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.
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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