Can Amazon Prime members compel Amazon to treat its workers with greater dignity?

For many years, I boycotted Amazon Prime because of how Amazon treats its warehouse workers. But eventually I returned when I wanted access to Prime video and to be able to send gifts — especially books — with reliable delivery dates. I try to limit my Amazon spending to those categories and to ordering used books through associated vendors. But especially as someone who hasn’t owned a car for over 30 years, sometimes it’s awfully easy to click an order for the sake of convenience.

Nevertheless, Amazon’s labor practices remain disturbing, and yes, I feel guilty when I click that order. You see, it remains that the convenience that we experience as consumers comes at the expense of warehouse workers who have hard, exhausting, unsafe jobs in return for low pay. If you doubt me, then click here, here, here, and here for more details.

Ultimately, widespread unionization of Amazon workers is the key to improving their working conditions and compensation. But Amazon is virulently anti-union (e.g., here, here, and here), and workers who talk up unionization do so at their own risk.

So what is to be done? Well, Jobs With Justice, one of the nation’s best labor advocacy organizations for low-wage workers, is inviting we Amazon consumers to become voices for change, in the form of a new network called Prime Member Voices (link here). Here’s how they describe the network’s objectives:

Amazon Prime Members are a core part of the company’s business. Membership dues help fuel Amazon’s larger ambitions, but unfortunately many of those ambitions are in direct conflict with the issues we care passionately about. From truly horrific conditions inside Amazon Fulfillment Centers, to data collection, and selling technology to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and police departments.

As Prime Members, we should have a voice and it’s why Jobs With Justice is calling on Prime Members to join together in Prime Member Voices, where we can work together and develop ways where our voice is not only heard, but leads to real systemic change within the company.

It appears that the goals of Prime Member Voices will go beyond labor conditions, and personally I’m good with that. Amazon has been a game-changing entrant into the retail marketplace, and their business practices should be scrutinized closely from the standpoint of the public good.

In terms of concrete actions, this announcement is concededly vague. Regardless, this is a potentially brilliant organizing strategy: Leverage the many Prime members who would like to access Amazon’s convenient ordering and shipping, while knowing that the workers are being treated better and that the company’s business practices are ethical and socially responsible.

I’ve signed up. It’s worth seeing where this goes. At the very least, if I’m going to benefit from Amazon’s delivery systems, then I owe it to the rank-and-file employees to support better working conditions that affirm their dignity and well-being. It can happen only when people join together and call for change.

Ten popular MTW posts from 2019

Dear Readers, I’ve collected ten of the most popular MTW posts written during 2019. If you missed them before, I hope they will prove interesting and enlightening to you this time around. Here goes:

Man faced surgery, while bullying co-workers bet on his survival and gave him a toe tag (link here) — When Charlie Bowlby faced heart surgery, his co-workers placed bets on the likelihood that he would survive and gave him a mock toe tag before he went off to the hospital.

Speaking truth to power: Incivility & abrasiveness vs. bullying & mobbing (link here) — Bullying and mobbing are forms of abuse, not bad manners, and we should treat them accordingly.

Workplace bullying, DARVO, and aggressors claiming victim status (link here) — Dr. Jennifer Freyd’s conceptualization of DARVO — Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender — applies to many workplace bullying and mobbing situations.

Workplace bullying and incivility: Does kissing up fuel kicking down? (link here) — One study suggests a link between kissing up to one’s superiors and picking down one’s subordinates.

It’s not Yale or fail: The college admissions scandal and our unhealthy obsession with school prestige (link here) — The burgeoning college admissions scandal has prompted a fast-developing and overdue dialogue about how the wealthy and powerful are able to game the college admissions systems on behalf of their children.

Workplace bullying: Should “creative” folks get a pass? (Uh, no) (link here) — A workplace aggressor should not be given a free pass simply because they happen to be creative.

A short list of recommended books for targets of workplace bullying and mobbing (link here) — I thought I’d offer a very selective list of four affordable books that I repeatedly recommend to others.

