MA State House hearing for Healthy Workplace Bill

In the hearing room with Greg Sorozan of SEIU/NAGE, waiting our turn to testify

On Tuesday, I joined with other supporters of the Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) to testify on its behalf at a hearing before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development of the Massachusetts legislature, held at the State House in Boston. Getting a favorable decision out of the Committee is the first critical step toward eventual passage of the bill.

I wrote the HWB to fill a big void in current employment law that exposes workers to bullying and mobbing without adequate legal protections. It provides severely bullied workers with a civil legal claim for damages and creates liability-reducing incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward bullying behaviors.

This is our fourth full session before the Massachusetts legislature, and we’ve been steadily building support. In the 2017-18 MA legislative session, the HWB is designated as Senate No. 1013, backed by main sponsor Senator Jennifer Flanagan and 46 co-sponsors. You can get all the information you need, including the bill text, here.

Supporting packet of information and written testimony, given to committee members

As I’ve written before, state legislative advocacy often requires a sense of restless patience. Even the best of policy proposals can take multiple legislative sessions before they become law. Tuesday’s legislative hearing covered not only the Healthy Workplace Bill, but also other bills designed to safeguard the dignity and well being of workers. Of these bills, only a small percentage will be enacted into law during a given two-year session.

How are we doing with the HWB in Massachusetts? We are a known presence in the State House, and our advocacy group has built a good reputation for being effective and steadfast. We are educating our elected officials and their staff members through these efforts. SEIU/NAGE, a major public employee labor union, has been in our corner from the start with resources and lobbying support, and we have other organizations giving their continuing endorsements.

Gone are the days when so many people greeted proposed legislation concerning workplace bullying with a quizzical look. This work won’t be finished until we get a bill enacted into law, and we’re going to keep at it until that happens.

Healthy Workplace Bill filed for 2017-18 Massachusetts legislative session

The anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB) has been refiled for the 2017-18 Massachusetts state legislative session. It is designated as Senate No. 1013, backed by main sponsor Senator Jennifer Flanagan and 46 co-sponsors. The bill has been referred to the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. You can get all the information you need, including the bill text, here.

The HWB provides a civil legal claim for damages for workers who can prove that they were subjected to severe workplace bullying and creates liability-reducing legal incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward these behaviors. I wrote the first version of the HWB some 15 years ago. It has been introduced in various versions in over 30 state legislatures since 2003. In recent years, four states — California, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah — have enacted workplace bullying legislation that draws language from the template HWB, but these laws cover training and policies and do not create enforceable legal protections.

Here are the Massachusetts state legislators who have signed on to the HWB (in order of sponsorship date):

Name, District
Sen. Jennifer L. Flanagan, Worcester and Middlesex
Rep. Diana DiZoglio, 14th Essex
Rep. Frank I. Smizik, 15th Norfolk
Rep. John W. Scibak, 2nd Hampshire
Rep. Angelo J. Puppolo, Jr. 12th Hampden
Rep. RoseLee Vincent, 16th Suffolk
Sen. Thomas M. McGee, Third Essex
Rep. Louis L. Kafka, 8th Norfolk
Sen. Barbara A. L’Italien, Second Essex and Middlesex
Rep. Lori A. Ehrlich, 8th Essex
Rep. Daniel M. Donahue, 16th Worcester
Sen. Michael D. Brady, Second Plymouth and Bristol
Rep. James J. O’Day, 14th Worcester
Rep. Aaron Vega, 5th Hampden
Sen. Kenneth J. Donnelly, Fourth Middlesex
Rep. Denise Provost, 27th Middlesex
Rep. Jonathan Hecht, 29th Middlesex
Rep. Bruce J. Ayers, 1st Norfolk
Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, 5th Essex
Rep. Brian M. Ashe, 2nd Hampden
Rep. Chris Walsh, 6th Middlesex
Rep. Ruth B. Balser, 12th Middlesex
Rep. Danielle W. Gregoire, 4th Middlesex
Rep. Steven Ultrino, 33rd Middlesex
Rep. Tacky Chan, 2nd Norfolk
Sen. Donald F. Humason, Jr,. Second Hampden and Hampshire
Rep. Brendan P. Crighton, 11th Essex
Rep. John J. Mahoney, 13th Worcester
Rep. Dylan Fernandes, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket
Rep. Solomon Goldstein-Rose, 3rd Hampshire
Sen. William N. Brownsberger, Second Suffolk and Middlesex
Rep. Russell E. Holmes, 6th Suffolk
Rep. Jonathan D. Zlotnik, 2nd Worcester
Rep. Kevin G. Honan, 17th Suffolk
Sen. Joan B. Lovely, Second Essex
Sen. James B. Eldridge, Middlesex and Worcester
Rep. Claire D. Cronin, 11th Plymouth
Rep. David T. Vieira, 3rd Barnstable
Sen. Michael O. Moore, Second Worcester
Rep. John C. Velis, 4th Hampden
Rep. Kevin J. Kuros, 8th Worcester
Rep. Alice Hanlon Peisch, 14th Norfolk
Rep. James Arciero, 2nd Middlesex
Rep. Byron Rushing, 9th Suffolk
Rep. Paul McMurtry, 11th Norfolk
Rep. Paul Brodeur, 32nd Middlesex
Sen. Sal N. DiDomenico, Middlesex and Suffolk
Rep. Christine P. Barber, 34th Middlesex

