Voices heard: Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill gets committee approval

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Advocacy can make a difference: The Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill (House No. 1771; Rep. Ellen Story and Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, co-sponsors) has been reported favorably by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. This necessary and important step, which occurred on the heels of last week’s committee hearing at which numerous HWB supporters stayed until the early evening to testify, puts us closer to eventual floor votes by the House and Senate and final signature by the Governor.

This is the third straight legislative session in which the HWB has been favorably reported by this committee, so what’s different this time? Legislative sessions run two years, the current one covering 2015-16. This is by far the earliest the HWB has been moved favorably out of the committee. Previously, the HWB received committee approvals in the second half of the respective sessions, making it harder to move the bill forward within the limited time remaining.

Our voices are being heard. At last week’s public hearing, it was evident that even though it was late in the day, committee co-chairs Sen. Daniel Wolf and Rep. John Scibak were attentive and sympathetic to the personal accounts of bullying and abuse shared by workers who testified.

The next steps for the HWB within the Massachusetts legislative labyrinth have not been settled, but this is a very positive development. I’ll be providing updates here, and those who want to actively support the bill can check out some of the links below.

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Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates

To learn more about advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, go to the campaign’s website or Facebook page.

For more about the national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go here.

 

Healthy Workplace Bill: Courage prevails at Massachusetts State House hearing

Massachusetts State House (photo: DY)

Massachusetts State House (photo: DY)

Supporters of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) gathered yesterday at the Massachusetts State House for a legislative hearing to voice our support for this badly needed legislation. While the immediate fate of the HWB in Massachusetts (designated as House Bill 1771 in the current session) remains a work in progress, those who shared their stories with legislators and who appeared at the State House to offer support were the clear winners of the day. When this bill becomes law, their courage will be among the primary reasons for that success.

Legislative hearing

The occasion for this testimony was a legislative hearing hosted by the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, the committee to which the HWB has been assigned. Our goal is to persuade the Committee to give the HWB a favorable report, a critically important step toward eventual floor votes in the House of Representatives and Senate and, then, presentation of the bill to the Governor.

I testified on a panel with Greg Sorozan, co-director of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates and a local president for the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), and Torii Bottomley, a public school teacher who experienced horrific, ongoing retaliatory bullying and lost her job as a final result. Torii, who has gone public with her story, shared her account of how an outstanding, dedicated educator can be targeted for extinction because she stood up for the best interests of her students.

Many other individuals also testified, and they shared similar stories of terrible workplace abuse that often drove them out of their workplaces and sometimes their careers. I’ve opted not to share their names here because, unlike Torii, they have not gone as public with their stories, but let me attest that each one of them exhibited great courage in coming forth to ask the legislators to pass this law.

In addition, others who have experienced workplace bullying joined us to provide moral support. Their presence made a big difference.

I do not use the term courage lightly here. To share one’s story of abusive treatment in a public setting, and then to sit and listen to similar stories over and again, is an act of bravery. Even for those who didn’t testify, being present to lend support required a lot of fortitude.

Ready to play ball

My part in this hearing was a comparatively minor one. As the author of the HWB, I reiterated to Committee members our desire to answer questions, criticisms, and concerns about the legislation, and to work with them in any way we can.

This is the third full session in which we have filed the bill, and as long-time readers know, we have amassed growing support for it inside the State HouseLegislative advocacy is a game for the restlessly patient, and for me, the restless side is manifesting itself. Most major legislation requires several sessions before it becomes viable. We’re at the point now, and I want to see some results.

Kudos

Our wonderful, long-time lead sponsor, Rep. Ellen Story, testified on behalf of the HWB, and her chief assistant Brad Dye spent several hours talking to and offering advice to those who were there on behalf of the bill.

Members of the Committee who sat through a very long hearing day that stretched into the early evening deserve our thanks. Co-Chairs Sen. Daniel Wolf and Rep. John Scibak showed great attention, patience, and respect to those who testified on all the bills before the Committee, including ours. I also appreciated words of support from Representative and committee member Danielle Gregoire, who several moons ago was one of my students at Suffolk University Law School while she worked as a legislative staffer.

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Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates

To learn more about advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, go to the campaign’s website or Facebook page.

For more about the national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go here

Free blog subscription

For a free subscription to Minding the Workplace, go to “Follow this blog” at the top right of the home page, and enter your e-mail address.

Advocacy for the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts

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Many of those familiar with the challenges of legislative advocacy and the realities of the legislative process know that until a bill is actually enacted into law, progress is measured in terms that may not be evident to the general public, but that nonetheless constitute important, tangible steps forward. The history of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts illustrates this point by way of steady, painstaking, sometimes halting moves ahead.

