Addressing Workplace Bullying and Sexual Harassment

Lindsey Fenner, Executive Board and Newsletter Editor, Penn Lake Library

In November, AFSCME Local 2822 stewards, elected representatives and activists attended a bullying and sexual harassment training put on by the University of Minnesota’s Labor Education Service.

We went over some of the official remedies, especially when dealing with bad bosses: various forms and reports both with-in workplaces and outside at the state and federal level. It has been a typical union response to refer workers to these. One problem is that these avenues don’t have a very high success rate and it usually takes a long time for cases to work their way through the system. The same is true for filing union grievances. In the meantime, the bad behavior goes on and workers often quit.

There are also some significant legal limitations. For example, there is no current legal definition for bullying. And the legal bar for sexual harassment is high. And everything re-quires documentation, which, if you are dealing with harassment or bullying, is probably not the first thing on your mind.

So what can we do? We can always get creative. We usually get some attention and results from newsletter articles and bulletin board postings. Sometimes meetings between the Union, workers, and County administration work, though usually only after the workers and union had brought the is-sues forward in a more public way. Documentation and paperwork still needs to be done, because that papertrail can be important, especially if there are continued issues or systemic problems.

Although Local 2822 has had success holding managers and supervisors accountable, we have work to do when the problems are between two workers. After the training, 2822 attendees discussed coming up with a procedure for when the bullying and harassment is worker to worker.

In the end, all we really ever want, as one participant in the training pointed out, is for “folks to act decent to each other.” And the Union has a role to play in that. We can build supportive workplaces so coworkers 

Workplace Bullying website recommended by Monica, the training facilitator:

Handouts from the training are available as a PDF below.