A short speech in Rome (link here) — The text of my acceptance speech after receiving the Bruce Winick Award for contributions to the field of therapeutic jurisprudence, at the International Congress for Law and Mental Health.

Boston Globe: Two important features on workplace bullying (link here) — Discussing two feature articles, one a piece on a former corrections officer who faced savage bullying and sexual harassment, the other a piece on bullying of resident physicians.

On following evil orders at work (link here) — What if an employee is directed or enlisted to take part in the bullying, mobbing, or harassment of a co-worker?

Let’s make 2020 a year of working on solutions and responses

 

For those of us who are committed to making human dignity a framing characteristic of modern society, let’s make 2020 a year of working on solutions and responses.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed an unsurprising but nonetheless troubling trend about traffic to this blog. On balance, pieces that discuss the hurt, pain, and injustice of workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment get higher readership stats than those that discuss systemic solutions, law reform, and possible paths toward individual healing & recovery.

This appears to be a twist on internet clickbait patterns generally, whereby online readers are drawn to negative topics that validate and fuel outrage. Let’s face it: Sometimes we’re more likely to curse the darkness than to light a candle. Especially if you’ve been a target of workplace abuse, it’s perfectly natural to react in such a manner.

But lighting that candle towards effective solutions and responses must be our primary objective. And therein lies the hard work before us. In terms of what that means, I can speak only for myself.

Of course, I remain steadfastly committed to enacting the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill. As I wrote earlier this year (link here), we’re on a gradual but inevitable march toward enacting workplace anti-bullying laws in the U.S. It’s taking a long time to do this, particularly in the face of corporate opposition, but we are making genuine progress.

Overall, I’ll be continuing work on several fronts that encourages our legal systems, places of employment, and other political and civic institutions to embrace human dignity as a primary framing value. I will be emphasizing this theme as part of my service on three non-profit boards, in particular: The International Society for Therapeutic Jurisprudence, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, and Americans for Democratic Education Fund.

I’m also excited about a new course I’m offering at my law school during the coming semester. It’s called the Law and Psychology Lab, and it will incorporate heavy doses of therapeutic jurisprudence, encouraging law students to examine how laws can support psychologically healthy outcomes in legal disputes and transactions. In addition to developing projects on topics of individual interest, the students will work on a larger, co-created group project with a specific theme, which for this initial offering will be bullying, abuse, and trauma along the lifespan. We will be making some of the results of our work publicly available.

Here’s to a 2020 full of positive change. Let’s all be a part of it.

A workshop as annual ritual

The annual group shot, here honoring a request to ham it up a bit. (Photo: Anna Strout)

For over a decade, the annual December workshop of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HDHS) has become an increasingly significant event in my life. HDHS is a global, transdisciplinary network of scholars, practitioners, artists, and students dedicated to advancing human dignity and reducing humiliation in our society. The two-day workshop occurs each year at Teachers College of Columbia University in New York City, attracting dozens of people from across the country and around the world. I have written about this workshop regularly on this blog, and for good reason: It is one of the most welcomed gatherings of the year for me.

Last week, the workshop beckoned again, and I hopped on an Amtrak train from Boston to New York. My participation would begin with a Wednesday board of directors meeting. In recent years, I have become more deeply involved with HDHS. Service on the board is now one manifestation of that closer engagement. The board meeting also serves as a nice lead-in to the workshop.

In a marvelous little book titled Rituals For Beginners (2016), author Richard Webster defines a ritual as “an action, or series of actions, performed in a prearranged, prescribed manner.” He adds that rituals help us to appreciate life. Most of them “involve an element of gratitude” for experiences that we might otherwise take for granted. 

Well, last Thursday morning, as I exited the subway stop at Columbia’s campus and walked up Broadway toward Teachers College for a Day 1 of the workshop, I had an epiphany: This is no longer “just” an annual event for me. Rather, it has become a meaningful ritual, a renewing, educational, and connective experience with friends old and new. While each year’s workshop provides plenty of variety, its essential format and timing provide a reassuring continuity, in the company of a pretty amazing group of people.