Growing legislative support

Massachusetts first considered the HWB during the 2009-10 session, when a solitary state senator filed the bill. Support grew during the 2011-12 session, when 13 legislators sponsored or co-sponsored the HWB. The number of sponsors and co-sponsored tripled to 39 during the 2013-14 session. During the two most recent sessions, the HWB proceeded through the committee process to where it was moving toward a full floor vote in the state House of Representatives. The HWB has been re-filed for the 2015-16 session, and this time 58 senators and representatives have signed on as sponsors or co-sponsors.

Greater public attention

In the midst of this growing support within the legislature, the HWB attracted greater attention from the local media, especially during the 2013-14 legislative session. Examples included a lengthy lead editorial in the Sunday Boston Globe, ultimately recommending a cautious approach to enacting workplace bullying legislation; a Globe feature article on HWB activists; and extended radio and television interview segments. The HWB has also attracted active support from labor and worker advocacy organizations, including SEIU/NAGE, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), and the Boston Teachers Union. SEIU/NAGE has served as the point organization for building support within the State House, including tasking its veteran lobbyists to advocate for the bill among legislators and staff members.

Little things

At times, the little things reveal growing support for, and interest in, proposed legislation. For example, when MassCOSH, a major catalyst for workplace safety and health policy in Massachusetts, endorsed the Healthy Workplace Bill and invited advocates for the Healthy Workplace Bill to be part of its annual legislative lobbying days, it sent a clear message that the HWB had become a presence within the State House and that workplace bullying was now part of the discussion on worker safety.

2015-16 legislative sponsors

Furthermore, when the initial list of sponsors and co-sponsors for the HWB for the 2015-16 session appeared short (fewer than ten) amidst considerable change in the composition of the legislature and the election of a new Governor, concerted efforts by the bill’s main sponsor, Representative Ellen Story, and key grassroots supporters resulted in 58 legislative sponsors and co-sponsors, a surprising increase of 19 from the previous session. The ability to build the sponsorship list in a short period of time confirmed that this is no longer a novelty bill.

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As developments in Massachusetts and other states show, the overall movement in the United States is gravitating toward the enactment of workplace bullying legislation. In this sense, America is gradually catching up with many other nations that have enacted workplace anti-bullying laws, primarily during the past 15 years. Workplace bullying has not quite entered the mainstream of American employment law, but the potential for doing so is now very real.

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Forthcoming law review essay

The commentary above was adapted from a draft of my forthcoming law review essay, “Workplace Bullying and the Law: U.S. Legislative Developments 2013-15,” to be published in the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal. You may access a pdf of the draft, as well as copies of many of my other scholarly articles, without charge from my Social Science Research Network page.

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates

To learn more about advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, go to the campaign’s website or Facebook page.

For more about the national campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, go here

Free blog subscription

For a free subscription to Minding the Workplace, go to “Follow this blog” at the top right of the home page, and enter your e-mail address.

Advocacy and anger in the workplace anti-bullying movement

Recently, one “Hope Springs” posted a commentary to the Facebook page of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates, urging supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill to take a rhetorical high road in advocating for law reform, without referring to specific aggressors in angry, overly disparaging ways. With Hope’s permission, I’m sharing it here in its entirety:

Hello, supporters of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill.

I’d like to bring up the issue of “message discipline” and the importance of “acting politically” in promoting this important bill and winning reluctant parties to our side.

Occasionally, I have come across a post on this forum and others in which a victim of workplace bullying uses disparaging language and abusive names in calling out specific perpetrators. Some of this language has involved cursing and the bitter celebration of a perpetrator’s downfall, which -given the terroristic actions of workplace bullies- is perfectly understandable.

But, I think we have to be careful to maintain the high road at all times.

It seems important to carefully and strategically “name” the behavioral patterns of workplace bullies in a measured way and to persistently equate those patterns with adverse economic outcomes for organizations and for society at large. We have to continue to make a persuasive argument and not allow opposing forces to discredit targets of workplace bullying as “angry”, “bitter”, “difficult”, “mean”, “victim-mentality”, “adversarial” and other such epithets.

Name-calling and expressing personal bitterness towards perpetrators makes it easy for opponents to suggest that personal rivalry was involved in these situations (rather than the REALITY that victims were intentionally targeted with malicious intent by a perpetrator).

While recent research has suggested the widespread prevalence of workplace bullying (or “social violence” in the workplace as a colleague of mine puts it), people are reluctant to sign on mostly for economic reasons. Who wants to put their name on a movement that demands accountability and legal liability for managers, bosses, and politically powerful co-employees? Not too many.

So, I think we need to step back every so often and examine the messages we are sending. More and more people are getting behind this movement, because it’s based on a shared reality for a great many people. But, the momentum can easily be stopped if the general public perceives the chief proponents of this bill to be vindictive, disgruntled ex-employees with an axe to grind.

