more task-oriented. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Dr. Maureen Duffy, one of the leading authorities on mobbing behaviors, invited me to join her as co-editor on an exciting book project on workplace bullying and mobbing. This two-volume book set will feature a comprehensive, multidisciplinary collection of chapters by leading and emerging U.S. experts on bullying and mobbing at work, with a focus on American employment relations. We’ll be hip deep in this work during October, as we strive to get the full manuscript to our publisher and work toward a 2017 publication date.

In addition, I’m taking an early look at preparing for the next round of public education activities on behalf of the Healthy Workplace Bill. We’ve made steady progress here in Massachusetts, but in order to turn the bill into a law, we need to take our efforts up to the next level for the 2017-18 legislative session. There’s very little substitute for that needed work.

It’s good that we have Freedom Week to shine a light on workplace bullying and the need to eradicate it. And the fact that we observe it every year is a reminder that we’re doing a marathon, not a sprint.

Workshopping workplace dignity

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Yesterday and today, I had the deep privilege of facilitating a small group workshop on dignity at work, hosted at Suffolk University Law School.

Although I often feature and highlight speakers and participants from programs I host, because of the personal nature of some of our discussions, I will refrain from doing so here. Suffice it to say, however, that the ten participants — drawn largely from the Boston area — made for an extraordinary group, individually and collectively. Here are among the topics we discussed:

  • Framing dignity in relation to the experience of work;
  • Examining workplace dignity in the context of a specific employment sector, in this case, health care;
  • Discussing how participants are addressing workplace dignity issues in their own lives, while getting feedback from the group; and,
  • Looking at future advocacy efforts for workplace anti-bullying legislation.

When it came to describing their own workplace dignity activities, many of the participants offered stories of their own life experiences. It was a testament to the supportive atmosphere of the workshop that people felt sufficiently confident and safe to share their stories in this manner.

For me personally, here are among the lessons learned and reinforced by this workshop experience:

  • There is power in creating intentional communities of good people devoted to positive social and individual change.
  • With the right mix of people, gatherings such as this one can be both healing on an individual level and constructive on a social change level.
  • When you bring together folks from different backgrounds, professions, and areas of expertise, the exchange of experiences, ideas, and information can generate new insights and understandings.

The workshop was a trial balloon of sorts, with a loose structure that relied on the participants to provide the content — without a PowerPoint slide in sight! I realize that not every such program will be so rewarding, but I saw and heard more than enough to be able to proclaim the event a success, with designs on working with others to expand this circle.

The future of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts

Massachusetts State House: We'll be back (photo: DY)

Massachusetts State House: We’ll be back (photo: DY)

The end of the formal 2015-16 legislative session in Massachusetts left the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (House No. 1771) languishing at a procedural stage known as Third Reading, meaning it was eligible to be brought before the full House of Representatives for a floor vote. Moving to this significant next step, however, required the approval of House leadership, and they opted not to do so.

It wasn’t just us; many bills advance to Third Reading and stay there. Nevertheless, it was a somewhat frustrating conclusion to a session that saw the HWB move to Third Reading about a year ago, reflecting the considerable amount of support that had been generated for it within the State House.

As I’ve reported on this blog (here, here, and here), we made valiant efforts to make our case for advancing the HWB during the final months of the session. With 58 legislative sponsors and co-sponsors, and a growing number of citizen advocates reaching out to their Representatives and Senators urging their support, we thought we had a chance.

But such are the realities of legislative advocacy. It can be a long, hard slog, requiring what I call a sort of restless patience. On that point, here’s a lesson in perseverance: The legislature did pass a strong fair pay law that will help to reduce gender inequities in compensation. It is being heralded as one of the strongest equal pay laws in the nation. As reported in the Boston Globe, the origins of this legislation date back to 1998. 

I believe that we will see the Healthy Workplace Bill become law sooner than later. This was our third full session in the Massachusetts legislature, and we had a good run. We will be making plans this fall for stepped-up advocacy efforts during the 2017-18 session. We’re not going away, and we will succeed.

***

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge, with our profound thanks, the retirement of our stalwart lead sponsor in the House, Representative Ellen Story (D-Amherst). This smart, principled, and caring legislator has long served her district and the citizens of Massachusetts with great humanity and distinction. Ellen has been with us on this cause longer than anyone else in the State House, and when the Healthy Workplace Bill becomes law, I hope she’ll be there to celebrate with us and to share well-deserved credit for that success.

Rep. Ellen Story (photo: ellenstoryma.com)

Rep. Ellen Story (photo: ellenstoryma.com)

 

Pitching the Healthy Workplace Bill in the waning days of the MA legislative session

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The 2015-16 formal session of the Massachusetts Legislature ends at the end of the month, and we’re still in there pitching for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB). 

In Massachusetts, as in most other states, legislative sessions run in two-year terms starting early in the odd year. Typically, there is a flurry of activity early in the session as bills are filed and legislative sponsors are recruited. However, soon afterward, budget matters predominate the legislative agenda. Non-budget bills often get pushed to the side until the spring and early summer of the even year, and at that point there’s another rush of advocacy activity in the State House to be among a small percentage of bills enacted into law.

During the current session, the HWB (House No. 1771) came out of the gate with some 58 sponsors and co-sponsors, led by our longtime lead sponsor, Rep. Ellen Story, and Sen. Jennifer Flanagan. In the House of Representatives, the HWB quickly advanced to a stage known as Third Reading, which means that it is eligible for a full floor vote by the House. However, it has been stuck at Third Reading since last fall, despite our ongoing efforts to move it forward. (We are hardly alone in reaching such status; a lot of bills get held up at this point.) We are still trying to persuade the House leadership to bring it to a floor vote.