Here’s a brief rundown of my experience of the workshop:

Approaching the halls of Columbia University Teachers College (photo: DY)

With a breakfast sandwich and coffee from a nearby food truck in hand, I walk over to venerable Teachers College, whose International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution graciously hosts this gathering. Founded in 1887, Teachers College was the nation’s first full-fledged graduate school of education. It has since branched out into offerings on health, psychology, and conflict resolution. Its buildings aren’t shiny new digs, but rather older, unpretentious structures that speak of tradition and history. Those surroundings add to the ritual element of the experience.

Linda Hartling and Evelin Lindner open the workshop (photo: Anna Strout)

Our workshop opens with a warm welcome from two individuals who are at the center of HDHS, Linda Hartling (director) and Evelin Lindner (founder and president). Evelin is a social scientist and writer, trained in both medicine and psychology. She travels the world doing workshops, giving lectures, and supporting the work of other change agents. Linda is a clinical psychologist and authority on relational-cultural theory. I frequently cite her brilliant paper, co-authored with Elizabeth Sparks (link here), describing organizational cultures in a relational context.

A pre-planned dignilogue in action (photo: Anna Strout)

The closest things we have to formal panel discussions are “pre-planned dignilogues,” which allow speakers to briskly (as in seven minutes each!) describe a project, publication, or initiative they’re working on, followed by Q&A. Pictured above, criminal justice professor Tony Gaskew (U. of Pittsburgh) is describing his “Life Support” project for individuals in Pennsylvania who have been sentenced to life in prison for crimes committed as juveniles.

I used my dignilogue talk to describe a new course that I’ll be teaching at Suffolk University Law School next semester, a “Law and Psychology Lab” that offers students opportunities to do practical projects applying psychological insights to law and public policy. 

A co-created dignilogue on improvisation and movement (photo: DY)

Our workshop also features “co-created dignilogues,” i.e., extended group discussions and presentations on topics developed each day by workshop participants. In the photo above, Beth Boynton, a nurse and medical improv instructor, is helping to facilitate a co-created dignilogue performance on improvisation and movement.

The gift of music from students at P.S. 10 in Brooklyn (photo: Anna Strout)

One of our Thursday evening traditions has been a musical performance by students from P.S. 10 in Brooklyn, led by their devoted music director, Fred Ellis, who happens to be a notable singer, musician, and song writer in his own right. Here are the kids doing one of their numbers, with Fred on the guitar.

Reporting on the HDHS conference in Brazil (photo: Anna Strout)

In addition to organizing the annual NYC workshop, every year HDHS holds a conference outside of the United States, typically in a country facing compelling social and political issues. This year’s conference was in Brazil, and it turned into something of a roving caravan in the Amazon. In the photo above, Gabriela Saab, a human rights and international law scholar and the newest member of the HDHS board, is sharing stories of her Amazon experience. (Go here for more.)

Michael Britton presents the annual Donald Klein lecture (photo: Anna Strout)

Psychologist Michael Britton is the presenter of the annual Donald Klein Memorial Lecture. Each year, Michael delivers a masterful, wise, and deeply humane talk about the state of the world, using an integrated perspective. This year, he focused on global warming and climate change and our roles in responding to it. It was the most cogent, holistic assessment of the topic that I’ve heard yet. (To watch the 43-minute lecture, go here. It will be time well spent.)

Claudia Cohen accepting her HDHS award (photo: DY)

Every year, HDHS presents a member of this community with its lifetime achievement award. This year’s deserving awardee was Claudia Cohen, a longtime HDHS workshop contributor. Claudia recently retired from a distinguished career at Teachers College, where she focused on organizational cultures and conflict resolution, and she is now doing anti-racism work in her home state of New Jersey.