I hope that posting my concerns in this forum has not alienated people. I sincerely want this movement to succeed, and I believe as many do, that it’s only a matter of time.

But, unfortunately, it’s up to us to maintain the discipline of not resorting to the same mean-spirited tactics of those who routinely harm others in pursuit of their own egocentric need for triumph.

Yes, those of us who have experienced or witnessed workplace bullying have the right to be angry, bitter, depressed and hungry for triumph over evil. But, it might be more helpful to form support groups where we can explore these natural feelings so that they can be healed, transformed, and processed.

With the freedom that comes from the private act of processing the evil done to us -and by seeking support for our healing- we can roll up our sleeves and remember to act politically in the public sphere.

If we win, the nation wins.

Difficult stuff

Workplace bullying is a severe denial of one’s dignity, an offense that tramples over livelihood and personhood. The impulse or temptation to publicly accuse, and rage at, the perpetrators can be powerful. Furthermore, based on what we know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a condition dubbed Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder, many of these feelings are natural responses to severe mistreatment and injustice.

Lawmakers and policy makers need to understand that we are talking about a form of interpersonal abuse. I believe that message is coming through, and usually not via “vindictive, disgruntled ex-employees with an axe to grind” described by Hope, but rather by individuals who are more likely to have turned their suffering inward and are now summoning the strength to share their stories and experiences for the sake of the greater good.

In any event, I understand where Hope is coming from on this. A movement associated primarily with emotions of anger and bitterness faces an uphill battle, even if those feelings are entirely justifiable. In addition, we want to avoid fueling cycles of anger and abuse. The world offers too many reminders of this dynamic, in numerous settings and on all scales.

I wish that we didn’t have to face these issues. But we live in a society that discounts or dismisses those who have been tagged as embittered or angry, sometimes to the point of giving a free pass to those who committed the wrongful actions in the first place. Against this reality, we must hone our message at times, concededly not without some struggle.

U.S. legislative developments concerning workplace bullying (2013-15)

I just posted to my Social Science Research Network (SSRN) page a draft of a forthcoming law review essay, “Workplace Bullying and the Law: U.S. Legislative Developments 2013-15,” slated to appear later this year in the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, published by the Chicago-Kent College of Law. This short piece is a follow-up to a panel presentation I gave in January at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Law Schools.

Here’s the abstract:

In 2014, California and Tennessee enacted statutes covering workplace bullying, making them the first American states to codify laws addressing this form of interpersonal mistreatment at work. These two statutes led a procession of recent legal and policy initiatives concerning workplace bullying in the United States, which also included a vetoed state bill and continued advocacy at the state levels for enactment of comprehensive workplace anti-bullying legislation. This essay, a follow-up to my panel presentation at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Law Schools, will discuss significant legislative developments concerning workplace bullying at the state levels, covering 2013 through early 2015. It is the latest in my series of periodic law review commentaries about workplace bullying and American employment law.

The essay focuses on four states: It summarizes and analyzes the new California and Tennessee laws. It discusses the merits of a gubernatorial veto of workplace bullying legislation in New Hampshire. Finally, it examines the fortunes of the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts. This is by no means a comprehensive summary of legislative activity during the past three years, but rather takes a snapshot look at some of the most significant recent developments.

You may download pdfs of this piece and my other law review commentaries without charge from my SSRN page.

Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Bill draws 58 sponsors and co-sponsors for the 2015-16 session

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The re-filing of the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) in Massachusetts has drawn 58 sponsors and co-sponsors in the state House and Senate. Rep. Ellen Story (a pioneering supporter of workplace anti-bullying legislation) and Sen. Jennifer Flanagan are the lead sponsors. The re-filed bill is House Bill No. 1771, and you may click here for the bill webpage on the Massachusetts legislative website.

This represents a significant sponsorship increase from previous legislative sessions. The HWB was introduced in Massachusetts by one sponsor in the 2009-10 session. This was followed by 13 HWB sponsors and co-sponsors in the 2011-12 session, and then up to 39 HWB sponsors and co-sponsors in the recently concluded 2013-14 session.

The growing support for the HWB is a testament to individuals who have asked their state legislators to sign on as co-sponsors and to advocacy groups that have given the bill their endorsements. We are grateful to the 58 legislators who are supporting this legislation:

Lead Sponsors

Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst)
Senator Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster)