This Thursday on the Senate side, we attempted to add the HWB as an amendment to the Senate’s economic development package, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Flanagan. It was a long shot effort that didn’t succeed. Nevertheless, it gave us an opportunity to circulate materials to the Senators that explained the need for the HWB and refuted some of the criticisms lodged against it.

During the past couple of days, I’ve had brief, cordial conversations with both the Speaker of the House and the Chair of the House Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. They are aware of our bill and have listened to our reasons for supporting it. I am optimistic that the positive relationships we’re building within the State House will lead us to eventual success.

I’ve said this before, but state legislative advocacy can be a frustrating, exasperating process, for citizen advocates and legislators alike. In Massachusetts, we still have a chance with the HWB in the remaining days of the current session, and if we don’t succeed this time, we’ll be back again. It’s as simple as that.

Published: “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law”

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I’m pleased to report that the Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice has published my law review article, “Intellectual Activism and the Practice of Public Interest Law.” It’s probably the closest thing to an academic autobiography that I’ll ever write, in that it recounts experiences and draws lessons from the work I’ve been doing during the past fifteen years, including workplace bullying, unpaid internships, and workplace dignity in general.

Here’s the posted abstract from my Social Science Research Network (SSRN) page:

Intellectual activism is both a philosophy and a practice for engaging in scholarship relevant to real-world problems and challenges, putting its prescriptions into action, and learning from the process and results of implementation. In the legal context, intellectual activism involves conducting and publishing original research and analysis and then applying that work to the tasks of reforming and improving the law, legal systems, and the legal profession. This article explores the concept and practice of intellectual activism for the benefit of interested law professors, lawyers, and law students.

This is a very personal piece, grounded in extensive scholarly, public education, and advocacy work that I have done in two areas: (1) fostering the enactment of workplace anti-bullying legislation and building public awareness of the phenomenon of bullying at work; and (2) participating in an emerging legal and social movement to challenge the widespread, exploitative practice of unpaid internships. It also discusses my involvement in multidisciplinary networks and institutions that have nurtured my work, examines the relevant use of social media, and provides examples of how law students can function as intellectual activists. This article closes with an Appendix containing a short annotated bibliography of books that are broadly relevant to the topics discussed in the text.

I wrote the article for those who want to use research and analysis to inform and inspire positive social change work, with a special nod to those who work largely outside of the realm of highly elite educational and public policy institutions.

You may obtain a freely downloadable pdf copy of the article from my SSRN page.

New video: FACE to FACE With Workplace Bullying

Massachusetts documentary producer Jay Fedigan has posted this superbly done, six minute video, “FACE to FACE With Workplace Bullying,” featuring interviews with individuals who bravely share their stories of being bullying targets.

The video builds off of Massachusetts: Face Workplace Bullying, an artistic photo display designed to raise public awareness about workplace bullying and to voice support for the Healthy Workplace Bill (House No. 1771, currently before the MA legislature). The display features photographs of 14 individuals who have been targets of workplace bullying, along with their names and statements about the circumstances surrounding their experiences. It made its official debut on the 4th floor of the Massachusetts State House in April and is now on display at Worcester’s Union Station.

Jay interviewed several of these courageous change agents for his video, and the result is a moving testament to the need for change. It’s six minutes of your time well spent.

Grading exams and papers: A brief stay in the No-Fun Zone

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There are lots and lots of things that I appreciate about an academic career, but grading exams and papers is not among them! This is the slow slog of the job for me, especially with finals and term papers calling out to be marked. During post-finals grading period, virtually anything except what I’m supposed to be doing becomes fascinating by comparison: Looking out the window, listening to birds chirping, trying to recall the third-string quarterback on the 1985 Chicago Bears (Mike Tomczak), you name it.

And so it is this week, when procrastination habits usually conquered roar back with a vengeance.

I need to get back to my grading (or at least thinking about grading), but in the meantime I’m happy to share a few recent items with you:

WGBH segment on the Healthy Workplace Bill

Craig LeMoult, a reporter for WGBH news radio (an NPR station in Boston), did a story “Is It Time To Outlaw Workplace Bullying in Massachusetts?,” which included our advocacy efforts to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill. I was among those interviewed for the segment, and here’s a snippet:

“Most severely bullied employees do not have a direct line of legal recourse for that type of abuse,” said David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University Law School who studies the issue.

. . . Yamada has written legislation to stop that kind of thing. It’s called the Healthy Workplace Bill, and it would allow victims to bring a civil claim against their employer and an individual bully. Yamada points out the bill would also give the employer the chance to avoid a penalty.

CommonWealth Magazine on unpaid internships

Colman Herman, a writer for CommonWealth Magazine, did a piece on the legality of unpaid internships for Massachusetts employers, “Unpaid internships — hard work, questionable legality.” Here’s part of what I had to say:

“There are a lot of students who simply can’t afford to work for free for such a long period of time,” says Yamada, the Suffolk law professor, “because they have to make some money — to pay their bills, to pay their tuition, to pay their expenses, and to put a roof over their head. So they have to pass up valuable internship opportunities. It doesn’t seem to me that asking for the minimum wage in return for entry-level performance is asking a lot.”

An honor from Valparaiso University

The Alumni Association of Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater, has informed me that I am a 2016 recipient of Alumni Achievement Award, given to “alumni who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in their chosen career or area of professional life.” I will be traveling to VU’s Homecoming weekend this fall in northwest Indiana to receive the award and to participate in a program in which recipients discuss their work and how their college education and experience contributed to their lives. I am very grateful for this award and look forward to the Homecoming activities.

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