Special guest Bill Baird (photo: Anna Strout)

On occasion, we are blessed with cameo appearances by noteworthy people. This year’s surprise guest was Bill Baird, often touted as the father of the reproductive rights movement. His pioneering advocacy work includes three victories before the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s pictured above with Evelin Lindner.

Good friends reconnecting (photo: DY)

The workshop serves as a reunion for old friends and an opportunity to make new friends for everyone. Pictured above, Linda Hartling and Bhante Chipamong Chowdhury, a Buddhist activist/monk and HDHS board member, share a moment. These impromptu conversations occur throughout the workshop and fuel both fellowship and future collaborations. 

I am grateful for the many treasured connections I have made through this workshop over the years. For those who are regular participants, these ties build and strengthen. We may also keep in touch through emails, social media, and occasional face-to-face get togethers during the rest of the year, but it’s this December workshop that brings us together in the most meaningful way. 

Our closing circle, with some singing to conclude our time together (photo: Anna Strout)

In recent years, we’ve been closing the workshop with music as well. Above, I’m helping to lead our group in singing “What a Wonderful World,” which has become something of a tradition. Infusing the workshop with more music and singing helps to counterbalance the difficult subjects that are often the focus of our discussions.

In both direct and indirect ways, the HDHS workshop supports the work I do on workplace bullying and mobbing. Overall, the event reaffirms the critical importance of advancing human dignity in our society. It is deeply instructive and inspiring to hear others talk about their work in addressing abuse, mistreatment, and injustice in so many other settings. In addition, I have frequently discussed my workplace anti-bullying initiatives and found that topic to be very well received. It is validating to me that folks who are doing such important work in their own realms understand the significance of workplace abuse. On occasion, I’m able to share more of my work with fellow participants who are experiencing difficult work situations in their own lives.

Even I can be a work of art! (photo: Anna Strout)

And if you’ll excuse a personal indulgence, we’re now adding some art to the mix as well! Anna Strout, our devoted photographer and a gifted educator, activist, and artist, masterminded a project of trace drawings from photographs she took during the workshop. Here I am posing with her drawing of me!

So, this is a snapshot of what this workshop has come to mean for me. Such is the good power of this gathering that each year, I return to Boston reinvigorated for the work that I get to do. Rituals delivering that kind of energetic renewal are very special indeed. 

***

Want to learn more? You may go here for a closer look at our 2019 workshop agenda. You also may go here to access videos of workshop events.

MTW Revisions: September 2019

In this regular feature, each month I’m reviewing some of the 1,700+ entries to this blog since 2008 and opting to revise and update several of them. I hope that readers find the revised posts useful and interesting. Here are this month’s selections:

Professional schools as incubators for workplace bullying (orig. 2012; rev. 2019) (link here)  — “It has long been my belief that the seeds of workplace bullying are planted in professional schools that prepare people to enter occupations such as law and medicine. You start with ambitious young people who (1) are used to being heralded as academic stars; (2) do not have a lot of life experience; (3) disproportionally come from privileged backgrounds; and (4) tend to be driven, Type A achievers. You then put them in high-pressured, competitive educational environments that emphasize technical knowledge and skills and a lot of analytical thinking. . . . You then unleash them into the world of work.”

Are calls for more resilience and “grit” an indirect form of victim shaming & blaming? (orig. 2016; rev. 2019) (link here) — “Bottom line? Resilience and grit are good. Targeted bullying, mobbing, and abuse are bad. Let’s strive for less interpersonal mistreatment and more individual resilience. And let’s take more personal and social responsibility for our actions and the state of the world.”

After Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl saw only two races (orig. 2017; rev. 2019) (link here) — “When Viktor Frankl reflected upon his experiences as a Nazi concentration camp prisoner, including time spent at Auschwitz, he concluded that humanity basically can be divided into two races: ‘From all this we may learn that there are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.'”

