By Darrell Whitman
Bullying has become the scourge of the American workplace, not only in the private sector, but also for public employees. The costs of bullying are immeasurable in time and resources consumed in bullying and in workers attempts to protect themselves from bullying. But for public employees, the costs are greater and include loss services to their fellow American workers.
Ironically, employees in the U.S. Department of Labor, which is tasked with protecting and advancing worker’s interests, are among those in the federal government most subject to a hostile workplace and bullying. And among the worst agencies in the Department of Labor is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, which was created specifically to combat threats to workers where they work.
In 2009, the union steward assigned to work with OSHA Region IX here in San Francisco, was harassed, bullied, and eventually fired after she ask for accommodation for a serious health issue. When I assumed her job in 2011 as the OSHA union steward, I too was harassed, bullied, and eventually fired. But the crime was compounded when three other OSHA employees who stood up and reported the bullying to the national OSHA office were also harassed, bullied and eventually forced from their jobs in 2015. Ironically, we were all investigators in OSHA’s Whistleblower Protection Program, which is among the most important programs in the federal government that is tasked with protecting workers from workplace bullying.
Congress passes new laws almost every year aimed at protecting workers. Some are strong and some are weak, but passing laws is not enough. Laws must be enforced to have an effect, and when laws protecting workers are ignored, particularly by the federal government, it breeds a culture of corruption that encourages hostile workplaces and bullying everywhere. Then we all pay the price as the culture of corruption envelopes us, inspiring fears that deny rights and dignity to workers.
I am happy to report my local union stewards came to my assistance, and now the national American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents all federal workers, is offering to lend a hand to push back against bullying. But even this faithful response is not enough. Only informed, organized, and focused workers, acting together, can turn the tide.
We must know our rights and insist that they be respected. We must organize our workplaces, and where they are already organized we must encourage our union leaders to be aggressive in representing us. We must talk to our families, friends and neighbors, explaining how our fight is their fight, whether or not they are organized. But most of all, we must demand that our political representative represent us, the broad community of American workers, and not pander to corporate interests that are daily attacking us