***

If you would like more information about supporting the Healthy Workplace Bill in Massachusetts, please go here.

If you would like more information about supporting the Healthy Workplace Bill in other states, please go here.

Passing workplace anti-bullying laws during the Age of Trump

Massachusetts State House: State-level advocacy is where it's at

Massachusetts State House: State-level advocacy is where it’s at

In the aftermath of the Trump victory, management-side employment lawyer Richard Cohen authored a piece for the popular Above the Law site, speculating on how the November election result will impact efforts to enact workplace bullying laws:

With the incoming Bully-in-Chief not known for his care and feeding of the weak or vulnerable, what will become of the movement against workplace bullying, which had been gathering steam? Will it go the way of Melania and disappear from view? . . .

. . . But despite the need for and desirability of anti-bullying laws, I am afraid that they will wither on the vine – for now.

Cohen’s final verdict on prospects for enacting workplace bullying legislation is a firm no, “(a)t least for four more years.”

Challenging conventional wisdom

Cohen’s conclusion no doubt reflects a good chunk of the conventional wisdom. I’ve even heard it from some of our Healthy Workplace Bill supporters, and it is posing challenges in revving up grassroots support for our latest bill filings in new sessions of state legislatures. To be sure, the political and emotional ripple effects of the Trump victory appear to have validated bullying behavior more than the anti-bullying movement.

But hold on a minute. I’d like to offer four reasons why we cannot pick up our marbles and go home, assuming we’ll have no impact of success:

First, advocacy efforts for the Healthy Workplace Bill have been, and obviously now will continue to be, concentrated at the state levels. The political machinations of a given state are often distinct from what’s happening at the national level.

Second, we have had concrete successes, despite Cohen’s claim that our efforts have been futile. In recent years, California, Tennessee, and Utah have joined various municipalities in enacting workplace bullying laws and ordinances, drawing largely from the language of the Healthy Workplace Bill. These measures have fallen short of providing comprehensive legal protections against severe work abuse — mostly dealing with adopting policies and providing in training — but they are a start.

Third, the workplace anti-bullying movement has proven itself to be something of a bi-partisan cause. True, Donald Trump and his close partisans are not going to be advocating for the Healthy Workplace Bill or anything close to it. In fact, his nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, is a fast-food company CEO who is not big on supporting workers’ rights. Nevertheless, over the years many Republicans have supported efforts to enact workplace bullying legislation.

Fourth, even if prospects for passage of workplace bullying laws are dimmed in view of current national outlook, the secret to success in legislative advocacy at the state level (or any level, for that matter) is perseverance. Legislative advocacy often has a cumulative effect. Even though the process requires us to re-file the Healthy Workplace Bill for each new session, collective memories of public support help to fuel current efforts.

Our time on this is coming. Trump’s victory may make the task harder, but we still have every reason to keep forging ahead with our efforts.

***

An important sidebar: I want to clarify a point that might be implied from Cohen’s piece. Though I agree with his observation that Donald Trump is hardly a friend of the weak or vulnerable, this should not translate into the assumption that targets of workplace bullying necessarily fall into those categories. Oftentimes those targeted for bullying or mobbing are temperamentally strong individuals, at least before the abuse started. This is in sharp contrast to stereotypical scenarios of schoolyard bullying or cyberbullying of kids. For better or worse, it’s much harder to develop an easy profile of who might be targeted at the workplace.

Massachusetts residents: To connect with the MA advocacy campaign for the Healthy Workplace Bill, go to the campaign webpage or Facebook page. We’re in the process of recruiting co-sponsors for the new legislative session, so please get involved now!

Other supporters: The national HWB campaign page is here.

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

fw-2016

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

nwi.dignityworkshop.2016

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

photo-469

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.

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