Co-sponsors

Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston)
Senator Sal N. DiDomenico (D-Everett)
Senator James Eldridge (D-Acton)
Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover)
Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester)
Senator Thomas McGee (D-Lynn)
Rep. Brian Ashe (D-Longmeadow)
Rep. Bruce Ayers (D-Quincy)
Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton)
Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville)
Rep. Paul Brodeur (D-Melrose)
Rep. Gailanne Cariddi (D-North Adams)
Rep. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn)
Rep. Angelo D’Emilia (D-Bridgewater)
Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge)
Rep. Stephen L. DiNatale (D-Fitchburg)
Rep. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen)
Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead)
Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier (D-Pittsfield)
Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester)
Rep. Sean Garballey (D-Arlington)
Rep. Denise Garlick (D-Needham)
Rep. Carlos Gonzalez (D-Springfield)
Rep. Kenneth Gordon (D-Bedford)
Rep. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset)
Rep. Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown)
Rep. Louis Kafka (D-Stoughton)
Rep. Mary Keefe (D-Worcester)
Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton)
Rep. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton)
Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington)
Rep. Kevin Kuros (R-Uxbridge)
Rep. John Mahoney (D-Worcester)
Rep. Brian Mannal (D-Barnstable)
Rep. Paul Mark (D-Peru)
Rep. Mathew Muratore (R-Plymouth)
Rep. Harold P. Naughton, Jr. (D-Clinton)
Rep. Alice Hanlon Peisch (D-Wellesley)
Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville)
Rep. Angelo Puppolo, Jr. (D-Springfield)
Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge)
Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston)
Rep. Tom Sannicandro (D-Ashland)
Rep. John Scibak (D-South Hadley)
Rep. Alan Silvia (D-Fall River)
Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline)
Rep. Todd Smola (R-Warren)
Rep. Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield)
Rep. Walter F. Timilty (D-Milton)
Rep. Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke)
Rep. David Vieira (R-East Falmouth)
Rep. Chris Walsh (D-Framingham)

If you truly believe that we need workplace bullying laws, then you keep plugging away until it happens

 

Massachusetts State House (photo: DY)

Massachusetts State House, Thursday a.m. (photo: DY)

This morning I joined advocates from across the Commonwealth at the Massachusetts State House for Legislative Co-Sponsorship Day, to generate support for workplace health and safety legislation, including the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB). The event was organized by our friends at the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH).

We’re in the process of reintroducing the Healthy Workplace Bill in the 2015-16 session of the Massachusetts legislature. Rep. Ellen Story (D-Amherst) is once again our lead sponsor. At the MassCOSH event, we were among a dozen or so organizations that had tables in the Great Hall of the State House, and we were able to talk to many legislators and staff members. We had 39 legislative sponsors and co-sponsors last session, and we’re looking to grow that number during the bill filing season this time around.

Pictured below are Greg Sorozan and Lisa Smith of SEIU/NAGE, the public employee union that has played an invaluable lead role in helping to organize support for the Healthy Workplace Bill in the Bay State. In addition to serving as union president, Greg is a co-coordinator of the Massachusetts Healthy Workplace Advocates. Lisa also has been a staunch supporter. Jim Redmond and Ray McGrath, two veteran lobbyists for the union who have been instrumental in working for the HWB in the State House, were also at the event to help us reach out to legislators and staff members.

Healthy Workplace Bill advocates Greg Sorozan and Lisa Smith (photo: DY)

Healthy Workplace Bill advocates Greg Sorozan and Lisa Smith (photo: DY)

I enjoy being around these folks because, among other reasons, they bring a resilient, steadfast commitment to advocating for workers that extends well beyond a single legislative session. As politically savvy advocates for workers, they know that legislation such as the HWB typically does not get enacted overnight. They embody the title of this blog post: If you truly believe that we need workplace bullying laws, then you keep plugging away until it happens.

Indeed, there’s no other way to do it. The legislative process is unpredictable and challenging. It requires infinite patience and, when things start moving, an ability to respond quickly. Those who are new to this world — including a lot of workplace bullying targets who suddenly find themselves supporting the HWB — often ask why it takes so long to enact legislation whose merits appear to be so self-evident. They need to understand, however, that we are competing for time and attention with thousands of other bills, of which only a fraction will become law.

Each legislative session hopefully brings at least incremental progress, and that’s what we’ve been able to do in Massachusetts. We no longer have to explain ourselves in nearly as much detail as when we first introduced the HWB three sessions ago. The bill has gained a familiar presence in the State House, and we’ve got a core of legislators who are committed to co-sponsoring it. And we’re attracting more and more support from worker advocacy groups and everyday citizens who press their case upon our elected officials as well.

So, if you want the HWB to become law, then we need you to sign up for the long haul. It means going back to the State House, making those calls, and sending those e-mails, as many times as it takes. We keep getting closer and closer to success, but only continued commitment and perseverance will make it happen.

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Massachusetts residents: If you support the HWB, you may contact your state representative and state senator, and ask them to co-sponsor Rep. Ellen Story’s workplace bullying bill, House Docket 2072 (an official bill number will be provided later). The deadline for co-sponsorship in the House is January 30; the deadline for the Senate is more flexible, but we’d like to get as many Senate co-sponsors by that date as possible.

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