The Professional Staff Congress, the largest union representing employees at the City University of New York, sponsored a forum earlier this month to draw attention to the growing problem of workplace bullying and pushed the passage of a bill that would protect employees facing abuse.

The union held an Oct. 7 panel discussion marking National Bullying Prevention Month where experts detailed how an abusive workplace affects mental health, how universities are dealing with workplace bullying, and what legal protections exist for those being harassed.

A Prevalent Problem

According to a University of Phoenix study, 75 percent of employees surveyed have witnessed on-the-job bullying, while 47 percent have faced workplace bullying during their career.


IRIS DELUTRO: Raised issue in contract talks.

Clara Wajngurt, a Math Professor at Queensborough Community College and CEO of Bullying Prevention Consulting, said that there were several reasons why workplace bullying was becoming increasingly common across CUNY campuses and other colleges.

“The amount of work we have to do has increased. Our supervisors want the work done yesterday,” she said. And the competitive atmosphere in universities, where faculty push to have their research published, “will lend itself to a workplace bullying environment,” Ms. Wajngurt noted.

The issue of workplace harassment exists beyond higher-education settings: a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that abuse was especially common in public-service and health-care settings. Bullying takes many forms, from verbal harassment to an employee’s work being targeted or sabotaged.

Studies have shown that feelings of shame and humiliation, stress, loss of sleep, severe anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and hypertension were some of the effects of working in an abusive environment. Employees who were subjected to abusive behavior were also less productive and more likely to miss work.

Trouble Finding Help

Those facing harassment, Ms. Wajngurt noted, often don’t know where to turn to for help.

The PSC has been trying to address workplace bullying in its contract, said Iris DeLutro, vice president of the union’s Cross Campus Units and a member of the negotiation committee.

The union's pact expired in November 2017, and it has been aggressively pursuing an agreement that would double pay for more than 12,000 adjuncts. Adding contract language protecting members from on-the-job harassment has been difficult, she said, and hasn’t been a priority for many labor groups.

“Unions usually talk about bread-and-butter issues, and this is not a bread-and-butter issue,” she said.

On a broader scale, a Healthy Workplace bill that has been proposed by State Sen. James Sanders Jr. would offer protections for employees “who have been harmed, psychologically, physically, or economically” by an abusive workplace. It is currently being reviewed by the State Senate’s Labor Committee, and is also backed by the United Federation of Teachers.

‘Don’t Have to Show Motive’

Although there are protections for employees who are harassed on the job because of their race, age or sex, “under the new law, you wouldn’t have to show motivation for the abusive behavior,” said William A. Herbert, a Distinguished Lecturer and Executive Director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College.

Ms. DeLutro said that labor movement support would be critical to getting the bill passed.

“Until all unions in the city and state begin to prioritize dealing with workplace bullying, we’re not going to see any movement on this from legislators,” she said.

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(1) comment


Truth be told, this one of the best recent articles about efforts to address bullying in the NYC/NY metro area by an union. No bromides here as there are in many other articles published in the last few years that say nothing about activism nor unions nor collective efforts to deal with workplace bullying. Such articles are usually published sans interviews. Nevertheless, I wanted to add some comments based on my experiences, observations and activism.

1) Passage of a good healthy workplace bill would also shore up laws already on the books for race, age and sex discrimination in the workplace.

2) Workplace bullying is a good tip off to workplace race discrimination that can’t be or is difficult to address in workplaces because of shortcomings in state and federal human rights commissions.

3) Academic bullies try to make students complicit in bullying and mobbing. There isn't much research on this regarding the corruption of students and the subsequent additional poisoning of instructors' classes but there should be.

4) I don’t agree with Colleague Clara Wajngurt’s definitively stated comments that bullying will increase because of the increasing pressure on faculty to publish more. Non-teaching staff on academic campuses experience bullying and mobbing just as brutal as their scholarly colleagues and the attacks them have nothing to do with their researching output. I’ve seen a good share of that staff bullying on the campus where I teach.

4) Bullying increases as administrators and department chairs use it as a tool to cover up corruption and/or to enforce complicity and support of unpopular or unfair policies. Rank cronyism and nepotism also fuel workplace bullying on campuses.

5) Here is a quote from Professor David Yamada, premier legal expert on workplace bullying in the United States, "I'll just say that too many academic institutions operate at the lower levels of ethical behavior."

I started a petition supporting the New York State Healthy Workplace Bill several years ago and have been using it as a makeshift newsletter for information and research. I started that petition because of the bullying and mobbing I, a tenured assistant journalism professor, was and is witnessing and experiencing at Hunter College. My commentsare based on my experiences, observations, research and scores & scores of interviews as well as following the blogs and writings of Dr. David Yamada, a Professor of Law and Director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School, whose is internationally recognized for his research in workplace bullying. Folks should check him out on Facebook. There are also other very informative scholars and savvy folks and activists whom I follow.

Gregg Morris, Assistant Professor, Journalism, Hunter College

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