“Let’s run it more like a business” (The problem with many non-profit boards) (orig. 2014; rev. 2019) (link here) — “If running a non-profit group ‘more like a business’ means empowering effective, inclusive, and socially responsible leaders and holding them accountable, then I’m all for it. . . But all too often, the ‘more like a business’ mantra translates into the same authoritarian, top-down, command & control model that at least some board members who are drawn from the private sector may embrace in their respective roles as executives and managers.”

When a workplace bully gets his comeuppance, should we be gleeful?

A month ago, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg took particular satisfaction over president Donald Trump humiliating his national security advisor, John Bolton, in the midst of diplomatic negotiations over nuclear arms (link here). She didn’t pull any punches:

Say this for Donald Trump. He may be transforming American politics into a kleptocratic fascist reality show and turning our once-great country into a global laughingstock, but at least he’s humiliating John Bolton in the process.

Why the glee over Bolton being savagely undermined by his boss? It may be the spectacle of witnessing one bully being outdone by another. You see, John Bolton is a longtime presence on the American diplomatic scene — with apologies for using the terms “Bolton” and “diplomatic” in the same sentence. I first heard about Bolton during George W. Bush’s administration, when he was appointed the U.N. Ambassador. His Senate confirmation hearings for the position were replete with stories about his raging temper and bullying tactics.

In fact, I referenced Bolton’s record of workplace bullying in an online piece published in 2005:

Allegations of intimidating and angry treatment of co-workers lodged against John Bolton, the Bush Administration’s newly-appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, have put a spotlight on the problem of workplace bullying. While Bolton has not quite done for bullying what Clarence Thomas and his 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings did for raising awareness of sexual harassment, it is clear that this story struck a responsive chord with many workers who have experienced abusive treatment at the hands of bosses and co-workers.

…In recent months, many of these behaviors have been attributed to Bolton by current and former State Department co-workers and contractors. Ex-State Department intelligence chief Carl Ford, a Republican appointee, called Bolton a “serial abuser” of subordinates, adding that he showed a talent for stroking superiors while kicking down underlings.

The most publicized allegations came from Melody Townsel, a woman who worked with Bolton in Moscow under a government contract in 1994. Townsel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bolton chased her down the halls of a Moscow hotel, threw a tape dispenser at her, made disparaging remarks about her appearance, left threatening letters under her hotel door, and pounded on her door and yelled at her.

Bolton is said to have pursued the removal of two intelligence analysts simply for disagreeing with him. He sought to have them fired, claiming that their work had deteriorated. Internal agency reviews of the analysts’ work found no merit to the claims. Other reports indicate that Bolton has a talent for shouting down diplomats from other nations and throwing last-minute monkey wrenches into delicate treaty negotiations.

Should we celebrate a bully’s comeuppance?

I’m not about to wag a finger at someone who takes delight in a bully’s downfall, especially if said bully was a personal tormenter. In fact, in writing this piece, I recalled once sounding a war whoop of delight upon hearing that karma had come around to bite someone who was responsible for bad things happening to people at work. I’m neither proud of, nor apologetic for, that emotional response.

I have no hard and fast rules for when the celebration becomes excessive. That said, I hope we can all summon our better natures in not letting such responses go too far. Public humiliation, in particular, has a way of becoming cyclical, leading to more of the same. This may include, among other things, unintended and negative consequences of bullying bullies.

France Télécom executives are on trial for workplace bullying associated with dozens of worker suicides

Former France Télécom executives are on trial for alleged violations of France’s “moral harassment” code, in a case alleging that systematic bullying tactics were employed to reduce the company’s workforce. During the time in question, 35 workers died by suicide, and many left notes explaining that working conditions had pushed them beyond their ability to endure. Angelique Crisafis reports for the Guardian (link here):

Former executives at France Télécom could face prison over organised workplace harassment that led to a spate of staff suicides a decade ago, as a two-month trial that shocked France draws to a close this week.

French state prosecutors have urged judges to find the executives guilty of moral harassment and hand down the maximum prison sentence of one year, plus large fines, after details emerged in court of the turmoil felt by workers over systematic bullying tactics aimed at pushing staff to leave.

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